I met fellow police procedural author Bruce Coffin at the 2019 Killer Nashville conference, where we both won Silver Falchion awards, and have become an avid fan of his John Byron series. His new book WITHIN PLAIN SIGHT comes out this week. Bruce took a minute to swing by and take us inside the series.
- Carmen Amato: Bruce, thanks so much for stopping by the blog. Your Detective John Byron mystery series, set in Portland, Maine, is drawn from your own experiences. Tell us a little about your background.
Bruce Robert Coffin: Many thanks for the invitation, Carmen! You are correct. In writing this series I rely on my past experiences as a police officer. I spent 28 years working for the Portland Police Department in Maine, retiring in 2012 as the detective sergeant in charge of the violent crime unit. Like most police officers, I spent the early years of my career in uniform patrolling a beat. Later, when I discovered my love of investigations, I transitioned to detective and finally detective sergeant. Although my novels are purely fictional, I draw heavily upon personal experience and the experiences of my fellow officers to bring realism to the page.
- CA: Your books are populated with a great cast of multi-dimensional characters. Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?
BRC: Thanks so much. When creating the supporting cast of characters I sought to surround Byron with detectives who were as diverse and interesting as those with whom I once worked. Some of the characters, like Diane Joyner, Mike Nugent, and Melissa Stevens, were fleshed out using traits and quirks prevalent among my former coworkers. Others like Dustin Tran and and Davis Billingslea are largely products of my imagination.
No matter how thorough the detective, none function in a vacuum. Likewise, Byron must rely on the skills and tenacity of his fellow detectives to solve each mystery.
- CA: John Byron’s rocky personal life is a theme running through your books. If you were his wingman, how would you introduce him in a bar?
BRC: I wouldn’t! I’d tell any prospective love interest to run as quickly as possible. No, not really. Byron isn’t that bad, but he does have issues. In creating John I sought to paint a realistic picture of a homicide detective for the reader. One of the things I think most people are unaware of is just how much commitment is required to do the job properly. Murder investigations are all consuming, placing your spouse and children on the back burner, second to the needs of the case, is a necessity. The victim of every homicide, and by extension their surviving families, deserve the very best out of every detective working the case. Giving anything less means the detective probably isn’t the right person for the job. As you might imagine, most spouses and family members aren’t comfortable with such an arrangement. This inevitably alienates families and often leads to divorce.
- CA: Portland, Maine, is not the first location that comes to mind when I think “mystery.” How do you use setting to create and build suspense?
BRC: Initially I considered creating a fictional town in which to set my series. But then I thought, why waste my thirty years of research into every nook and cranny of the port city? I think locale is every bit as important as the characters, and it should serve to support the stories being told. John Byron, who grew up on Munjoy Hill in Portland, is now responsible for solving the city’s worst crimes. Portland plays as large a role in these stories as Byron does.
- CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?
BRC: There are so many authors with whom I’d love to chat, but if I can only pick one I’d pick James Lee Burke. James is one of my favorite mystery authors and, despite my extensive travel, I’ve yet to meet him. I can’t get enough of his Dave Robicheaux novels. And if I’m going to host Robicheaux’s creator then I guess I’ll be serving Cajun cuisine. What will we talk about? Writing, of course.
- CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?
BRC: I’ll leave you with the epigraph I used on the third Byron novel, Beyond the Truth. In my opinion, this quote epitomizes the mystery novel:
Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides. — André Malraux
More about Bruce: Bruce Robert Coffin is a retired detective sergeant turned bestselling novelist. He is the author of the award-winning Detective Byron mystery series from HarperCollins. His latest novel, Within Plain Sight, the fourth installment in the Byron series, is slated for a February 4, 2020 release. Visit www.brucerobertcoffin.com to learn more.
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