Writers are often asked where they get the ideas for their books.
For my part, inspiration has come from newspapers, television, other books and everyday observations of the world around me.
Killing Icarus is a bit different. The seed for my 19th book was planted by chance nearly sixty years ago during a visit to a wind-swept hill on the Atlantic shore of Cape Cod. During that visit I learned that in the late 1920s a New York syndicate had operated a school at the top of the hill where German and American instructors taught people how to fly gliders.
The school might never have come into being if not for the skill and daring of three German glider experts whose advanced design aircraft soared above the Cape's dunes and beaches in 1928, including one flight that broke the Wright Brothers record.
The school was highly successful, but it was only in operation a year before closing due to the financial stresses that came with the Stock Market Crash.
It took World War II to pull the country out of the Depression, and by then some of the Germans who had studied the flight of gulls above the Cape were part of the war machine American and Allied pilots were fighting in the air.
Through the years, I wondered if any of the German airmen every came back to the Cape. And if so, for what reason.
And more recently, I wondered how I could work the little-known story of German glider activity in the U.S. between the wars into a book. I came up with the idea for a reenactment of those glider flights as the focus of the story, but couldn't figure out how to use it in a mystery novel.
Enter Edward Hopper.
Hopper's paintings are famous world-wide. You would have to live on Mars not to be familiar with Night Hawks, the enigmatic painting of anonymous patrons gathered late at night around the counter of a New York coffee shop.
Hopper is most famous for his paintings of the city where he loved to paint the interplay of light and shadow on buildings. Hopper also loved Cape Cod, and he and his wife Jo, also a fine painter, spent half the year in the Outer Cape town of Truro.
Hopper would venture from the studio overlooking Cape Cod Bay to explore the hills and valleys of the small town in search of subjects for his art. Commonly, he would sketch a scene and do the actual painting in his studio.
So I asked myself a question. What if the German airman coming back to Cape Cod after the war encountered Edward Hopper?
This gave me a nexus, an intersection of lives, where I could ensnare a young woman in a web and describe her fight to untangle herself from its sticky strands.
Abi Vickers is an art historian named Abi Vickers who has hit the proverbial wall. Her husband ran off with his secretary, leaving Abi to clean up the wreckage he left behind. Her galleries, her reputation, her apartment in Boston's tony South End-everything she has worked so hard for-have been ripped from her life by an uncaring and unfair legal system.
When an old college mentor offers her a temporary job organizing his records at a cottage overlooking Cape Cod Bay, she accepts, hoping the sun-drenched scenery that inspired Edward Hopper will be an ideal refuge where she can reassemble the broken pieces of her career.
As she leaves Boston for the Outer Cape town of Truro, she looks forward to restoring her body and soul with spectacular sunsets, walks on a deserted beach, and to cleansing her mind with the contemplative practice of Zen archery.
But her dreams of peace and tranquility are shattered when she leans that a historic aviation event is about to be reenacted practically on her doorstep. Suddenly, instead of finding sanity, she wonders if she is going insane-especially when she starts seeing shadows flitting across the star-speckled sky.
She discovers the troubles that had plagued her in Boston were child's play compared to the dangers she is about to face. From the deadly cat-and-mouse game she must play with hired killers on the Nantucket ferry to the threats that emanate from an old barn near a fortress-like abandoned mansion.
Even with the help of a part-time, small-town police officer who is struggling to deal with the weight of his own personal baggage, and a German journalist who is not what he appears to be, Abi must tap into intellectual and physical resources she never knew she possessed.
Will they be enough?
If you'd like to find out how Abi makes out, you can pre-order the book in print or ebook from the links on this page or call your favorite book store.
“What a character. Aristotle Socarides is a diver, a fisherman, and a PI who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. He’s the brainchild of a genius—Paul Kemprecos—who knows a thing or two about writing action and adventure. I bow to the master and urge all of you to read this latest installment in a first rate series.”
—Steve Berry, New York Times and #1 Internationally Bestselling Author
"Absolutely the best private-eye mystery I've read. I can't wait for the next one."
"There can be no better mystery writer in America today than Paul Kemprecos."
—Clive Cussler, New York Times
From "Grey Lady"
Rich people must be used to helicopters buzzing their backyards. The party settled back to its sultry summer night rhythm soon after the aerial inspection. The golf carts continued to drop off well-dressed guests. The lighthearted chatter and laughter played against the backdrop of classical music.
Minutes earlier, Ramsey had shifted from his greeter duties and he'd been moving from guest to guest like a honeybee gathering pollen in a field of wildflowers. He greeted some guests with a quick handshake, a word of welcome, and a gesture toward the bar and food. With others it was a double handshake, a shoulder squeeze, a cheek peck for the women. The smile switched on and off like a strobe light.
OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE
Ever since I penned Bluefin Blues, the seventh of the Aristotle “Soc” Socarides Cape Cod detective books, readers have asked me if I planned to write another in the series. I was up to my eyeballs writing the NUMA Files with Clive Cussler, a job that demanded all of my working time, and then some. When the collaboration with Clive ended, I stuck with the formula that had worked so well, and pounded out an adventure story, The Emerald Scepter, which was published in May. In the meantime, I joined with Suspense Publishing to introduce new readers to the Soc series in e-book format. Work began on audio versions as well.
