Over the years I have read a few novels by Philip Craig and a few by William Tapply. These mystery novelists have continuing characters Brady Coyne (a Boston lawyer) for Tapply and J.W. Jackson for Craig. JW Jackson lives on Martha's Vineyard with his family. Before Craig's death in 2004, Craig and Tapply wrote three novels together where their characters working together on solving crimes on Martha's Vineyard. These novels are good reads, not heavy and fast reads. I like the setting, Martha's Vineyard and even printed a map from the internet so I could follow the exploits of the books.
The books are:
When Craig died, Tapply wrote the following tribute:
I met Philip R. Craig the same way thousands -- close to millions, I guess --
have. By reading one of his books. This one came to me from his editor before
it was published. She hoped I'd write a blurb for the cover.
I read the book in one sitting. It took place on one of my favorite
places -- Martha's Vineyard -- and the hero/narrator, J. W. Jackson, was a guy
after my own heart. The book was full of fishing and adventure and food and
pretty women. It was at once funny and wise and tense. It was called A
Beautiful Place to Die. I loved it. I wrote the blurb and thought: This
Phil Craig is a man I'd like to meet.
Phil and I did meet shortly after his book came out back in 1989.
We hit it off instantly, as I was sure we would. I knew I'd like the man who
wrote that book.
A Beautiful Place to Die was Phil's first in what became
the very popular Martha's Vineyard Mystery series. He wrote a book every year
after that first one, all narrated by J. W. Jackson, the Vietnam vet/ex
cop/part-time sleuth. As the series unfolded, J. W. married Zee, his
sweetheart, and they had children, and J. W. morphed from a loner into a family
man -- an identity that Phil found entirely comfortable and familiar. He would
deny that life imitates art, or vice versa, but Phil was devoted to Shirley, his
wife, and Jamie and Kim, their kids, and their grandchildren.
J.W.'s adventures all took place on the Vineyard. But Phil and
Shirley were globetrotters. Phil had an insatiable thirst to travel, to explore
new and off-beat places, to try on new cultures.
My wife, Vicki, and I spent a lot of time on the island with Phil
and Shirl -- mostly when the bluefish and stripers were around. We surf-cast,
we dug clams and raked quahogs, we mixed martinis, and we laughed. There was
always a lot of music and laughter in the Craigs' house.
As Phil and I traveled around New England promoting our books, we
often found ourselves on the same panels. We shared similar views on politics
and religion, similar tastes in literature and movies, similar senses of humor.
We probably weren't as witty and clever as we thought we were, but we had a lot
of fun playing off each other. Privately, we started calling these events "The Phil 'n' Bill Show."
As these things sometimes go with writers who are friends, each of
us began to mention the other one's character in our novels. My hero, Brady
Coyne, began to show up occasionally in Phil's books, and J. W. Jackson made
several cameo appearances in mine.
Neither of us could remember where the idea came from, but it
occurred to us that collaborating on a novel would give us a tax-deductible
reason to visit back and forth, lounge on the Craigs' balcony overlooking the
sound and the pond with our wives and plenty of martinis and bluefish pate, beat
around ideas about characters and plots, and when the tide was right, do some
fishing. Plus, we thought writing a book together might be fun. Phil was one
of the least materialistic people I've known, but we both figured that a
collaborative novel might double our fan base, such as it was.
We started with a title -- First Light -- and the vaguest
of all ideas: Brady would visit the Vineyard to compete in the Derby with J.W.,
and adventures would surely ensue. Our approach to collaboration was designed to put our friendship
above the demands of art. In order to avoid the inevitable disputes and
arguments and ego-trips that could arise from writing together too closely, we
decided to alternate chapters. We would not mess with the other guy's stuff.
First Light (subtitled by the publisher "The First Ever
Brady Coyne/J. W. Jackson Mystery") got written that way. Phil did the
odd-numbered chapters, and I got the even-numbered ones. Then we wrote another
called (cleverly, we thought) Second Sight.
Our third collaboration (and, alas, our last ever) is called
Third Strike. It will appear next November. Phil Craig was at the top
of his game when we were working on this story.
Collaborating on a novel is an intensely intimate undertaking. It
can make or break a friendship. It made ours.
Now I have lost my dear friend, and readers everywhere have lost a friend,
too. But luckily we can always visit Phil in his books, where we'll find the
lover of swordplay and Errol Flynn movies and Hemingway short stories, the
fisherman and cook and purveyor of "delish" recipes, the folk singer and
guitar-strummer and jokester, the world traveler and sailor and poet, the
professor of English, the cowboy from Durango, the jovial host, the devoted
husband and father, my loving and beloved old friend.
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