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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: March 11, 2019

For 2 Maine mystery writers, today’s headlines inspire tomorrow’s thrillers

Written by: Bob Keyes

Joan Dempsey cover image courtesy of She Writes Press. James Hayman image courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

Two Maine novelists will talk about why they tackle important social issues in the process of telling page-turning thrillers when they share the stage Tuesday in Falmouth.

James Hayman’s latest novel, “A Fatal Obsession,” is about an otherwise decent young man who becomes a murderer because of concussions he suffered at the hands of his abusive father, which caused long-term brain damage that contributed to his violence.

In her novel “This Is How It Begins,” Joan Dempsey writes about bigotry and homophobia.

Hayman and Dempsey will discuss the social issues that underlie their writing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lunt Auditorium at OceanView at Falmouth, 74 Lunt Road. Their talk is titled, “Ripped From the Headlines.”

“I think it’s unusual for a mystery or thriller series to focus on important social issues, even if they are the background for murders or other nasty goings-on,” Hayman said.

He’s made a habit of doing so for many years. “Darkness First” from 2013 deals with opioid addiction in Washington County. “Girl on the Bridge” from 2017 explored the subject of gang rape on college campuses.

When Dempsey circulated drafts of her book several years ago in search of an agent, she couldn’t drum up much interest. She was told that a book about gay marriage would be of little interest in the aftermath of the acceptance of same-sex marriage across the country.

“The agents said they couldn’t sell the book, because they couldn’t believe there was danger to the gay community of being discriminated against anymore,” she said. “That was a surprise to me. I felt, just because gay marriage (is legal) doesn’t mean discrimination is over.”

She worked with an independent press and published the book to wide acclaim in 2017. Dempsey was prescient about her beliefs, and points to the recent anti-LGBT schism in the United Methodist Church as proof.

“I don’t want to claim credit,” she said. “It’s just circumstance. I write about things that are of great interest to me, and typically they are the big social-justice issues related to things that are happening in our culture.”

Dempsey’s next novel is going to be about wrongful imprisonment and mass incarceration.

For his latest, “A Fatal Obsession,” Hayman looked to the sad case of Aaron Hernandez, the late New England Patriots football player who was convicted of murder and killed himself in prison. An autopsy revealed an advanced case of CTE, a brain condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy that may be caused by repeated blows to the head. Among the indicators of the presence of CTE is aggressive behavior.

In his book, Hayman writes about a man who cannot control his violent attacks. He becomes obsessed with a Broadway actress, kidnaps her and hauls her off to his family’s empty estate in rural Connecticut. Hayman attributes the killer’s violent tendencies to brain damage he suffered at the hands of his father.

“He is not intrinsically evil. He is both a villain and victim, which is perhaps the most interesting part of the book,” Hayman said. “It’s an important issue, and I wanted to make people aware of it – and I also wanted to write a different and interesting story that people would enjoy.”

James Hayman and Joan Dempsey, “Ripped from the Headlines”

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19
WHERE: Lunt Auditorium, OceanView at Falmouth, 74 Lunt Road, Falmouth

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