While I peddled my adventure book, I pondered whether to take a crack at another Soc story. On a beautiful July day, my wie Christi and I took the ferry to Nantucket so I could look into using the island as a backdrop. The old whaling port has changed since Herman Melville used the “Grey Lady of the Sea,” as a setting for Moby Dick, but it still enjoys a fog-shrouded mystique and offered all sorts of possibilities. The book is available as a trade paperback and in digital format. Suspense has also re-published The Mayflower Murder as part of the project to get all the series back in print. Stay tuned for further details!
Swimming with the sharks: Kemprecos mystery revisits popular character
By Barbara Clark
The Barnstable Patriot
Jun 1, 2018
Sometimes fictional characters catch a kind of local hero status, and we may have one such example in these parts – fictive fisherman and charter boat captain Aristotle “Soc” Socarides, who springs straight from the pen of Cape Cod author Paul Kemprecos.
Kemprecos’ first “Soc” mystery novel, “Cool Blue Tomb” (1991), garnered a Shamus Award for best paperback novel. Soc’s adventures continued for six books or so, then took a hiatus while Kemprecos took a dive into big-time publishing, collaborating for several years with bestselling author Clive Cussler and introducing special assignments expert Kurt Austin for Cussler’s blockbuster NUMA Files series.
After dealing with the stress of turning out a decade-worth of thrillers at the killer pace of one per year for Cussler, Kemprecos decided to gear back down to the Cape Cod lifestyle, responding to fans’ requests to resurrect the Soc series. The unruly but usually philosophical PI/Vietnam vet/boat captain resurfaced in “Grey Lady” (2013) - see sidebar, and is back again in the new adventure, “Shark Bait.”
Kemprecos recalled how his two writing paths came together when he met with Cussler while working to create the Austin character and ran into a stumbling block. “Think Soc!” Cussler advised. Austin, said Kemprecos, appealed to Cussler as a “Soc-type character.”
In “Shark Bait,” Soc lands in his usual mess of trouble, this time involving iconic film stars, mobsters, some biker bar types, a hidden tunnel and a historic Cape Cod legend.
All that, plus a 15-foot great white shark named Emma.
Soc is hired by a cantankerous guy named Gill and undertakes a nighttime stakeout at Gill’s oyster farm to try to discover who’s plundering his oyster beds. After the stakeout takes an unfortunate turn, Soc finds himself in need of a new truck, and coupled with some pending boat repairs that keep him from working his charter boat, he needs to re-think his finances.
As luck would have it, he finds temporary work as a boat handler for a Hollywood crew working locally to film “The Pirate’s Daughter,” a thriller about pirate captain Black Sam Bellamy and his maybe-lover, Mary Hallett, both famous in Cape Cod lore.
Soc is told that the previous boat guy met an untimely end when he got drunk, fell overboard and then fell victim to Emma, as post-mortem marks on his body indicate.
But was it Emma? The big fish is under scrutiny by the coastal group that’s tagged her as part of a study of local shark behavior. Whether she’s the culprit is a question Kemprecos and Soc will eventually answer, but not before Soc encounters more sharks – this time of the more common two-legged variety.
Since 2013, Kemprecos has alternated between Soc and another new thriller series featuring ex-navy SEAL Matt Hawkins. The second Hawkins book, “Minoan Cipher” (2016), was nominated by the International Thriller Writers Association in the category of best paperback.
Now, however, Kemprecos thinks he may just decide to concentrate on Soc. He says he’s been glad to slow down from his former writing pace. “There are a lot of distractions in life now,” he said, referring in part to his rambling back yard and a fence that needs a re-do.
According to the author, Soc’s getting a little older, and so is his Maine coon cat, Kojak, who continues to share Soc’s Cape Cod boathouse, dispensing his cat wisdom. But is Soc mellowing? Kemprecos says, “Definitely. ... He’s not as manic.” Kemprecos admits that he knew Soc in the past as a “slightly crazed character.” Now, the author says, he’s “less acerbic” and focuses “more on [his] observations” of events and people around him.
Kemprecos also referred to the difficulties of aging a fictional character who’s being “restored to life” after a pause of 15 years or so. The author has chosen to let Soc show his age a bit, but mutes it, setting “Shark Bait” in the early 2000s, just before the hi-tech explosions of internet, smartphones and Facebook. Readers will welcome reappearances by Soc’s stubborn, solid family and his old friend Flagg.
Asked whether succeeding as a writer is harder – or easier – these days, he said it’s a little of both. Now “It’s more like the movies,” in that publishing companies are now owned by huge consortiums where the idea is just “to make a profit. They go for the known [name],” he said.
At the same time, with the many new publishing options available to authors today, it’s possible that some unknowns can break through independently of the big publishers, catching the public’s fancy.
Kemprecos is at work on a new Soc story, with another special Cape Cod twist: How about a mystery connected with the past history of a glider school operating out of South Wellfleet in the 1920s?
No matter how many surprises are in store, Kemprecos says that his goal is always to write “books that are fun and entertaining.”
“Shark Bait” By Paul Kemprecos
Suspense Publishing, paperback, $13.95