November 17, 2013

Portland writer James Hayman releases third McCabe-Savage thriller

'Darkness First' is set in the Machias area and involves the flow of OxyContin into Maine on fishing boats from Canada.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

James Hayman has a theory about ad men.

click image to enlarge

James Hayman writes at the Great Lost Bear, where he enjoys sitting at the bar and listening to and observing people. Hayman is in the midst of his fourth novel, a murder mystery set in Portland.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Listen to James Hayman read from his book

“The cliche is that every ad man has a novel stashed in the desk drawer,” he said over a pint at the Great Lost Bear in Portland. “That’s not quite true, but it is a fact that a lot of successful crime writers have come out of the advertising business.”

Best known among them is James Patterson. On the strength of his three thrillers, Hayman adds his name to the list.

The Portland novelist is out with the third installment in the Mike McCabe-Maggie Savage series, “Darkness First.” The first two used Portland as a setting. This one is set down Machias way and involves the flow of OxyContin into Maine on fishing boats from Canada.

McCabe and Savage are Portland cops called to Machias to aid State Police in a murder investigation.

A New York City native, Hayman spent the first part of his professional life writing ad copy on Madison Avenue, and later became group creative director at Young & Rubicam, one of the largest ad agencies in the world and also one of the best.

At Young & Rubicom from the 1970s to mid-’90s, creativity was king. Hayman’s job was dreaming up ideas for clients like the U.S. Army and Lincoln/Mercury. He had million-dollar budgets that afforded the wherewithal to hire directors like Ridley Scott and shoot anywhere in the world.

He was Don Draper before there was a Don Draper.

Twenty years in the ad business primed him for a career as a novelist because it instilled precise writing and clear, direct thinking.

Long before Twitter, ad guys mastered the art of quick, effective communication. A 30-second commercial offers 60 words.

“You have to tell a story, and you have to tell a story really tight,” he said.

His literary agent, Meg Ruley, called the ad business a boot camp for crime writers. “In advertising, ideas and concepts are distilled into very economic phrases,” said Ruley, who also represents the Maine mystery writers Tess Gerritsen and Julia Spencer-Fleming. “When you look at the pace and what you need to do to make a pulse-pounding thriller, it’s important to cut to the chase. You must be able to come up with a line, a phrase and an image that, in the cacophony of the world, grabs people.”


Hayman has done that reasonably well with his three books. His debut, “The Cutting,” published in 2009, did well in New England and overseas in Europe and the United Kingdom.

It introduced Mike McCabe as a gritty, gregarious football- and movie-loving Irish Portland cop.

It also established Hayman in the crime-writing world, and created expectations that the follow-up, “The Chill of Night,” failed to meet. By the time Hayman finished writing his third thriller, his original publisher, St. Martins Press, was done with him. “It was kind of mutual,” Hayman said. “The second book didn’t do so well.”

For “Darkness First,” Ruley hooked him up with Witness, the new imprint from HarperCollins Publishers devoted to thrillers, mysteries and suspense stories. “Darkness First” is the imprint’s debut title.

Witness published “Darkness First” as an e-book Oct. 1. The paperback will be published in February.

Ruley thought Hayman would be a good fit for Witness because publishers give new programs attention and promotion. Hayman was game to experiment. E-books are popular in specialty genres, he said, and he is happy for the attention that HarperCollins is giving his book.

(Continued on page 2)

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