A new thriller with a B.I. setting: “The Dark Saint”Author Geoff Loftus has been visiting the island since 1962
If we really wanted to grab your attention, we could begin our story with something like: There’s a serial killer stalking the residents of Block Island! But that’s more the job of a novelist, and so we’ll begin with the opening of the new book, “The Dark Saint,” written by Geoff Loftus and which takes place in the summer here on the island:
“Time for the nightly dose of fear, he thought. Hell, I wouldn’t know it was the middle of the night if I weren’t having an anxiety blast.”
And so begins this twisty tale, written by someone who has been vacationing here since 1962 (Loftus lives fulltime in Scarsdale, NY). The story involves the chief of police, Mark Sheridan (who is battling a few issues of his own), police officer Tommy Ball (there’s a last name that might be familiar to some islanders), and many other assorted characters who Loftus introduces the reader to over the course of 384 pages.
Among those characters is someone named Kessler, who Loftus reveals as the murderer about half-way through the book. This is an unusual move, but the fun is in following how the officers of the small police department track the killer. “This is a serial killer that everybody knows,” Loftus said. “They just can’t find him.”
The book, according to Loftus, was a long time in the making. He doesn’t make his living by writing, “so it takes me a long time to write a book,” he said.
“I’ve been thinking about this book since ‘Jaws’ came out,” said Loftus, referring to the 1975 film, which was based on the Peter Benchley novel. “I love the island setting of ‘Jaws.’ ‘The Dark Saint’ is ‘Jaws,’ but this time the monster is on the island.”
The island itself is a key character in the book. Hardly a page goes by without a reference to a familiar landmark. Here’s a sampling:
“Kessler had departed the parish center very cautiously and traveled quickly to New Harbor, running at a steady pace and ducking off the road and out of the glare of headlights whenever a car passed him. He evaded three police cruisers along the way. When he reached New Harbor he went into the Block Island Marina. He walked down the long drive toward The Oar, the marina’s bar. He could hear music and voices... As he reached the cars parked at The Oar, he turned left and went around the lot, going behind a long, low building that housed small shops for the marina’s boating customers, walking through the tall grass and shrubs that lined their back walls.
“When he reached the shore of the harbor, he walked away from the lights of the marina. The rocky beach was treacherous at night, but Kessler knew it well and made his way easily along until he neared the glow from Champlin’s dock lights.”
Loftus obviously knows the terrain. He said he first came to Block island when he was nine years old, and now his children are regular visitors.
“I first came out in April, 1962 and my parents were going house-shopping. The winter ferry was this flat barge. with two or three cars, and the pilot house was a steering block, like a Boston Whaler cockpit. Over to one side was this little pilot house and when we drove into Point Judith, I said, ‘We’re getting on that?’”
When he arrived on the island, Loftus said, “We saw this old stone jetty and Victorian hotels and it looked magical to me, like Disneyland, and it was so beautiful. To a nine-year old, Payne’s Dock was the most exciting place.”
He remembered watching the old Ocean View Hotel burn down in 1966. “It was unbelievable. Navy boats were hosing down Ballard’s to keep the fire contained. One of the police officers came over and told us to get off the hill.”
Which brings us back to the police and back to the book.
Although Loftus said “The Dark Saint” was always going to have a serial killer at its core, the book went through many revisions over a lengthy period of time.
“This is the third complete revision and it’s very different from where I started,” Loftus said, but he said he is very happy (and his publisher is happy) with the results.
“This book is borderline police procedural — it’s hard to do something like this where your hero is a policeman and not get into that,” Loftus said. He wanted to remind readers, however, that solving a crime is a little less expedient in real life than it is on television. “You don’t get results right away. [The show] ‘CSI’ is fiction to the point of fantasy,” Loftus said, who added that a novelist can also add in character details while the mystery is being solved.
One of those character traits is the fact that Police Chief Sheridan is a non-drinking alcoholic who nonetheless yearns for that drink to relieve stress.
“I think it [alcoholism] makes the character emotionally accessible, which is why it’s such a trope in fiction. These guys are struggling and it relates to the struggle he has with the case,” Loftus said. “A recovering alcoholic is someone who is struggling to deal with his past and so it gives the reader tremendous access.”
Loftus also said the book has a strong filial thread running through the narrative. “The hero needs to become a man that his son will be proud of — and the villain is trying to smash his father’s legacy,” Loftus said.
In the end, he hopes that “The Dark Saint” will be a breezy summetime read. “I hope people are entertained. I wanted to write an entertainment that had a little heart to it.”
He also wanted to say something to the place he has been coming to for 50 years.
“Part of what I wanted to do,” Loftus said about the book, “Is write a love song to the island.”
“The Dark Saint” is a Saugatuck Book publication. It is available as an e-book for Amazon Kindle and thanks to free apps from Amazon, it can be read on an iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac, or PC.
Coming to Barnes & Noble NOOK and Kobo eBooks on July 20.
For more information, visit www.geoffloftus.com