3 min

DIY detection

Come Clean's author gets the crime solved

DOUBLE-LIFE: Driven by a fevered imagination (and a tough sister), mystery novel writer John Parker, aka Kevin Porter, solves a nasty murder. Credit: Xtra West files

A young woman drives on deserted road. She stops her car to help a stranger. Two days later her corpse is discovered with one thumb stuck ritualistically in its mouth, its face and body heavily coated with stage makeup.

Such a case could’ve come from a police archive. It might as easily be found on a bestseller rack or in a nearby multiplex.

This time, though, it’s the opening scene of Come Clean, the first Kevin Porter Mystery unleashed on the world.

Yet Come Clean is anything but a routine shocker. The dead woman lived in Vancouver’s West End. The man who discovers that she’s missing is her young gay Asian officemate, Brent. In a panic Brent relays his worry to his lover of 10 years, Kevin J Porter-a Prairie-raised 65 year old ex-RCMP Chief Inspector dumped not long ago by his wife of three decades.

Bringing himself out of retirement as a private eye, Porter-whose low-impact approach is more Matlock than Mickey Spillane-spends some time shaking off the rust and dealing with incompetent detectives before he can seriously get down to the business of tracking a killer. As the bodies and clues pile up, Porter also takes a few minutes to reminisce about that curious chain of events called his life.

The man behind the affable crime solver is John Parker. While his bright and cheerful penthouse in the West End offers no clue to his novel’s grisly goings-on, the author-who also shares age and some marital history with his alter ego-can pinpoint the origins exactly: “Twelve years ago I was driving home when a murder scene flashed into my mind.

There was a lone car ahead of me. I had envisaged the murder of one of my female colleagues. I pulled over. Once home, I went directly to my computer.

“Eleven years later I decided to clean up some old computer files and came across what I’d written. As I read, I knew I had the first chapter. But I had to solve that fictitious murder. Before going to sleep, I pondered several questions, namely, ‘Who is the killer and who is going to track him down?’ Crazy as it sounds, Kevin J Porter woke up with me the next morning. He introduced himself as an ex-Chief Inspector. I immediately questioned, ‘Why ex?’ Embarrassed, he blurted out, ‘I was kicked out of the Force because of my sexual orientation.’ And at that moment Kevin became my gay alter-ego and narrator for my story.”

Prompted by his sister when he got stalled (“Whenever there was a lull in my writing process, I got threatening letters from her,” he recalls), Parker worked up-close and intimate with the intrepid Porter: “During those nine months of writing, I woke with Kevin every morning. Sometimes he would tell me what he was thinking, introduce me to new characters, scare the pants off me, and I would rush to my computer and write out exactly what he told me. There were times that I thought I was becoming schizophrenic.”

Once completed, the manuscript then introduced Parker to the long waits and proverbial pink rejection slips of the publishing business. “I won’t tell you what I shouted,” he says, describing his frustrated response to tight-lipped publishers and letters saying “No thanks.”

A long-time teacher heavily involved with theatrical productions and already the author of seven educational books, Parker knew how to get things done. He eventually settled on self-publication.

Another bold move was placing a retirement-age gay man at the centre of a story. Parker feels it was important for him to do so: “I wanted to introduce into my novel many of the gay issues that have been foremost in the media during the past 10 years: acceptance of gays.

“So, I enlarged on these thoughts in many of the chapters when Kevin’s lover drags him kicking and screaming into gay culture. Besides tracking down killers, Porter will always be out there banging his drum for the reader to accept diversity.”

Having solved one mystery, Parker’s alter ego is not quite ready to retire. “Well, as we speak,” Parker reveals, “Kevin is in San Francisco attending the wedding of two male friends. And right now, I am putting the final touches on a children’s novel, Rosezinda: Riding Rainbows. I needed to have a hiatus from blood and sleuthing.”