My rating: 2 of 5 stars
When I met my soon-to-be husband many years ago, he was the owner of a small weekly newspaper in East Texas. He was also the publisher/editor/writer/photographer/advertising manager and probably a few other jobs that I'm leaving out. It was hard work, with a lot of pressure and little financial reward, and, as we started our family, he sold the paper and opted for jobs with daily newspapers, from the Lufkin Daily News to the Houston Post, that offered a little more security and a little bit more money.
Nostalgia for those years with the weekly led me to pick out this book from among several that were recommended to me for reading, for it features the editor/writer at a weekly newspaper in rural Maine as its main character.
Jack McMorrow had been an investigative journalist with The New York Times before feeling that he was being outclassed by the competition, the up-and-coming young journalists who competed to work for the Times. Rather than waiting to be pushed out, he moved on to work for other daily newspapers along the East Coast, finally ending up at the weekly newspaper in little Androscoggin, Maine.
Androscoggin was a paper mill town. The local economy was utterly dependent on the stinking mill, and everybody in town was expected to fall in line and support anything that the mill owners wanted to do. When McMorrow wrote some stories about the mill that were not fawning in their assessment, he became quite unpopular.
Then, the body of the mild-mannered but weird man who worked part time as a photographer for the paper is found floating in one of the ice-clogged canals that flows by the mill. The medical examiner finds that the cause of death was drowning with a secondary cause of hypothermia. He finds no signs of foul play. And yet, questions remain. Most importantly, why would this man, who was not the outdoorsy type, have been near enough to the canal to fall in at night in freezing weather in winter?
No one except Jack McMorrow seems troubled by these questions, however. The local police are perfectly content to take the medical examiner's conclusions at face value and do not investigate any further. McMorrow instigates an investigation on his own. He goes to the dead man's home/studio where he finds some incriminating photographs that he believes might have given someone a motive for murder. Still, it appears that the local authorities are not interested.
McMorrow keeps running into nasty characters and getting beat up, but it isn't clear if the animosity toward him is due to his criticism of the paper mill or his investigation of what he considers a suspicious death. Maybe it's both...
I was prepared to really like this series, but I found this first book disappointing. Mostly, I was disappointed with the character of Jack McMorrow, who, it seemed, every time he had a decision to make, he picked the most boneheaded choice. Maybe that was necessary to move the plot along, but in my experience, newspaper men are a bit smarter than that, so color me unimpressed.
I did enjoy Boyle's descriptions of winter in Maine. I could feel the cold which helped a bit to alleviate the heat of summer in Texas. And I felt he had a good understanding of the insularity of a small town and the close-mindedness that can come from the town's dependence on one industry, even if that industry is harming the health of its citizens. There is the kernel of a good story here, but the main character needs to have his I.Q. increased by a few points.
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