Actually, Jack never left. But in “Straw Man,” Gerry Boyle’s 11th crime novel featuring Jack McMorrow, Boyle shows that the intrepid and principled reporter still has his chops. From the opening chapter, in which McMorrow and his two war hero buddies are harvesting timber for a friend and have a run-in with local criminals who are cutting illegally on the same woodlot, fists fly and threats of future violence are made.  

Life in Prosperity, Maine, where Jack lives with his wife Roxanne and daughter Sophie, is about to lose its bucolic serenity, especially after one of the confronted timber thieves becomes a deadly stalker. Added to this threat is the potential for random violence in two stories McMorrow is following as a freelance reporter: illegal private gun sales and the culture clash between newly arrived Mennonite farmers and local Mainers. 

Jack is fully capable of handling all the tensions of his sometimes-gritty job, but Roxanne abhors his aggressive tendencies and is deeply involved in developing a peace project that will teach conflict resolution to children, working closely ­— too closely for Jack’s comfort — with a New Age organic goat farmer who Jack mentally refers to as “Mr. Spray Tan” and “Mr. Goat Cheese.” The contrast between Jack’s destructive lifestyle and that of the pacifist farmer bring the couple’s relationship to the brink of dissolution, while the death of a young Mennonite makes Jack a possible suspect in the eyes of local police.

Boyle began his writing career in newspapers — his first reporting job was in Rumford, after which he worked at the Morning Sentinel in Waterville — so he spent a lot of time hanging out in courtrooms and with cops, experience that adds a lot of authenticity to his stories. He’s an extremely talented writer, with an unerring ear for dialogue and an eye that takes in and faithfully renders on a page all the features of his chosen home in rural Maine, the poverty and the natural beauty noted with reportorial veracity. Those skills make his star character both intriguing and believable.  

Ever since the first McMorrow mystery, “Deadline,” was published in 1993, Maine readers have been following — and rooting for — the man who never turns away from a fight for justice.

I’ve been a McMorrow fan since “Deadline” and honestly believe that Boyle can’t write a bad book. But he is beginning to fall into a trap that I’ve seen with other favorite authors of mine, such as the late Dick Francis and Nevada Barr. Francis’ characters are tough jockeys while Barr’s is a female park ranger, and, like McMorrow, they come up against many bad guys, but we’re bludgeoned page after page with their physical mauling at the hands of these bad guys, to the point of overkill. We do get the good-vs.-evil idea, honest. Repeated fist fights and gun battles wear thin and become almost self-parody. It’s a relief when Jack gets back to what he does best: tough investigative reporting. Still, as with all Boyle’s books (which are being re-released by his current publisher, Islandport Press), the suspense grabs you and you’re with it to the end.

Publisher: Islandport Press, 2016