PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE: A BRANDON BLAKE MYSTERY by Gerry Boyle, September 2011, Down East Books, $24.95, 272 pages.
A baby is missing in Portland, Maine, and rookie cop Brandon Blake takes it upon himself to solve the mysterious disappearance, no matter what the cost, in Gerry Boyle’s latest crime novel, “Port City Black and White: A Brandon Blake Mystery,” to be released in September.
Boyle, editor of Colby Magazine and a freelance writer, is creator of the acclaimed Jack McMorrow mystery series, now eight books deep, following the life of a freelance writer and private investigator in rural Maine.
“Port City Black and White” is the second book in his newer Brandon Blake series of fast-paced crime novels aimed at a younger audience.
“This one I want to be more cinematic and jump around to different perspectives,” said Boyle, who decided to not write the Blake series in first person as he does the McMorrow series. “Before, I could never have a scene with just the bad guys.”
Blake is a righteous and dynamic protagonist. The quiet, self-educated young man grew up in the care of his alcoholic grandmother. Now living on a cabin cruiser, Bay Witch, in a Portland marina, he’s becoming fully absorbed in his policing duties, though he’s not doing everything right.
“I’m still getting to know him,” said Boyle. “McMorrow is based so much on me — I’m similar to him — but Brandon still surprises me pretty often. I don’t know what he’ll do in his career. He certainly means well.”
An officer-in-training, Blake tends to fight crime the old fashioned way, without the social work skills or compassion needed to handle the variety of criminal action happening in a Maine city. He sees Portland and its varied inhabitants in black and white. But as the mystery of the missing baby consumes him, he learns not only about the people he’s dealing with, but about how his personal baggage puts his job and relationships in danger.
One of Boyle’s challenges in writing this series is bridging the generation gap to get inside the head of the 21-year-old cop. He bases much of Blake’s mannerisms and actions off observations of his three children — all in their 20s — from sending text messages to his girlfriend, Mia, to enjoying Portland nightlife.
Genuine dialogue is the most notable strength in Boyle’s writing. And in the Blake series, in an effort to keep the ball rolling, he relies even more heavily on character conversations to tell the story.
“I do love the way people talk,” Boyle said. “When you’re writing dialogue and it’s going well, you just feel it. People don’t sound the same. Everyone has a pretty distinct dialogue. And personally, I didn’t want all the cops to sound the same. Real policemen are night and day from each other.”
Boyle, who lives in a revived 1800s house in China, Maine, headed south to research the Blake’s urban home. Tagging along with the Portland Police Department, he got a taste of what it’s like to view the city through a cruiser windshield.
“They tell me a lot of things they deal with, and it’s a lot more complicated than you might think,” said Boyle. “When you’re a reporter and columnist over the years, you really get to know not only the police, but the whole world they deal with — the whole world of people who can’t obey the rules, or won’t, or just don’t.”
Portland, said Boyle, is home to both the rich and poor, but is fairly segregated.
“The two worlds coexist, but don’t collide all that often,” said Boyle. “I’m sure there will be people that say, ‘This isn’t Portland.’”
Since one of the characters owns a restaurant, Boyle also makes an effort to capture the Portland nightlife and business scene, though he needed the help of his daughter, a “foodie,” to write about the Barbadian menu.
The many people suspected for kidnapping the baby live in public housing projects in the “rough side” of Portland, and furthermore, are characters who engage in some sort of illegal activity on a daily basis. Which meant a great deal of Boyle’s research was simply loitering on a bench on Congress Street to absorb the social activity happening around him.
Yet, one of the most detestable villains of the story is not a criminal, but a news reporter who ignores media ethics.
“In my other books, journalism was venerated, put on a pedestal,” said Boyle. “That’s how I feel about it. But I wanted to go to another extreme.”
As a young reader, Boyle didn’t ever pick up a mystery or crime novel. An English major at Colby College, he preferred literature. His parents, on the other hand, loved reading mysteries. One day, Boyle shuffled through the collection to select a novel by Dick Francis. After that story, he was hooked. Today, a couple of his favorite authors are Robert B. Parker and John D. MacDonald.
Like the crime novelists Boyle has grown to love, he doesn’t like to leave a mystery unsolved. And though he’s still getting to know his young protagonist, Blake, they do have one integral sentiment in common.
“In the end,” he said, “I want the bad guys to get it.”
To learn more about Boyle, visit gerryboyle.com.