In the first pages of his 10th Jack McMorrow mystery, Maine writer Gerry Boyle hooks readers for another wild ride with his trademark character: Jack the journalist turned super-sleuth.

“Once Burned: A Jack McMorrow Mystery” opens in a quaint Maine town called Prosperity, where Jack and his glamorous social worker wife, Roxanne, live a picture-perfect life. Their little daughter, Sophie, has everything good, including a pony.

But there’s trouble in their rural paradise.

A 4-year-old boy that Roxanne took from a drug-addicted mother has died of a blunt trauma injury. His foster mom is a suspect. The boy’s birth mother blames Roxanne for his death, and knows where she lives.

That same morning, Jack learns of a third arson-suspected fire in Sanctuary, more than a dozen miles distant. Sanctuary was recently named a “Hidden Treasure” by American Living magazine. The irony of someone burning up a treasure town is the subject of an ongoing story that Jack the journalist has pitched to The New York Times.

Before speeding off to the latest Sanctuary fire, Jack enlists Claire – a still-agile Vietnam vet with combat experience – to protect Roxanne and 3-year-old Sophie.


Make no mistake: “Once Burned” is a well-written, suspenseful thriller. Its characters are uniquely different from one to the next. Boyle weaves his double-plot story with skill until all lines cross.

My only problem with “Once Burned is length. Well before reaching page 400, some readers may wish for a speedier wind-up to the book. In the final chapters, Boyle takes readers back 30 years to trace the roots of the Sanctuary arson cases. Those include McMorrow’s interview with an elderly Maine fire inspector beset with Alzheimer’s. A postscript to the 413-page book showcases Jack the journalist’s final New York Times story about the fires in Sanctuary.

But mystery fans not averse to a longish read will definitely enjoy “Once Burned.”

Boyle skillfully creates unique characters you’ll remember long after closing his book. A standout example is Lasha Cabral, a reclusive sculptor with a weakness for beer and love relationships that don’t work out. Attracted to McMorrow, she becomes his eyes and ears in Sanctuary when he’s in Prosperity protecting Roxanne and Sophie.

Like his fictional McMorrow, Gerry Boyle was a longtime Maine journalist. He worked for a Rumford newspaper after graduating from Colby College, then went on to write for the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other papers, including the Maine Sunday Telegram. His first Jack McMorrow Mystery appeared in 1993.

“Once Burned” is action-packed with carefully drawn, memorable characters. It’s a tad long, in this writer’s opinion, and would benefit from a more compressed ending. But Jack McMorrow fans will like this addition to the popular series.

Lloyd Ferriss is a writer and photographer who lives in Richmond.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.