This year marks the 20th anniversary of Exeter resident Brendan DuBois’s first novel, Dead Sand: A Lewis Cole Mystery. A few things have changed since that first publication.
DuBois is now a seasoned novelist, with 17 books and 100 short stories to his name. His genre of choice is mystery thriller.
“I think it’s an attractive genre,” DuBois said during an interview at Me & Ollies in Exeter last week. “It usually involves a crime or crisis that gets the reader’s attention. As it proceeds, there’s usually some sort of justice or closure attached at the end, which is typical of most thriller and mystery stories. … If you look at the New York Times bestseller list, most of the fiction there is of the mystery or suspense sort.”
Since that first published book, he’s also become a Jeopardy! game show champion.
“Once a year, they have auditions. … You basically answer 50 questions on the computer, and if you get enough right, they invite you to do an in-person audition,” DuBois said. “I’d read beforehand that they’re not just looking for smart players, but they’re also looking for people who look good on TV.”
In September 2012, he won $23,000 for being able to identify the 1966 Milton Bradley game accused of being “sex in a box.” (It’s Twister.) He won one show then returned the next week only to have his butt handed to him. (His words.)
“It was surreal. Very surreal,” DuBois said.
But a few things haven’t changed since his first book was published 20 years ago. Dubois still lives on the Seacoast. He still loves to write. And he still likes to explore a character named Lewis Cole, a magazine columnist and former Department of Defense research analyst pensioned off after surviving a training accident. His main guy also lives on the New Hampshire seacoast, in a town called Taylor, inspired by Hampton.
“I worked as a reporter for Foster’s and for the Hampton Union. It was there I decided this [the Seacoast] would be a great setting for a book,” DuBois said. “You have a power plant at one end, a submarine base at the other. In the summer, there are hundreds of tourists, and in the winter it’s deserted. You have wealthy homes in North Hampton and Rye, a trailer park a 10-minute ride away.”
Fatal Harbor: A Lewis Cole Mystery is the eighth and latest installation in the series, which he’ll discuss at many upcoming events in local bookstores and libraries. It’s about one of Lewis Cole’s best friends, Detective Diane Woods, who is in a near-fatal coma after a violent anti-nuclear demonstration. The book follows Lewis Cole’s journey to find justice for his friend. It’s a seamless extension of his last novel, Deadly Cove, which ended with a cliffhanger.
“I don’t know if this is a trade secret or not,” DuBois said. “I was at 50 or so pages left of Deadly Cove, and I decided to have his best friend, Detective Diane Woods, murdered, which would really shock the readers. … and also be a jumping-off point for the next book,” DuBois said.
Thrilling content is one way to keep audiences involved. Another is through interesting characters.
“You have to create characters that your reader cares about. You can have the page-turning-ist page-turner of all time, but if the readers don’t care about what’s happening to the character, they’ll put the book away,” DuBois said. “I think they [readers] like Lewis because he’s different. … He’s not really a spy, but he’s in an intelligence agency, and he knows how to ask questions and look for information. … He’s very loyal to his friends and to people who come to him looking for help.”
Between book and game show appearances, DuBois writes in his Exeter home office from after breakfast till the evening. Newspaper reporting helped him become a stringent obeyer of deadlines; at the time of the interview, he’d just finished writing the next Lewis Cole adventure, tentatively called Blood Foam.
“I’m not complaining. My commute is a walk down the hallway. I set my own hours. I always wanted to be a writer,” DuBois said.
As seen in the June 5, 2014 issue of the Hippo.