Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Nose for Trouble: Journalist-Detective Jack McMorrow in DAMAGED GOODS, Gerry Boyle

In some families, it's the economy that pushes the second spouse or partner back into the workforce, even though the children are still young. For Jack McMorrow, totally committed dad to his four-year-old daughter Sophie, the career move comes in response to his wife's pain: A social worker who faces situations where kids are sometimes removed from their abusive parents, Roxanne Masterson comes home from a hellish day, shaken and drained, having been through danger and still wearing a threat over her head from a Satanist father whose children were literally being starved.

And Jack, quick to step up as Roxanne admits she wants out of her emotionally exhausting job, takes out the list of investigative notions he's been building as a return to his freelance journalism work. His editor makes it easy ... but who would have guessed the story he steps into would crowd into his personal life?

Well, actually, Roxanne could have guessed. After all, it's happening to her, too. The crazies are coming after her, even coming into the home that she and Jack share, calling for payback -- you take my kids, I'll take yours. And Jack's "story" has narrowed to a young woman named Mandi (it's clearly not her real name though), who's been supporting herself in the small Maine town by "companionship" offered through the personal ads. No surprise that she'd crossed paths with some nasty characters. She might even be drawing them closer, to Jack and Roxanne and little Sophie as well as to herself.

Soon the tension is pressuring Jack and Roxanne's marriage as well:
I embraced her, and Roxanne said, "I feel like my house is falling down, Jack. All around me. People coming here, my God. It never happens Maybe I'll take Sophie and go away. Go to New York. Take her to the zoo and Central Park, stay in a hotel."
And when the investigating police officer doesn't take action right away, Jack's wife takes her own:
"Bullshit," Roxanne snapped, and she marched to the cruiser, opened the passenger's side door and got in. "Who do I have to call," I heard her say, "to make you take this seriously?" And then she slammed the car door shut.
One of the best parts of Jack and Roxanne's life, though -- after Sophie and the sense of doing some good in their two jobs -- is living next door to Clair and Mary, friends literally willing to risk life and limb for the endangered family. Clair's background as a soldier in Vietnam becomes significant, not just for his ability to take up arms and his willingness to be at Jack's back or front or whatever it takes, but also for his experience with the personal effects of violence, whether done to you or done by you. Sane and strong, Clair helps Jack maneuver and respond to the chaos around him, showing the best of what war can do to a person's thought processes.

But even Clair's skills and Jack's outrage can't defeat evil, and when death does take place around them, it's irreversible. How will all this affect Sophie? And why is Roxanne reacting so negatively to Jack's usual efforts to rescue the helpless, this time in the person of lonely and battered Mandi and her cat?

Boyle's own years as a reporter and experience with both small-town and regional crime give him great assets for this book. But the best tool he has is the well-honed ability to pace the action, let the characters mature, and tangle the knots of threat and shadow, until with hard work Jack McMorrow discovers more truth than he wanted to see.

This is Boyle's ninth novel, and his eighth featuring McMorrow; last year he opened a second series with young Brandon Boyle. DAMAGED GOODS is published by Down East in Maine and is available through Boyle's web site, as well as through online retailers. The web site,, also offers a video trailer for the book, some discussion on why people do and don't want to see trailers, and insight into McMorrow's past. You don't have to read the earlier books to enjoy this one, but once you've emerged from the tension of Jack's confrontation with fear and pain, you'll probably want to gather the others. Here's the sequence:
1993, Deadline
1995, Bloodline
1996, Lifeline
1997, Potshot
1998, Borderline
1999, Cover Story
2003, Pretty Dead
2004, Home Body
The Brandon Blake detective novel, Port City Shakedown, came out in 2009.

Gerry Boyle is touring with DAMAGED GOODS in Maine and New Hampshire this spring, and Vermont in the fall (watch for the date for Kingdom Books in late September). Tomorrow: a guest appearance from Boyle on this blog.

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