CHINA — Maine mystery writer Gerry Boyle can take you to downtown Belfast and point to the second-floor window where his long-time protagonist Jack McMorrow first sees Mandi, a trouble young woman with a dark past, in “Damaged Goods,” published last year.
He can take you to South Portland harbor where his newest character, a lean loner named Brandon Blake in “Port City Shakedown” wants to be a cop, and show you where Blake’s wooden cabin cruiser is moored.
He can take you to Waterville and Madison, to Starks and Rumford and to all the splendidly sketchy characters who ride the streets and back roads of Maine, because Boyle has been there.
Boyle, 54, found his cops and robbers as a reporter, first for the Rumford Falls Times and ultimately as a staff reporter and columnist for the Morning Sentinel.
He started as a staff writer at the newspaper’s Skowhegan bureau in 1980, covering Madison and the school district.

“I thought Skowhegan was a great town; it was old fashioned and kind of self contained, but it had a stability to it,” he said. “Economically, it seemed pretty healthy in 1980; I just thought it was great place with the river crashing right through the middle of it. I would drive around think how lucky I was to be able to have a job in a place like this.”
Boyle went to the Waterville office of the Sentinel the next year, taking with him all the sights, sounds and smells of the mill towns of Rumford and Madison and the back roads of Oxford, Waldo, and Somerset counties.
This time, he was allowed to roam the city, to troll the countryside, going to crime scenes, police stations and court hearings for his material.
“I was in Waterville City Hall briefly, but I wasn’t really good at the municipal stuff; the planning boards and that kind of thing, and so very quickly (Sentinel editors) Jane Lord and Glenn Turner decided that I would be best left alone to go and try to find stories.
 He started writing his column for the Sentinel in 1982.
Jane P. Lord, then assistant state editor at the Sentinel and now executive editor at Current Publishing, said she remembers the young Boyle well.
“Gerry’s talents quickly became obvious to me,” Lord said. “He had a wonderful knack for storytelling and terrific instinct in finding stories. It was a three-person bureau (in Skowhegan) — these were the newspaper’s best days — with lots of stories filed every day, but Gerry’s always stood out. Even then, it was clear Gerry was not just a reporter. He was a writer.”
Lord said Boyle paid attention to details and to dialog. He crafted stories so that it seemed effortless. His eventual move to columnist was inevitable, she said.
“Gerry now and Gerry then — pretty much the same,” Lord said. “Low key, assured, empathetic, very funny, very smart.”
Boyle wrote columns for the Sentinel three times a week before leaving in 1999 to become editor of Colby Magazine, at his alma mater, Colby College in Waterville, where he graduated in 1978 with an English degree.
Boyle continues as magazine editor at Colby, a job he juggles with while writing crime fiction.
“My job at Colby is not full time, therefore book writing is not full time either,” Boyle said. “I like wearing both hats, actually.”  
“Successful? They keep wanting more books, which these days is a good thing. I make money. I’m not on the bestseller list but that isn’t why I started this enterprise. You write because it would make you very unhappy not to.” 
Jack McMorrow, the freelance reporter for the New York Times who moves to rural Maine, is born from the newspaper stories in Boyle’s mysteries, beginning in 1993 with “Deadline,” set in the mythical Androscoggin, but based  on the gritty mill town of Rumford.
“I had come from New York and I thought what if I had a New York Times reporter and put him here, where I am right now,” Boyle said. “How would he react to it? That was ‘Deadline,’ and the book did, critically, really well.”
The Washington Post Book World said the book was “stunning” and “. . .the writing is sharp and evocative without being showy.”
The New York Times Book Review called it “a bone cracking first novel.”
Novels followed each year, eight so far, with a new McMorrow title, including “Lifeline,” “Borderline” and “Pot Shot,” which is about marijuana growers running from the law and from one another.
“I think I called it Florence in ‘Pot Shot,’ but it was Starks, because I had spent so much time there covering the marijuana stuff in the 80s,” Boyle said. “They’re wonderful places. There are those types wandering around  — not those precise individuals, but types of people. I like the characters to be true to the place. In Somerset County, I would hope if you are reading (the book) you would see the people that live down the road from you; the people you see in the paper; or people you knew when you were in jail.”
Boyle said the characters in the Jack McMorrow series, and now the Brand Blake novels — the new one “Port City Black and White” is due out in September — may be fictional, but they are a combination of very real folks and very real places, where the names have been changed to protect the guilty and the dead.
Boyle interviews newspaper reporters and reads old clips for his books. He talks to fire marshal investigators, state police detectives, and county sheriff’s deputies for his material.
Boyle grew up in Rhode Island and came to Waterville for college in 1974. He left, went to New York, came back and lived in Rumford and Fairfield for a while before he and his wife Mary, also a Colby graduate, moved to China. The couple has three children, Emily, 27, Caroline, 25 and Charlie, 20.
Boyle writes on a computer in a tiny room on the second floor of his 1826 farmhouse. The writing is different in the new Brandon Blake series, he said. Blake is seen in the third person, by an omniscient observer. McMorrow is Boyle in the first person, more of a rural traditional mystery than the noir of the urban Blake novels, written for younger people who were raised on film and quick, staccato action scenes.
McMorrow and his wife Roxanne and their daughter Sophie and their neighbor Clair and his wife, will be back in another book soon.
And always, as in the character of Mandi, the woman in “Damaged Goods,” the stories and the people will be real life in Maine, just like you see in the newspaper.
“The wonderful thing is that she’s out there somewhere,” Boyle said.

Doug Harlow — 474-9534
[email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.