The Bookshelf is NHPR's new series on authors and books with ties to the Granite State. All Things Considered host Peter Biello interviews authors, covers literary events and publishing trends, and gets recommendations from each guest on what books listeners might want to add to their own bookshelves.
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This week, The Bookshelf features Brendan DuBois. He's the author of the mystery novel series featuring Lewis Cole, and his newest book is Blood Foam. In this latest installment, Lewis Cole is in a tough spot. His house on the seacoast of New Hampshire has been massively damaged by fire, and a hurricane is coming up the coast, threatening to knock it down. And to top it off, his former lover has come a-knocking—not because she wants to reconnect, but because she wants Lewis to find her new beau, a town councilor who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Take a listen to DuBois' conversation with All Things Considered host Peter Biello, or scroll down to read the Q&A below his book picks.
Brendan's Top 5 Author Recommendations:
1. Anything by Robert Frost or Donald Hall. “Anyone who wants to get a good grasp of the state of New Hampshire and its people should start with Robert Frost and Donald Hall.
2. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. “A classic. It really blew a lot of conventions out of the water. It also, I think, set the tone for us writers who write about rural New Hampshire, and sometimes uncovering the secrets of what is behind the placid town common and white houses and congregational churches. She really raised the bar.”
3. The World According to Garp by John Irving. “I think it’s worth a revisit, just to see the sheer power of the storytelling. I remember sitting down with a paperback one day and right from page one, he just grabs you by the throat and does not let you go, and it goes on for hundreds of pages. Lots of scenes take place in New Hampshire, including at a prep school not unlike Philips Exeter category.”
4. The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams. “He taught fiction. I was very fortunate to have Tom as my fiction teacher, as was John Irving. We both learned a lot from him. It’s kind of sad, I think he’s generally overlooked, although he’s a great author. He wrote a whole series of novels about a fictional New Hampshire town called Leah. Just great slice-of-life in small town New Hampshire. He’s also written a number of short stories.”
So Lewis Cole is back again for his ninth book. He’s been around for awhile. Who is he?
Lewis Cole is a retired Department of Defense research analyst who, back in the day, was injured in a training accident. In exchange for keeping his mouth shut, the federal government pensioned him off to a very nice home on the New Hampshire seacoast. And, in agreement for keeping his mouth shut for what happened, he gets a bit of a monthly stipend and works for a magazine. But he’s haunted by what happened to him. So he has a sense of justice, of solving things, helping out his friends, which happens in Blood Foam. Paula Quinn, an old girlfriend of his, seeks his assistance in tracking down her missing fiancée. Lewis, although he despises the man, still holds a torch for Paula, says he’ll do what he has to do to find him.
He really has to grit his teeth and go on with it, but he does.
He does. He’d rather sit on the couch and watch Oprah for a week and then come back and say, “Couldn’t find him, sorry!” But he has a sense of honor, a sense of loyalty. And he starts looking for him and he finds one small, little fact that doesn’t quite make sense, and when he tugs on that little thread, everything breaks loose, and there’s gunfire, there’s chases, people start hunting him and things get very tense very quickly.
This is an action-packed book. How do you go about plotting a book with so much action? Does the plot come to you all at once, or does it follow thing-by-thing?
It sort of follows thing-by-thing. In the Lewis Cole novels, there are some that are straight detective novels, where there’s a puzzle to be solved. In this one, the puzzle is to locate this man, Mark Spencer. But it’s more, as you said, a thriller, because there’s a chase, there’s a pursuit, there’s gunplay. For those who are looking for a quiet, cozy one where nothing much happens in the drawing room or parlor, this is probably not the book for you, but if you want (what I would hope is) an edge-of-your-seat, what’s-going-to-happen-next, oh-my-god, how’s-he-getting-out-of this, I think Blood Foam will fit the bill.
What’s your inspiration for Lewis Cole?
When I started thinking about writing detective novels back in the mid-1990s, it seemed to me that the field was overrun with private detectives or lawyers or cops, and being a former journalist, I thought, “Well, let’s make our guy a magazine writer or a newspaper writer—someone who has the ability to ask questions and poke around, and if a story doesn’t appear, blame it on an editor.” But I knew I wanted something more depth to sort of propel him. Most of us, if we see a dead body on the side of the road, we’d leave it to the professionals. But Lewis has this thirst for justice. He saw some of his friends get killed when he was at the Department of Defense. And that’s what propels him. He’s an unusual character in the detective field, but I think he’s a very attractive character.
This is the ninth book in a series, and I have to say, it’s the first one I’ve read, but I didn’t necessarily feel left out of the story because I didn’t read the previous eight. Did you design this book that way?
Peter, that’s a very gracious observation. Yes, I always sit down at the keyboard and say, “Okay, this may be the 7th or 8th book in the series—you cannot assume (you would hope) that your readers have read all the previous Lewis Cole novels.” There’s a balancing act where you have to introduce new readers to the book, but you don’t want to bore your die-hard fans and say, “Okay, here we go again with the third explanation of how we got there and who he is.” It’s a balancing act, but something you work with.
I read somewhere that you had originally wanted to start your writing career as a sci-fi author, but then you made your transition to mystery. How did you make that transition?
That’s a very good recollection. Yes, when I was young, a teenager, I loved science fiction, that’s all I read. Then I started writing short stories in the mid-1980s and submitting them to science fiction magazines, and they all got rejected. Except one had a mysterious tint to it, so I submitted it to a mystery magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and they bought it. So I sort of backed into being a mystery author, but I never stopped my love for science fiction. In fact, next January, my first complete science fiction novel will be published by one of the largest science fiction publishers, Bane Books. I’m extraordinarily excited by that. It’s a dream I’ve had since I was twelve and to see it come true is pretty cool.
Is one harder to write than the other—mystery, science fiction?
They’re different. But I think what connects them is the urge to tell the story. Something has to be going on. With mystery, you’re looking at what happened, why did this happen? There has to be some sort of resolution. In science fiction, you’re looking at some aspect of the future or the present technologically that affects people, affects society, and that’s the basis of your story. But in both science fiction and mystery I’d say the key thing is to tell a good story with compelling characters. Other than that, it doesn’t work.
I have to ask: part of this plot involved a social security number that started with a certain digit, and Lewis Cole knew that the number was linked to the state of Wyoming. Is that true—are social security numbers linked to locations?
That is absolutely true. Your social security number reveals where it was issued from. My social security number begins with 00, which means it’s a New England Social Security number. It’s one of those little things that law enforcement use if someone comes in and says, “Well, I’m not from there.” They can say, “Well, your Social Security number says otherwise.”
What’s next for Lewis Cole?
I just finished the first draft, which would be the 10th novel of my Lewis Cole story. It’s called Storm Cell. I’m sort of stunned that I’m at book 10 of the Lewis Cole series. I’ve written a number of other stand-alone thrillers and short story collections, but Lewis still hangs around. This one, Storm Cell, starts off with one of Lewis’s best friends is on trial for murder, and Lewis tries to find out why, and tries to get him off, and of course there are all these obstacles tossed in the way. It’s a pretty intriguing mystery.
I was hoping you would say he would get back together with Paula.
Maybe. Maybe not. I will say that that’s addressed in this book. How’s that for a weasely answer?
That's Brendan DuBois, author of Blood Foam. And we want to know what's on your bookshelf. Write to us: firstname.lastname@example.org.