Transplanted New Yorker sets thriller in Maine


PORTLAND (AP) – After gimpy bomb maker Smoke Dugan fled New York after killing his mafia employer and stealing more than $2 million of mob money, he wound up in Maine to await the hit men who were sure to beat a path to his door.

Dugan’s creator, Bronx-born Patrick Quinlan, followed the same path – geographically speaking – to continue his pursuit of a fiction writing career that began 10 years ago and has finally brought him to the brink of success.

Quinlan’s novel, “Smoked,” (St. Martin’s Press, $23.95), is a fast-paced thriller set in Greater Portland that was released this month. He finished another novel in the same genre a few weeks ago and is completing a co-authored autobiography of Dutch film actor Rutger Hauer.

Quinlan wrote four previous thrillers that failed to find a buyer before turning “Smoked” over to his agent; it sold about two weeks later. The book, he said, was “just a little bit better” than the ones before it, and he senses that “something almost mystical” helped it escape the fate of the others.

“I think that there’s sort of an order to the universe and in order to achieve something worthwhile, you have to go through a certain amount of testing,” he said in an interview in a park in Portland’s Old Port, not far from the hotel where the chief assassin stayed while stalking Dugan. “So I was confident I would eventually write a book that was picked up, but I wasn’t sure this would be the one.”

“Smoked” follows Dugan and his girlfriend, Lola Bell, as they scramble to elude a band of hired guns dispatched by the gravel-voiced Big Vito. Dugan, in his late 50s, got caught up during childhood in the Irish gang culture of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Bell, a 25-year-old black woman and martial arts expert, spent her youth in a notorious high-rise project in Chicago.

The two may seem an odd couple but they have in common a desire to escape a nightmarish past that led them to Portland to start new lives. They met when Dugan was making toys for special-needs children with whom Bell worked.

The bodies pile up quickly as the story moves at warp speed, capped by a cinematic chase scene that begins along the waterfront and moves through the Old Port and past City Hall into the downtown before ending in spectacular fashion on the Casco Bay Bridge.

The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, which specializes in mysteries and thrillers, selected “Smoked” as its top debut novel for April and predicted that Quinlan has a promising future. “He’s got a great writing style. He really knows what he’s doing,” said Ian Kern, the store’s hardcover manager, who joined other employees in making the pick.

Quinlan, 35, with a closely trimmed beard and shaved skull, has a writing style reminiscent of early Elmore Leonard, one of his favorite writers. Quinlan moved from New York to Portland with his girlfriend, Joy Scott, in 2001, 10 days before the Sept. 11 attacks. The two, now married, live in the Portland area.

Quinlan’s sister lives in the area and he became familiar with it from his visits. He and Scott, also a New Yorker, were looking for a place to move and he told her, “you’ll like it, it’s sort of a hip town, Portland.”

While Scott worked a regular job, Quinlan freelanced as he had for the past decade, turning out copy for trade journals and fundraising for nonprofits. A political activist, he was a volunteer for the Green party and accepted an offer to be campaign manager for John Eder of Portland, the only member of that party now serving in any state legislature.

With Eder’s election, Quinlan stayed on as his aide at the State House. It was an exciting atmosphere, he recalled, with “a lot of little cloak-and-dagger plots going on” that introduced him to a world that may one day give rise to a political novel.

But Quinlan now has more than enough on his plate to keep him busy as he adheres to an unconventional writing schedule that would delight a vampire. He starts around 11 p.m. or midnight, then works until the sun rises and sometimes beyond.

He is hard pressed to explain why, although an inclination toward strange nocturnal scheduling surfaced early on.

“When I was a kid I could never sleep at night and I would go to school and fall asleep as soon as I got there,” he said.

Since Quinlan’s agent linked him with Hauer, the author has been interviewing the 62-year-old actor weekly by phone as he works under a tight deadline to deliver the book by June 1, in time for a 2007 publication that would coincide with the 25th anniversary of Hauer’s most famous movie, “Blade Runner.”

The pairing was fortuitous because Quinlan was a longtime fan. “This was one of my anti-heroes when I was a kid,” he said.

Quinlan’s second novel, also slated to come out next year, is set in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, taking the author back to his New York haunts.

“It’s about a guy who is an ex-con and he finds his boss’ body in the trunk of his car,” he said. The boss was also his lover, and the protagonist has to get rid of the body and find out who killed her.

More of Quinlan’s fiction is in the works. He said his agent is negotiating a new two-book contract, with one of the books to be a sequel to “Smoked.”

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