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A fast-paced thriller set in ... Maine?

Transplanted New Yorker Patrick Quinlan imagines murder and mayhem in laid-back New England.

July 07, 2006|Jerry Harkavy | Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — After gimpy bomb maker Smoke Dugan killed his mafia boss and stole more than $2 million of mob money, he fled New York and 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 writing career that began 10 years ago and has finally brought him to the brink of success.

Quinlan's newly published novel, "Smoked," is a fast-paced thriller set in Greater Portland. He finished another novel in the same genre a few weeks ago and is collaborating with Dutch film actor Rutger Hauer on his memoir.

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 says, 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 says in a park in Portland's Old Port, not far from the hotel where the chief assassin stayed while stalking Dugan.

"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 martial arts expert, spent her youth in a notorious high-rise project in Chicago. The two escaped 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 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.

Kirkus Reviews said "Smoked" was "notable for a vintage collection of really rotten bad guys. Characters to care about, even the no-goods. Readers who can tolerate the bloodbaths may be bearing early witness to the arrival of a major talent."

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

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 became campaign manager for John Eder, who was running for the state Legislature.

When Eder was elected, Quinlan stayed on as his aide. 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 create a political novel.

But Quinlan now has more than enough 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 says.

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 ready the book 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 says. 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 was negotiating a new two-book contract; one of the books will be a sequel to "Smoked."

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