Tuesday, February 5, 2019

An Excellent Debut Novel from Gerry Boyle

First published in 1993, this is the debut novel in an excellent series featuring newspaperman Jack McMorrow. As a young man, Jack worked his way up the ladder of the newspaper business until he reached the pinnacle of the profession, working as a metro reporter for the New York Times. But by the time he reached his middle thirties, he realized, sadly, that he was being eclipsed by younger and more energetic reporters and that his best days as a reporter might well be behind him.

Accordingly, McMorrow turned his life in another direction and accepted the job as editor of the Androscoggin Review, a small weekly newspaper published in Androscoggin, Maine. Androscoggin is a tiny county, located in a heavily-wooded area in the southwestern corner of the state. The Reviewpublishes a lot of stories about the local high school sports teams, about the meetings of local clubs, about elderly citizens celebrating milestone birthdays and that sort of thing.

One thing that the Androscoggin Review does not do is make waves, or at least it didn't until Jack McMorrow comes along. McMorrow still believes in the values of excellent journalism and in the importance of publishing stories that are significant to the community. Thus, when the town's largest employer, a wood pulp mill, demands a significant tax break, rather than simply rolling over and supporting the request as the previous editor might have done, Jack digs into issue in an effort to determine if there's any justification for the request.

Jack's investigation upsets not only the mill owners, but a lot of workers and others in the town who depend on the wages and other money that the mill brings to the town. The mill has suggested that if the tax break is not granted, they may close their operations in Androscoggin and move the jobs elsewhere, so a lot of people in the county wish that Jack would just keep his big mouth shut. And some of them appear determined to make sure that he does.

While this debate rages, the newspaper's photographer suddenly turns up dead, drowned in a remote canal on a freezing winter night. Nobody knows how the photographer got to the canal or how he wound up in it, and nobody, save for Jack McMorrow, seems to care. The cops and the county coroner quickly rule the case closed, ruling it a death by accident or suicide. Jack refuses to accept the verdict without at least a minimal investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death, and this too will get him into trouble. Along the way, McMorrow has plenty of chances to simply surrender and give in to the pressures around him, but he's driven by a desire to know the truth, no matter the consequences of discovering it.

Gerry Boyle clearly knows the newspaper business well, and he's created a very appealing protagonist in Jack McMorrow. The plot moves along at just the right pace with the level of suspense ebbing and flowing until it builds to a great climax. In particular, Boyle excels at creating the setting. The small community of Androscoggin and its residents come alive in these pages, and one almost literally feels the freezing cold as McMorrow makes his way about the town and through the woods that surround it. I first discovered this series in the late 1990s, and I'm really looking forward to making my way through it again. 4.5 stars.

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