It is nearly 50 years since George V. Higgins introduced us to Boston’s grubby criminal underworld in “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”
In 2001 Dennis Lehane introduced us to a new generation of criminals and grifters in “Mystic River.”
So debut author Matt Fitzpatrick of Chatham, 47, is swimming into a rich literary tradition with his first novel “Crosshairs: A Justin McGee Mystery” (Green Place Books, 2018).
“My inspiration started when I was around 13 years old, when I began to quickly jettison the lands of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary,” Fitzpatrick said in an email interview. “All that had to be the catalyst was my reading at that age of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot.’ At the risk of melodrama, it truly changed my life.”
“Salem’s Lot” is a novel about a writer who returns to his hometown only to learn that the residents are turning into vampires.
After that life-changing read, Fitzpatrick went on to Boston College, graduating in 1993, and then entered a 25-year career as a certified financial planner. “The work was lucrative and rewarding in a financial sense, but there was that never-ending calling to become a best-selling author,” he says.
“I always wanted to write, but for so many years I was too busy wearing suits and achieving the ‘American Dream:’ Cars, boats, big McMansion, pure-bred golden retriever behind the white picket fence, two angelic daughters, beautiful and successful wife, etc.,” he says. “However, I realized that the more I ‘achieved’ in the traditional sense, left me incredibly empty for years.”
Fitzpatrick drew on his own family experiences for literary inspiration. His parents, and in particular his maternal grandfather, were steeped in Boston politics “from many different angles.” And “I began reading some very hard-hitting fiction, like James Carroll’s ‘Mortal Friends,’” he recalls. (“Mortal Friends” tells the story of a Boston Irish family.) “I finally realized that I owed it to myself and kind and generous folks around me to initiate a complete renovation. I think that it’s the only way to render the writing both convincing and cataclysmic.”
So Fitzpatrick retired from his career as a financial planner and became a writer.
“I think that one interesting aspect of the novel is that all of the events are based on real people with real experiences. Some readers will recognize themselves, while others will definitely be left guessing.”
Something changed in Boston, though, in the nearly 50 years since “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” In May 2012 the Boston Globe observed that leadership of the once-powerful New England mafia had dwindled to a couple dozen men. Once-vicious gangsters have succumbed to the ailments of old age or been locked up. It is in this new atmosphere that Fitzpatrick’s gritty characters flourish.
At the heart of “Crosshairs” is Justin McGee. (For some devoted mystery fans, his name will echo that of an earlier detective of a very different ilk—Travis McGee, the Florida salvage consultant.)
Justin McGee is a Boston attorney who moonlights at an intriguing second job: assassin. As the novel opens, Justin is meeting with his old friend Meyer to discuss his latest assignment, killing a woman named Crasha Moloney who grew up in Southie. We soon meet Captain Caleb Frost, a Gloucester fisherman who also moonlights in various underworld endeavors.
The third main character is Darby McBride who, in a way, speaks most clearly to what has happened to Boston’s crime scene. “In the wake of the vacuum created by the implosion of the Angiulo crime family, as well as the slow disappearance of the Winter Hill Gang, Boston had set the stage for guys like Darby McBride to reconfigure the underworld,” Fitzpatrick writes. Darby’s preferred method for dealing with those who cross him is a quick slash across the Achilles tendon.
Naturally, anyone contemplating the Boston mob will think of Whitey Bulger. This is one plotline that Fitzpatrick wants to avoid. He says that “Crosshairs” is “not merely another gritty Boston-back alley, shoot-’em-up type of work, and he definitely wanted to avoid another trite Whitey Bulger type of story.
“While I have always been fascinated in what occurred on the hard-scrabble back streets of South Boston, Somerville and Charlestown, I wanted to take it a step further and examine what those people are up to now,” he added. “All while having true fun at this part of history and legend.
“And the result is ‘not for the kids.’”
Bestselling authors William Martin, author of “Cape Cod,” and Linda Greenlaw, author of “The Hungry Ocean,” have both offered glowing endorsements for Fitzpatrick’s book.
Fitzpatrick is already writing a sequel to his debut novel.
“‘Crosshairs’ provided a whole new dimension to my life, and I think that the sequel so far is even better: tighter, crisper and overall is allowing me to jettison some of the autobiographical aspects of ‘Crosshairs,’” he says. “I hope that you enjoy, for in Boston, history, politics and crime all merge into one when caught in the crosshairs.”
Fitzpatrick will sign “Crosshairs” during a book launch event at Yellow Umbrella Books, in Chatham on Saturday, Sept. 1 from noon to 3 p.m. For more information, call the store at 508-945-0144.