Monday, November 5, 2012



For most of the time when I was working on my first book, GAMES OF THE HANGMAN, I lived in a traditional Irish thatched cottage—the kind of dwelling which was made entirely of local materials, and which was about as different from modern housing as could be. A local craftsman—Jimmy Crowley (Jimmy the Eel) once opined that the place had probably cost no more than fifty pounds to build (much less that $100) though that would have been in the 1840s, the time of the Famine. The location, by the way, was in that little known, but very beautiful spot—West Waterford, Ireland. In fact, as far as I know, it still is. Such cottages, with their three foot thick walls at the base—they taper—are not particularly portable. In fact, it is their very mass which keeps them in place because they don’t have any foundations in the traditional sense. They were merely plonked on the ground and built up, one rock from the field on top of another. Local materials, in those days, did not mean going to your local hardware store. Such facilities did not exist. It meant working with what you could drag out of Ireland’s stony fields and hedgerows. Such structures were basic in the most elemental sense. But so was life in those days.

Unless my marvelous, beautiful, truly awesome Jotul wood-burning stove was kept charged, the cottage was cold—because there was neither insulation or damp-proofing—and it was vulnerable to Northern winds because a rat had eaten a hole in the thatch—and spiders, and other things that crept and crawled, proliferated in the thatch which was exposed internally. In other words, if I looked up at the ceiling in my tiny sitting-room, I didn’t see white painted plaster. I saw the inside of the thatch, together with all its attendant wild life. And when the winds were high, which was quite often, little pieces of thatch would flutter down and remind me that that I was living in much the same way as Irish peasants had around the time of the Great Famine—the mid nineteenth century—when the cottage had originally been built. That said, I had electric light and a TV which received all of two channels; and I had running water from my very own well. All in all, what more could a struggling writer want – apart from vast quantities of books and the (not too) occasional comfort of a sexually willing woman?

In truth, it was a pretty wonderful time—if I choose to forget the stress of chronic financial insecurity combined with the thought that, like so many would-be writers, I might never sell anything. Mostly I did just that. I pushed my worries to the back of my mind and lived for the day. I walked, I read, I struggled to write, I fell in love. I made love. And I reveled in what was, on the face of it, an extremely simple simple life; though life is never simple.

After my first book, GAMES OF THE HANGMAN, was sold, I decided to spend some time in New York getting to know publishing—and the transition defined culture shock. Suddenly, I was staying in Brooklyn with friends, and commuting into Manahttan via the D train, and hanging around my publishers, Grove, trying to work out how the game was played; and not much liking what I found.

I started off knowing no one, apart from my friends in Brooklyn, but soon my editor, Rose Maria Morse—a most attractive woman—introduced me to a friend’s boyfriend, Dennis Martin, a former NYPD detective of some distinction, who had been the bodyguard for Mayor Koch for some time, and was friends with such gorgeous creatures as Maureen O’Hara and Brook Shields; and he had also worked for Michael Jackson.

In turn, Dennis introduced me to his friends, John Pritchard, the Inspector General of the MTA (who went on to become First Deputy of the NYPD), and Jimmy Miley, another retired NYPD detective, now also working for the MTA, who bore more than a passing resemblance to myself (a story for another day).

Subsequently, I spent many an enjoyable evening carousing with the three—don’t ask—and eventually Dennis asked me would I be willing to meet his parents. They were retired, but they had heard about this Irish author and were curious. It is also fair to say that I enjoyed (minor) celebrity status at the time.

I agreed, of course, and Dennis drove me out to meet his incredible mother, Anne, and his retired cop father, Al. They were stimulating company and Anne, in particular, had a wicked sense of humor. I was captivated; and we became good friends. They lived in a rather strange and wonderful community which reminded me in a way of BRIGADOON—and if you don’t know what Brigadoon is, check out the movie. The real name of the community they lived in was Breezy Point.

Subsequently, after good, long lives, Al Martin died; and then Anne. I was much saddened, but felt privileged to have known them. In fact every time I see BLUE BLOODS—which is a weekly TV series about a family of Irish cops—I think of the Martin clan with affection. Blue Bloods, by the way, stars Tom Selleck whom Dennis Martin positively does not resemble (though, as it happens, he, Dennis, is an extremely good-looking man). I am probably mildly jealous. We author types, careless of our appearance, and focused on our craft, tend towards the rumpled.

Last week, Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on Breezy Point so I was prompted to phone Dennis in his Manhattan apartment—who was as droll as ever. The man has a marvelously dry sense of humor which sort of sneaks up on you; and mugs you. And he, and his wife Monica (she of the great laugh) even had electricity. Good grief! Some people just have the touch.

Though the Martin family sold their house there some time ago, I still feel quite distressed about Breezy Point. Still, I’m sure the community will re-build. As for Dennis Martin and clan—I haven’t mentioned his brother, retired NYPD Captain Bobby Martin so far—I am just delighted to be back in touch again. Good friends. Good memories. Great people.

I shall now go and hone my wit; strop my razor; embrace the blade. Dennis is dangerous in that regard. You joust verbally with Dennis at your peril. You have been warned. He is smarter than your average bear. And bears, I will have you know, are smart.


Orso Clip Art


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