PARTS NORTH: A BACK-ROADS NOIR by Kevin Cohen, iBook $2.99, July 2011, Kevin Cohen, 430 pages.
“Noir” in French translates to “black,” while “film noir” is a term applied to Hollywood crime dramas, especially those made in the 1940s and 1950s. And when it comes to novels, “noirs” are stories that, at the heart, have a gritty reality and a darkness that is both exciting and teetering on the edge of doom.
“Parts North: a Back-Roads Noir,” a self-published work by Bangor native Kevin Cohen, is just that, a dark story of a man who has fallen on the wrong side of the law and returns with desperation to an unwelcoming town in rural western Maine. Through his journey, Cohen explores how violence and crime can be born out of need and not necessarily due to a person’s character.
“The story has a kind of gritty vein,” said Cohen in recent phone interview. “It’s for people who like darker stories about things they haven’t seen before.”
Cohen, a Bowdoin College graduate, currently lives in Atlanta with his wife, Chantel, and three children, Connor, Jordan and Sofia. “Parts North” is his second book. His first book, “Fortunate One,” was published in 2010 and drew on Cohen’s years of behind-the-scenes Hollywood studio experience. It became a finalist in the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards’ first novel category (for books under 80,000 words).
Both of his books are self published, a route that is becoming more popular with authors as the advent of eBooks has made this approach not only easier but also profitable.
Cohen decided to write about Maine because he and his family have so much history in the state. His father, William S. Cohen of Bangor, served as Secretary of Defense (1997-2001) under President Bill Clinton. And his mother comes from western Maine, her family history going back for generations in the Buckfield region.
Stories by family and friends inspired the characters and situations of the story, though much of the fictitious tale was pure imagination.
Cohen compares Quinton Dean — the main character of “Parts North” — to Paul Newman’s character Hud Bannon in the 1963 movie “Hud,” solitary and with his own notion of honor and lawfulness.
“He’s somebody who has honor and decency in certain ways, but it’s gone wrong for him and he’s not the best person to be around,” said Cohen.
Hard times and family feuds greet Quinton, an ex-convict, when he returns to the fictitious town of Nezinscot, where everything has gone awry at the local paper mill and a union strike has wrung out the patience of residents with dry bank accounts. But Quinton is desperate for a job, even if that means working as a “scab,” someone hired to keep the mill going during the strike.
“For the whole atmosphere and mood I was trying to create with the book, [the mill strike] seemed like a very good vehicle to create tension around the story,” Cohen said. “I’m attracted to things that are raw, stripped down and lean, and I thought that was a good setting.”
The residents already harbor distaste for Quinton, a man imprisoned for safe-breaking, a man who left his son Newland in the hands of his mother, and now, a hardheaded stepfather. Yet Quinton’s honesty, fearlessness and the way he handles his situation without self-pity turns him into a character to root for, and the tumultuous town serves as a backdrop for the rocky reconciliation of father and son.
Though some of the scenes are dramatized, the basis of the situations reflect Cohen’s experiences and observations in Maine. The tale brings readers on an unpredictable ride, riddled with harsh and often amusing dialogue and startling events.
Quinton and Newland learn that all actions have consequences. As their relationship develops, so does the risk of landing in jail. They both have a tendency of choosing the wrong path, and in this “back-roads noir,” the odds are against them to the very end.
To purchase the “Parts North” iBook, visit http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/parts-north/id451356851?mt=11.