BRATTLEBORO—The hardest thing for a new writer is sharing your work with another writer, and hoping they think the words you put on the page are worth reading.
You might think that Brattleboro Police Capt. Mark Carignan, a man with a 25-year career in law enforcement, would not be that shy. But he admits that it was difficult to reveal what he was writing.
“I’d been writing for about 15 to 20 years, but I never let anyone else see it, not even my wife,” he said. “I was nervous and afraid.”
He had an interest in writing crime novels and, naturally, if you are someone in southern Vermont with an interest in writing in that genre, you talk to Archer Mayor. With 32 books — and counting — in his long-running Joe Gunther series, Mayor is someone who knows the ins and outs of the writing trade.
Carignan and Mayor regularly crossed paths professionally, as Mayor serves as a death investigator for Vermont’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. But it took until last year for Carignan to show Mayor the manuscript what would become his debut novel, Out From Under.
Mayor agreed to give it a look and thought the novel had potential. That gave Carignan the confidence to show the manuscript to others, who also liked what they read.
“From there, it just took off,” said Carignan.
Carignan said Mayor, and his spouse, book editor Margot Zalkind Mayor, offered their help to Carignan, who ended up self-publishing Out From Under in November.
“From January to September (2021), I tried the usual route and queried about three dozen literary agents,” Carignan said. “I didn’t hear from most of them, and the ones I did hear from said it wasn’t for them. That’s when I started poking around about how self-publishing works.”
While Out From Under is available on Amazon.com, Carignan said the biggest boosters of his book have been the local bookstores such as Everyone’s Books in Brattleboro, Village Square Booksellers in Bellows Falls, and Bartleby’s Books in Wilmington.
“The publishing industry can be a cutthroat world, but the bookstores here have been kind and accommodating,” he said.
Set in Manchester, N.H., Out From Under is a fast-moving story that begins with a young New Hampshire state trooper, Betsy Diaz, getting violently beaten by a sex offender on the lam whom she is trying to bring into custody.
The reader soon encounters the jurisdictional conflicts between the Manchester Police and the state police, both of whom are hunting down the man who assaulted Diaz. Along the way, we meet a corrupt federal judge who dispenses the right verdict for the right price and a crime boss looking for a way out of a long stretch in prison.
We also meet the three Manchester detectives who are in the thick of the case — Donovan Mollie, a young detective with an out-of-control gambling problem; Jimmy Brennan, an undercover detective who has been undercover too long and wants out; and Charlie Wilcox, an old-school detective whose street cop experience lies not too far beneath the buttoned-down demeanor he now projects.
And, far from waiting for someone else to solve the crime, we see Diaz bull her way out of the hospital and, although hobbled by her injuries, tries to bring in the guy who tried to kill her.
These threads come together quickly in this story, which is filled with action, as Carignan said he likes to see that in the books that he reads.
“I want it to be entertaining,” he said.
All the characters, save for Diaz, are deeply flawed in one way or another, and those flaws create the plot twists that propel the action.
“I have always said that there are very few really bad guys,” Carignan said, “just people who have made some very bad decisions.”
“There are no real saints, either, since all of us have our shortcomings,” he added. “But there are some truly bad people in the world. Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of them.”
A composite sketch
For those who read the book and wonder which character resembles Carignan, or other past or present members of the Brattleboro Police Department, Carignan says the people and scenes in Out From Under are not “point-for-point” out of his life, but that in “every scene, I have either seen part of it or been part of it.”
As for the characters, he said they “are not modeled on any one person, but there are elements of people I’ve known and worked with over the years.”
One thing that is drawn from his own life is the setting of the book.
Carignan grew up in the Manchester area, and his first law enforcement job was with the Dover, N.H. police. He also served as undercover detective and worked with the New Hampshire State Drug Task Force before coming to Brattleboro.
“I’m very familiar with Manchester. It is a city that’s just the right size to do a crime novel,” he said. “There are 120,000 people there, and 330 people on the police force.”
“I thought about setting the book in Boston, but there are way too many crime books set in Boston,” he said. “New York City is too big, and I don’t know anything about other cities, like Los Angeles.”
Sprinkled throughout Out From Under is lots of “inside baseball” on electronic surveillance techniques used by law enforcement — techniques that play a major role in the crime investigation in the book.
Carignan said it is relatively easy to track people’s whereabouts through their cell phones, which contain plenty of potentially incriminating information about communications and the device’s location that can be easily gleaned through its texts, emails, and phone records.
“People don’t realize how they are being tracked everywhere they go, thanks to their cell phones,” he said. “It is definitely not a secure form of communication.”
A new career?
It is tough to juggle being a police captain, a husband, and a father, and still find time to write. Carignan said most of his thinking about writing gets done during early morning walks with his dog, Charlie.
As for putting pen to paper, he says that he tries to write something every day, but the bulk of the work usually happens on evenings and weekends, when there is a bit more spare time.
At 47, Carignan is still a few years away from retirement from law enforcement, but admits he is thinking about the future. He is definitely committed to writing more novels featuring Diaz, Brennan, and Wilcox, the three main characters in Out From Under.
While he is not expecting to write a novel a year like Archer Mayor, Carignan said there “is definitely room for sequels.”
“There is a lot of room to explore these characters, and who they are,” he said.