By Brandon Barrows
Hi. I’m Brandon Barrows. Maybe we’ve met before. Maybe you know me from my previous novel Burn Me Out, or from stories of mine that have appeared in various magazines and anthologies. Burn Me Out and many of those stories are lodged firmly in the noir category of crime fiction, so Strangers’ Kingdom is something a little different for me: a true mystery. It’s also a police procedural set in rural Vermont, which was harder to write than it sounds.
So it’s something different for me as a writer. So what, you might think. Well, I’ll tell you: because it’s a novel I put a tremendous amount of effort, heart, and hopefully you’ll agree, soul into that I know you’ll enjoy.
Let’s start with the basics – the blurb.
Politically blacklisted detective Luke Campbell’s last chance in law-enforcement is a job with the police department of rural Granton, Vermont. It’s a beautiful town, home to a beautiful, intriguing girl who’s caught his eye, and it’s a chance at redemption. Even if his new boss seems strange, secretive, and vaguely sinister, Campbell is willing to give this opportunity a shot. And no sooner does he make that decision than the first in a series of murders is discovered, starting a chain of events that will change the lives of everyone in this once-quiet town…
How does that grab you? Interested in knowing a little more, hopefully?
Well, the setting came first. While the town of Granton is fictional, the area where the book is set, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, is very real. In fact, it’s where my mother grew up and a place I still have family. Being in a sort of triangle between two states and Canada, there’s a lot that goes on up there, probably more than we’ll ever know. Despite everything that can happen in such a setting, though, for most people, a rural town is a very small world and that’s certainly true of the main character, Luke Campbell. Luke grew up in Vermont, but lived most of his adult life in Albany, New York before coming to Granton. Because of that, it’s less a homecoming for him than it is a brand-new world, something both he as the protagonist and I, as the writer, were continually discovering while I wrote it.
So why a police procedural mystery? Truthfully, it didn’t start out that way. It began as a rural noir, like many of my short stories, but I discovered early on that it just wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t tell the story the way it needed to be told if I stuck to that and I liked the ideas I had for this book so much, I wasn’t willing to create something I felt inferior, so I played around with the format, switched it up, and ended up creating an entirely new protagonist to go along with the new format.
And you know, I really liked Luke Campbell, right from the start. He’s had a rough go of it, and he’s still trying to make the best of it, while going out of his way to help people—like a lonely, bullied little boy and his mother, both of him Luke comes to care about deeply—even though he’s got every right to be bitter about his situation.
Of course, he’s just one of the characters, but he is the main character and I like to think he both embodies the central theme of the novel and recognizes it for himself in the course of the work: that there are no “bad guys” or “good guys” out there, just people. Everyone does terrible things at some point in their life—whether intentionally or not—and not one of us is completely “bad”. Everyone is just trying to get along and do the best they can. Sometimes we fail at that. There are certainly criminals in this novel, but everyone in it is guilty to some extent and everyone has their good qualities, too. I always try to infuse my work with emotion, and this is something that really hit me as I was writing Strangers’ Kingdom, so I hope it’s something that comes across to you, the readers.
As I said, this is a book I put a lot of effort into. It took me nearly three years, off and on, to write – longer than any of my other novels, by far. But it was worth it. I’m very happy with it and I hope you will be, too. So do us both a favor and give it a read, will you? If you like mysteries, crime, and small-town stories about people doing their best I know you’ll love it as much as I do.
by Brandon Barrows
Politically blacklisted detective Luke Campbell’s last chance in law-enforcement is a job with the police department of rural Granton, Vermont. It’s a beautiful town, home to a beautiful, intriguing girl who’s caught his eye, and it’s a chance at redemption. Even if his new boss seems strange, secretive, and vaguely sinister, Campbell is willing to give this opportunity a shot. And no sooner does he make that decision than the first in a series of murders is discovered, starting a chain of events that will change the lives of everyone in this once-quiet town.
Brandon Barrows is the award-nominated authors of the novels Burn Me Out and This Rough Old World as well as over fifty published stories, selected of which have been collected into the books The Altar in the Hills and The Castle-Town Tragedy.
He is also the writer of nearly one-hundred individual comic book issues.
He is an active member of both the Private Eye Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.
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