Confession #1: I’m a big city boy, and I’m generally sympathetic to the view – expressed to me by a drunken philosopher many years ago – that the countryside should be closed down and left to the fauna.
Confession #2: I’m obsessed by the USA and its vast kaleidoscope of landscapes. My imagination is gripped by its splendours and its ugliness, its coziness and its brutality. There is a standing joke in my house that one day we will visit New Iberia in Louisiana, where Tabasco Sauce is made. ‘Over my dead body’ is the punchline. Of course New Iberia is the home of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robichaux, the archetype southern deputy sheriff and hardboiled ex-alcoholic. How different can S.C. Harker’s Pat Fitzlaff be from Robichaux? The landscape is part of the explanation: Harker’s Binnacle Bay is in the coastal NorthWest; setting shapes a character, and there’s a whole continent between sweaty Lousiana and the bracing winds of coastal Oregon.
But Fitzlaff fascinated me from the outset; under the tough guy is an almost feminine sensibility. Harker’s competence as a writer gives him the requisite three dimensions, but I kept coming back to the small touches – his orderly house, his courtesy, his eye for detail in jewelry and clothing; there’s an extra dimension to this guy.
And of course there’s the immersive experience of Binnacle Bay: Nautical, cosy and small-town, with a cast of eccentrics you’d expect and some you wouldn’t. I said I was a big city boy: I feel more comfortable in Sydney or Paris or Manhattan, but there’s nothing like a vicarious vacation in Binnacle Bay or even New Iberia! You can find more details of Binnacle Bay and S.C. Harker’s other novels here.
My colleague Lesley Latte happened to be in Seattle recently and offered to track down the elusive S.C. Harker to pose a few searching questions. Here’s what Lesley learned:
Latte. I felt that Pat Fitzlaff had a softer side than the standard hard-bitten cop. How did he get this way?
Harker. That’s easy. A violent death in the family. Pat was born in a small town in central Nevada and spent much of his young life there. As the only boy, he was particularly close to his father, an avid sportsman who loved hunting and fishing and never failed to take Pat with him on his rambles through the remote desert landscape. Pat was an expert in survival at an early age.
His two younger sisters idolized their brother, and their sibling relationships were normal for an average, small-town family. In other words, the older brother mostly ignored the two girls, considering himself above what he considered their silly, juvenile behavior.
Then, when he was fifteen, Pat’s world was turned upside down. The older of Pat’s sisters was brutally murdered, and the case was never solved. This tragic incident was devastating to the family and had a profound impact on Pat, ultimately leading to his passion to become a homicide detective. Conversely, rather than becoming bitter and hard-bitten, Pat is rather more sympathetic than most, especially toward the victims of crime. It is one of his strengths.
Latte. You create a great sense of place in the Binnacle Bay community. How did you invent this setting?
Harker. I lived for a prolonged period of time on the Oregon coast in a house overlooking the sea. We had a boat and fished the ocean for Salmon, Albacore, Halibut—you name it. We had close encounters with whales and dolphin, and more than once had to rely on our GPS to find our way home in the fog. Many times at low tide we walked down our hill and dug for clams. We also crabbed whenever we got the chance and bought fresh oysters from the local farm.
Almost every day we took long walks on the beach with our two Brittany Spaniels. By the way, though Murphy is a giant hound*, he is simply a dog at heart, and I learned about the true heart of a dog from my Spaniels. Everything I write about Binnacle Bay is from experience and colored by my love of the ocean, dogs, small towns, and the people who inhabit them.
Latte. Stuart Campbell tells me he likes to imagine having a drink with his characters, but is there anybody in Binnacle Bay who you’d avoid if they walked into a bar?
Harker. There are always a couple of pains in the neck in every town. Alba Enstadt is definitely someone I would avoid. She appears in “The Bloody Lighthouse,” as does Beezer Arthur. To have a drink with them I would have to go to Pirate’s Cove. It’s not that I object to a low-class saloon every now and then, but Alba is a mean drunk who gets more and more combative as the night goes on. And Beezer has the kind of unrelenting, smart-ass attitude that, as time goes on, makes you want to either get up and leave or, depending on how many drinks, to smash his face.
One person with whom I would never share a drink is the cold-hearted being who appears in “The Bloody Lighthouse” and again in “An Echo of Murder” (to be released later this year).
*Murphy is a canine character in the book – SC
Read a free sample of An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity here. Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity and The Play’s the Thing . Stuart Campbell’s covers are designed by Rachel Ainge .