Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Past Imperfect

Guest Post by James Mullen
I’ve started to sketch out the plot for my second book.  The book is a police procedural based in Boston, and although I visit the area frequently, I haven’t lived there in over 20 years. Computer research and phone interviews are invaluable, you can’t beat putting your eyes on places – even if it’s just a validation of what’s perfectly remembered.  To be honest though, I went with the idea of visiting not the actual places I image as crime scenes, because I know them so well, but want to re-acquaint myself with the more peripheral areas of those scenes that could serve as description. 
I plan to have the opening crime scene take place at a downtown subway stop, or as we like to say in Boston, a “T” stop.  I’ve found most subway stations very linear and shaped like, well, the letter “T”;  ascending or descending stairs that pour out to a waiting horizontal platform in front of the rails.  Pretty straight forward, pretty simple.  Since I was planning a murder, I needed a place with more complication, more corners.  I need malevolence.
I remember a stop I used back in the mid-70s when I commuted from the Back Bay to downtown Boston.  The station always struck me as up to no good, and on nights I worked late, felt like I was descending into a film noir movie set.  Mack the Knife or Philip Marlowe could pop out of the shadows and stick a shiv or a gat in my back without warning.  The place defined grimy and dark.  The layout was more like the letter “Y”, but with intricate and shadowy angles.  Perfect!

So I had my hopes up when I went to re-visit the street-level environment surrounding the stop two weeks ago. I almost didn’t enter the stop itself since I knew the details were firmly embedded in my memory – even 40 years later.
Boston, back then, covered both sides of the social contract with its ridership.  The city wanted efficient use of its system, so made the environment extremely unpleasant; searing heat in any season; zero air exchange; squealing breaks on subways at all times; crowd movements resembling schools of fish in a Dixie cup; most overhead light bulbs broken – illumination being supplied by any natural light able to crawl on its hands and knees down the stairs and make it to the platform area on the first level.  Yes, the city made good on its promise that no matter what slings and arrows were suffered during a given workday by its citizens, they would take place in an environment much more pleasant than the station.
But look what I walked into?  As you can see from the recent photo; white tiles on the wall!  A wall, recently cleaned!  Posters, and get this, a mural on the back wall behind the escalators.  Art appreciation!  And the lights!  More than adequate ceiling fluorescents throughout. People holding hands!  I fully expected to see folks alight from arriving subway cars singing show tunes and then lining up for a dance routine.  How could my memory do this to me?  Or is it the city’s fault?
The second day I took a boat trip to another crime scene, Spectacle Island, in Boston Harbor.  Although I have never set foot on the island, it is one of many in Boston Harbor located on a well-used flight path to and from Logan Airport that I’ve flown numerous times.  If you look out a plane’s window enough, you get to know the landmarks and the approach well. As a precaution, I also checked maps on the internet prior to my trip and could see that the island’s view of the Boston skyline would be blocked by several others in the harbor; that fact being germane to an intended plot point of my story.  I give you Spectacle Island:

Lesser men would suffer boredom from being right all the time.  Me, I just take it in stride.

James Mullen currently lives in North Carolina.  His first novel, Ketchum and Cobb, can be purchased on Amazon.   
Website:  Grumpy Gets Better ( – things literary and not so much.
Also on Facebook and Goodreads.