North author kicks off mystery series with new book

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Robert Cote's newest book, “Tenure Track,” is the first of what he plans to be an ongoing mystery series. Courtesy photo

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

A little over a year ago North Attleborough resident Robert Cote released his first book, “Saving the Planet: A Conservative’s Guide.”

Now, he’s moving into the mystery genre with “Tenure Track,” the first in what he plans to be a series of books starring his character, Griff Thayer. Cote began working on the book during National Novel Writing Month and recently published the final version. The book is available on Amazon in print or e-book format. His wife Louise designed the cover.

The last time we talked to you had released your last book, a collection of essays about conservative policymakers who had influenced environmental protection. What happened that made you move on to writing a mystery?

Honestly, the book that just came out. It was part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and 2019 was the first year I did that. And this book is result of it. I had written it, rewritten it. And then I believe it was my wife who said, ‘You know, why don’t you actually move forward with publishing that one?’ So I said yes, I should.

And so I hired an editor, freelance. After he sent me the edited copy, I re-read it and made some more changes and things still slip through. But it was a fun process. Then I went through the Amazon process of self publishing, which is fun.

We (the editor) worked very well together. We only did a couple of passes back and forth and I was more concerned about grammatical errors and spelling, the flow of things. He actually helped me improve a couple of the the action sequences to make them seem a little more urgent.

What about the mystery genre appealed to you?

I have always been a big fan of the old film, the 40s Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. Then later on Robert Parker, who I actually had the pleasure of meeting several times when I worked in Cambridge but I never had one of his books with me to have him sign. I’ve read every Robert Parker novel written. So obviously that was an influence, I always liked it. I always thought it was fun. So I’m gonna have some fun myself doing that. And it was fun. It was.

It really dove into it. Sometimes I get tired, because you know what it’s like to participate (in NaNoWriMo). It’s like 30 days to come up with a 50,000 words or at least the first 50,000 words and you get to a certain point thinking oh, great, I kind of you know, wrote myself into a corner here.

But one of my favorites Raymond Chandler, he said when things are slow, have a man with a gun walk into the room, solves everything. You know, he does it because it gives you some more actions and more plot.

The goal is to have like a series, focusing on the main character who happens to be a late middle-aged man who had worked as a private detective. Cases seem to come to him. And he has his wife who he’s married to for many years. Like a lot of amateur writers I base some characters on people I know.

What would you attribute to the novel being done so quickly?

Well, it’s not like I can see it on November 1. And then to develop the characters. I had taken some time beforehand to come up with a general idea, you know, private detective, San Francisco. That’s where a lot of the Dashiell Hammett ones were based, is also Los Angeles. I don’t specify the time but you can tell it’s probably like, late 80s, early 90s, because there’s not a whole lot of cell phones going on. Nobody’s texting each other.

So I had developed the the basic plotline. One of the characters is based on a co-worker who has a quite an international background. My dad was a cop for 30 years in Attleboro. So I knew some detectives, and knew some of the other officers he worked with and you get to know the mindset, at least in a small city cop.

Tell me a bit more about Griff Thayer, your main character.

He’s from Massachusetts originally. And he found himself in San Francisco because he was going to graduate school. But to support himself he took a job with an investigation agency. It was supposed to be a boring job.

And then one day he’s talking to one of his schoolmates, who happens to run a business at a train station. He stopped there specifically because he likes the coffee and he’s heading toward the area where there is someone else he knows, a shoeshine stand operator. And before it gets there, a bomb goes off. And the investigation here is, why did somebody bomb the train station?

What I did about this one is the reason for the bombing, it’ what everybody is working toward here. But he just used some of his basic analytic skills. But at one time, he decided to look at what wasn’t there.

For this book, did you have to outline the whole thing?
I had outlined the basic plot, came up with some of the characters. And then there were some wild swings I didn’t plan on and it just seemed to fit. One of them is happens takes place in a local Catholic church, kind of a landmark to the city.

Did you have to do any kind of location scouting to find the spots you want or the book?

I put a disclaimer in the book thing that I played fast and loose with the geography and institutions in San Francisco and in Western Massachusetts. This wasn’t supposed to be you know, historical, drama. It’s like, here we are at this famous building. I mentioned a few. Some of them I know are gone.

How would you describe the action in this book?

I want people to realize that this guy does a lot of thinking. That, and he kind of deduces a few things and comes up with a couple of wild theories. And he also very happily accepts assistance from unusual sources. I mean, the usual ones like the local police department and he has a good relationship (with them), although he does get warned at one point by a senior official about going crazy.

Did this book change a lot from the initial version?

It did. Yeah, a couple of characters were added. I eliminated a couple of things that I considered kind of superfluous. But it actually turned out the novel is actually longer than the original draft, which happens a lot. The original thing ended at about 52,000 words I think. It all came down to 62,000 words.

How’s it feel to have it done, especially where this meant to be the first of many books?
When I got that first shipment from from Amazon I held in my hand and showed it to Louise and looked at it and she said, ‘that’s a fantastic book cover’ in her own humble, totally unbiased opinion. As I said, she does excellent work.

What’s next for you?
There’s another one coming out. I’ll be editing that when this one is finished. It involves an abduction of a college student. The reasons turn out to be so unusual.