At the beginning of this year, we received some sad news: Our author Jim Ingraham has died. An ex-marine (WWII) and a retired professor of American history, Jim Ingraham had been at various times, a movie extra, a piano player in saloons in Detroit and Providence, and a portrait painter. We published “Mystery of the Chinese Ball” in 1986, and since have published nine more. He’s also written and published half a dozen novels. Last year we bought a new story from him, and he told us then in an e-mail that “I’m not a very interesting person but some people around here think it exceptional that I wrote this story at the age of 91 and sold it at the age of 92 and am working on other stuff.” On the contrary, he was a very interesting person indeed, and his life experiences informed his stories. Like his P.I. Duff Kerrigan, Ingraham grew up in Maine; he told us once: “Where Duff Kerrigan lives on the docks of old Portland, was my boyhood paper route. In real life the area has changed, but in Duff’s life it’s as it once was.” He did an interview with us for our September 2007 issue, which we think you’ll find interesting too, so you can read it here.
AHMM: You come from an academic career. Can you tell us a little about your background? How did you come to write P.I. stories? How has your writing been influenced by your work as an academic?
JI: After graduating from NYU as a history major (I didn’t want to spend my life grading English papers), I wrote three sprawling novels, one of which caught the attention of a New York editor who gave me a lot of advice. I spent two years trying to satisfy him and failed. I just didn’t understand story organization. After I had tried for many years to get published, your predecessor, the late Cathleen Jordan, accepted my story “Mystery of the Chinese Ball.” She rejected at least ten subsequent submissions but always encouraged me to keep trying.
Through some form of osmosis I began to realize that crime stories provided the structure I had been searching for. Before I became a history major at NYU I was a music major at Michigan State. Strange as it may sound, the biggest academic influence on my writing has been my acquaintance with the music of Beethoven. All of art is composition and symmetry and Beethoven is the grand master of that. It’s the structure, the order, not the content, that led me to write the Duff Kerrigan stories.
AHMM: What are the origins of the Duff Kerrigan character?
JI: I guess Duff Kerrigan is me. I think every first-person narrator is a version of the writer. Hemingway’s point-of-view character is always the same—Robert Jordan in one book, Nick in the “Three Day Blow.” It’s always Hemingway—not a portrait of himself, but an emanation from himself.
AHMM: Like you, Duff Kerrigan grew up in Maine. To what extent is that an important aspect of his character, and of yours? You now live in Florida; do you visit Maine often?
JI: What I like about Maine people is their lack of pretension. Maine, unlike Massachusetts, was not founded by Puritans. It became established by fishermen and farmers and resisted the encroachment of the Puritans. The people I like to write about are ones I admired as a boy—self-respecting, independent working people who do not intrude upon their neighbors. I see Duff as that kind of man.
I don’t try to avoid the postcard image of Maine. I just try to represent my memory of Maine and its people truthfully. The first member of my mother’s family took a job in a lumberyard in Kittery, Maine, in 1623. Her people were obstinately Yankee. My father’s father arrived in this country at the age of fifteen. I don’t believe my mother’s people ever forgave her for marrying an immigrant’s son, especially a Catholic immigrant’s son. Maine, like all of New England, seethed with intolerance, of Irish Catholics on the coast or French Canadians who came down to work in the mills. The tourist magazines like to present Maine as though no “foreigners” had ever settled there. I grew up among Irish longshoremen in Portland, who were looked upon as trash. I could write a lot of stories about this aspect of Maine life, but it’s still too painful to think about. I ran away from home twice before I was in the eighth grade.
I go back to Maine at least once a year. I visit the waterfront and upstate woodlands and pastures, sit with people, talk with people, absorb atmosphere, I love it but can no longer tolerate the winters.
AHMM: Is there a chance that Duff Kerrigan may appear in a novel?
JI: I guess there’s every chance, although I have nothing planned. I think of Duff as engaged in tight little plots that unfold in a few thousand words. But who knows? Good ideas pop up all the time.
AHMM: Have you published any novels?
JI: Glad you asked! My novel Remains to be Seen has been purchased by Five Star Mysteries and is scheduled to appear in July 2008. It’s a fair-play whodunit, unfolding in an academic setting in Maine and follows a murder investigation by a young woman detective called Perci Piper. A major character, Vinnie Milano, comes right out of Duff Kerrigan’s neighborhood in Portland.
AHMM: Which writers do you admire and why?
JI: I admire writers I can learn from. There are, of course, the giants on whose shoulders we all stand. But aside from them, I admire Ross Thomas, Hemingway, Graham Greene, Dashiell Hammett, Somerset Maugham, Tony Hillerman—pretty much in that order. To me, Ross Thomas was the best of the modern crime writers—witty, urbane, structured. Hemingway for his understanding of point of view, Greene for his seamless placing of characters in the story’s atmosphere, Hammett for his directness, Maugham for his storytelling, Hillerman for his evocation of atmosphere.