Swimming with the sharks: New 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
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!
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
“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