March 23, 2010




Like McCabe, I’m a native New Yorker. He was born in the Bronx. I was born in Brooklyn. We both grew up in the city. He dropped out of NYU Film School and joined the NYPD, rising through the ranks to become the top homicide cop at the Midtown North Precinct. I graduated from Brown and joined a major New York ad agency, rising through the ranks to become creative director on accounts like the US Army, Procter & Gamble, and Lincoln/Mercury.

We both married beautiful brunettes. McCabe’s wife, Sandy dumped him to marry a rich investment banker who had “no interest in raising other people’s children.” My wife, Jeanne, though often given good reason to leave me in the lurch, has stuck it out through thick and thin and is still my wife. She is also my best friend, my most attentive reader and a perceptive critic.

Both McCabe and I eventually left New York for Portland, Maine. I arrived in August 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks, in search of the right place to begin a new career as a fiction writer. He came to town a year later, to escape a dark secret in his past and to find a safe place to raise his teenage daughter, Casey.

There are other similarities between us. We both love good Scotch whiskey, old movie trivia and the New York Giants. And we both live with and love women who are talented artists.

There are also quite a few differences. McCabe’s a lot braver than me. He’s a better shot. He likes boxing. He doesn’t throw up at autopsies. And he’s far more likely to take risks. McCabe’s favorite Portland bar, Tallulah’s, is, sadly, a figment of my imagination. My favorite Portland bars are all very real.

You can visit James’ website at or his personal tour page at


What’s the Difference Between a Mystery (Or Whodunit), and a Thriller or a Novel of Suspense?

A dear old friend of mine recently read The Cutting and commented that he loved the book, loved the characters, and loved the suspense. Said it kept him on the edge of the seat and couldn’t wait for McCabe#2 (The Chill of Night-which comes out June 22nd). However, he said, he had one problem. He knew who the bad guy was pretty early on in the game. Why did I give it way?

I responded that my reason was that The Cutting was more of a suspense thriller than a mystery or whodunit. “What’s the difference?” he asked, “I thought they were pretty much the same thing.”

Looking at emails I’ve received since The Cutting came out last summer, I discovered there’s a fair amount of confusion on this issue. While there’s no official answer, here’s an unofficial answer or at least my own personal opinion.

A mystery, according to Hayman, depends on the hero solving an intellectual puzzle that leads him to discover “Whodunit.” Action is often minimal. The sleuth is seldom, if ever, in physical danger and the reader is kept guessing until the end. Reader satisfaction is derived from guessing the answer before the sleuth does or, failing that, enjoying the unraveling of the mystery and going back to look over the subtle clues the author sprinkled in along the way. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is of course the progenitor of many of the best sleuths out there. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are also among the earliest and most famous.

A thriller or novel of suspense keeps the readers interest by ratcheting up the action and putting someone’s life in imminent danger. Sometimes it’s the hero. Sometimes it’s an innocent by stander or potential victim. What’s kept so many readers glued to The Cutting is the awful suspense of the ticking clock, not knowing whether McCabe can save poor Lucinda Cassidy from a horrible death before time runs out. That kind of tension definitely makes The Cutting much more of a thriller than a mystery.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books and John Sandford’s Prey novels are examples of other books that are thrillers much more than mysteries.

Needless to say there’s a lot of overlap and many books blend a little of both. Mine do. But, going forward, readers can expect most of the books in the Mike McCabe series, like The Cutting and the upcoming The Chill of Night will fall firmly into the thriller camp.

Hope that helps to clear up the issue.