In 2004, I wrote a novel, THE ABSCONDER, based on an incident from my boyhood when three young men from Woodside in Queens, in the early 1950s killed a World War II veteran in the process of robbing him at gunpoint. Two of the robber/killers were electrocuted in Sing Sing. I knew the brother of one and the mother of the other, both lived within two blocks of my house. The third fellow, who escaped the chair, had always fascinated me. The rumor around the neighborhood was that he came from a wealthy family who hired a lawyer who got him off. In reality, a little research showed that the third killer was the son of a divorced waitress with no money at all. The judge decided to give him somewhat of a break by sending to prison for 20 years to life. He served 28 years before being paroled.
The third killer was the model for my protagonist in THE ABSCONDER. The difference was that my character was absolutely innocent of the robbery murder as were the other two characters who ended up being electrocuted. In THE ABSCONDER, the three were railroaded by police detectives pressured by intense publicity to wrap up the case.
My protagonist, who had graduated from a Jesuit high school just before his arrest and thus was a pretty smart kid, emerges from 28 years in prison as an accomplished poet. To quote my notes on the character: “He is 46 years old. Youth is behind him. He is into true middle age. Silent, private, fierce (not sullen), fleshless, walking time bomb. A man not to be messed with. A heavy drinker, smoker. In a brawl he would use his fists, head, feet, any blunt instrument or knife at hand. His eyes traveled across those he met, examining them, measuring them.”
To escape the burden of life-long parole with restrictions that make his life miserable and unfree, my protagonist absconds. Unfortunately for him, his parole officer who has retired assumes a role like Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLE and relentlessly pursues the protagonist with the intention of bringing him to justice by returning him to prison.
The problem with the novel was that my protagonist had become too nice a guy, living too pleasant a life, and in each instance he was found by the parole officer, he managed to escape without doing anyone any harm. That character and plot problem gnawed at me. I was dissatisfied with THE ABSCONDER, but was unable to fix it. AND THEN.
And then, I was walking with my wife in the park near my home not thinking about THE ABSCONDER when the answers to the four-year-old problem poured into my mind. The muse had struck again. I immediately (or a least as soon as I got home) wrote down the solutions. In the near future, I will be doing another rewrite of THE ABSCONDER, which promises to be a much better book as a result.
The next novel I will review is HANSELL’S DRAGON by Deborah K. Lauro.