That Doesn’t Happen Here

Gerry Boyle here. Interrupting your lovely Maine summer with a bit of a reality check.

Heroin. Triple murders. Brutal beatings.

Bangor Daily News photo by John Clark Russ

That’s the news from “Maine, the way life should be” this week. Sorry to rain on your lobster dinner but Maine isn’t much different from other places. Our gruesome murders are just less frequent and more far flung. And in summer our weather is better.

That’s the report from one of my very favorite newspapers (and I spent a long time in the trade), the Bangor Daily News. This week we had three young people killed and burned in a torched car in a deserted parking lot in Bangor. The report said that the three–two guys and a girl, some criminal records but small-time at best– were burned beyond recognition. Detectives are on the trail of the driver and have headed out of state.

This was just down the interstate from the small town of  Howland, where it was reported that in a place where everybody knows everybody two young men were beaten and four were arrested. One of the victims had a whole bunch of broken bones–eye socket, ribs–and his teeth knocked out. The other had 80 facial fractures. Eighty. As in 8-0.  How many bones are there in the human face, anyway?

I don’t want to spoil your day. And I’m sure a few readers have already stopped reading. But hey, this is supposed to about Maine crime writing, right? Well, welcome to Maine crime, 2012.

As I write this I’m reminded of a review of my last book, PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE, by a writer for a publication in Portland I’d never heard of. The reviewer said the book was very fast-paced and readable but complained that none of the events in the book would really happen in Maine. Let me think. A missing baby. A New York City drug dealer killed in Portland as he tries to rip off a local. Crazed homeless people with a thread of common sense.

The reviewer was right. I shouldn’t have prettied things up.

Funny thing is, when I wrote PC B&W I thought I was laying it right out there. Well, I was writing in 2010. Things have changed and I don’t mean in the faraway housing projects or tenement streets or wherever else we like to think crime is contained. I mean every back road, in every mill town, at every little country crossroads where you might stop at the general store for a Diet Pepsi and directions.

I won’t go into my theories about general societal breakdown, one of which is that drugs and guns don’t kill people; people on drugs with guns kill people. I will say that my next book is done and gone and already I’m thinking that my bad guys aren’t going to seem so bad, compared with what’s in the Maine news.  My crimes–calculated but rational murders and even understandable murders–seem almost quaint. Someone who kills to avenge a murder that took place decades before? How sweet.

Well, I’ve got three other books in the works, including one McMorrow that I like a lot. But already I know I’m going to have to up the ante of badness, reckless violence, lethal and ready weapons. Because readers are going to need to believe in the bad guys so they can believe in my hero.  They’re going to have to believe that this is realistic Maine crime fiction and Maine crime reality is changing as we speak.

Time to ratchet it up.


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7 Responses to That Doesn’t Happen Here

  1. Deanna says:

    Yes, unfortunately none of the three northern New England states are immune anymore. It isn’t only Maine.
    You don’t have to make the bad guys any worse. Enough blood and gore is enough. If we want more we can read the newspaper.
    Thanks for writing. Dee

  2. Joan Emerson says:

    And, unfortunately, this isn’t unique to Maine. The sad but true fact of life is that this is the new reality everywhere.

    I think racheting up the crime in mystery books could be a double-edged sword, however . . . if someone wants that much realism, they don’t need to read fiction. They can find more than enough simply by watching the evening news or reading the newpapers.

  3. When our local Rite-Aid has had several robberies in broad daylight, it’s obvious things have changed in Maine, but I tend to agree with Joan and Dee — how much realism do readers want in fiction?

  4. MCWriTers says:

    Know what you mean about people not believing, Gerry. When I described the filthy house the child victim lived in in The Angel of Knowlton Park, people said, “Oh, no one could live in a house like that,” and the cops said, “Oh yeah. I’ve been in there. I’ve been in there many times.”

    So often like that. I admit with the Bangor story that I’ve been avidly following the comments on the stories, so we all knew the names of 2 of the 3 victims right away, and Nicolle’s personal story is absolutely heartbreaking.

    Yes, we go out into the field and do research, but when people ask: Where do you get your ideas, and we say, “We read the paper,” we aren’t kidding.

  5. John Clark says:

    Reality, even in Maine can be pretty ugly. I’m watching the next group of headliners (pre-teens and teens without a shred of parental support or guidance) storm in and out of the library every day. The language and lack of impulse control/boundary skills makes me shudder. I try interacting with them, but it’s akin to bailing the Kennebec at flood stage with a sieve.

  6. Gerry Boyle says:

    Know what you mean, John. How do you reverse that course? Just saw a news item about a kid I wrote about when he was 10. I met him in District Court where he was awaiting a juvenile hearing for breaking in a house and stealing a gun. He’s 30 now. Arrested again. Classified as a “career criminal.” Funny thing is he was a smart and, in his own way, nice kid.

  7. thelma straw says:

    I agree with Joan’s statement – it seems to be on the rise everywhere. I have lived in the calm upper east side of Manhattan for a long time and the crime rate seems to be rising here. Thelma Straw

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