Gerry Boyle began his writing career in newspapers, an industry he calls the “best training ground ever.” His first reporting job was in the paper mill town of Rumford, Maine. After a few months, he moved on to the (Waterville) Morning Sentinel, where Boyle learned that the line between upstanding citizen and outlaw is a fine one, indeed. His experiences as a reporter inspired Deadline, his first novel, was first published in 1993. Islandport Press of Maine has now printed all the of the Jack McMorrow Mystery series, several of which have been reviewed here, including an interview with the author.I started reading this series from the present to the past, from #11, Straw Man, to #10, Once Burned, to #7, Pretty Dead to Deadline, where it all began. It is a testament to the series that it can be read this way, for every book is a new adventure, and the backstory of Jack and his girlfriend (and eventual wife) Roxanne develops slowly enough – and more importantly- is not a huge distraction to the taut cadence of the novels. Action and dialogue take precedence over relationships, but the strain spills over, as it must, into Jack & Roxanne’s daily lives.
I worked until three in the morning, mostly to keep from going home. Roxanne called at eleven-fifteen to say hello. She was in bed, she said, curled up with a magazine, wearing a warm flannel nightgown. “Everything okay?” she asked.
“I guess,” I said. “Somebody broke into the house. Messed it up a little, if you can believe that.”
“What? My God, what did they mess up?”
“Not much,” I said. “Just sort of threw things around a little.Nothing too terrible. So don’t worry about it.”
“Well, I will worry about it.”
“Well, you shouldn’t.”
“Well, I will.”
“Well, don’t,” I said.
She said good night, sounding worried anyway, and I wished I hadn’t told her. We hung up but not on a romantic or sexy note.
Jack is the new editor of the Androscoggin Review, a weekly newspaper for the pulp & paper mill town. Roxanne, a social worker for child protection services, lives and works in Portland. The book opens with the dragging of a body, that of Arthur Bertin, the photographer for the paper, out of a canal belonging to the mill. What was he doing there at night, miles from anywhere? Jack can’t help but think it is very mysterious and irregular, and the apparent disinterest of the Androscoggin Police, as well as the state police, is bewildering to him. So, like any good reporter, he does a little digging, unknowingly uncovering a town secret that has quietly remained dormant for years.
“Even without that it’s strange,” I said. [Lieutenant] Vigue waved a balky truck through.
“Don’t you think so? I mean, how’d he get here? Out here in the middle of nowhere. Mill people don’t even come down here. He didn’t drive. You see him walking all the way down here? In the cold? What’s he gonna do? Go for a swim?”
“Wouldn’t be a long swim,” Vigue said. “Friggin’ ice water sucks the life right out of you, Mister Man. Only good thing is they don’t smell when you pull ’em out of the water.”
“Nothing like a silver lining,” I said.
What attracted me to the Jack McMorrow series is that Mr Boyle writes in the style of Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett, two of his (and my) favourite crime writers. Gritty, with concise dialogue and witticisms, such as when Jack phones the coroner to get the results of the autopsy on Arthur Bertin, but cannot get past the receptionist:
God, I thought. That wasn’t a receptionist, that was a guard dog. If she ever broke her chain, she’d be dangerous. But then I supposed somebody had to man the phones so that down the cool halls and through the swinging doors, where the only sound was the whine of bone saws and the clatter of instruments in steel sinks, the good doctors could carve their stiffs in peace.
Deadline is an excellent crime fiction novel. Having read the more current installments, this initial entry in the Jack McMorrow Mystery series is no lightweight debut. It is a brisk, well-told story that, like all good, well-crafted mysteries, keep you guessing until the last few pages. A highly recommended series for fans of the genre.