Up Close: Tim O’Mara
Opioids, White Nationalism
Explored in New Thriller
By J. H. Bográn
The latest novel from Tim O’Mara, THE HOOK, finds ex-cop turned schoolteacher Raymond Donne involved in another murder: this time of a colleague, Maurice “Mojo” Joseph, who was doing community service at Ray’s school. While giving the cops some unasked-for and unwanted help, Ray uncovers Mojo’s connection to a white nationalist group and some folks who may be involved more in drug selling than drug rehab.
THE HOOK finds its genesis in current events with two topics in particular: the effects of the opioid crisis in America, and the white nationalist groups starting to pop up.
“Both of these things scare me and should scare others,” O’Mara says. “I believe fiction is most powerful when shining light on issues that affect millions of people.”
From the opening line of the book, one detail stands out: Detective James Royce of Brooklyn North, NYPD, looked down at Maurice Joseph’s lifeless body lying in two inches of freshly fallen snow with an arrow sticking out of his back. An arrow as a murder weapon is virtually untraceable using the more common means of ballistics and forensics—but O’Mara had an ulterior motive for this choice of arms.
“I used an arrow for the murder weapon because it gets people’s attention,” he says. “It also connects to other murders in the book that are committed by using arcane weaponry.”
The selling and usage of drugs plays a pivotal role in this novel—Mojo is, after all, a recovering addict. Amidst the murder investigation, the characters discover how addicts deserve respect for their condition.
“I have no desire to write about junkies or whatever the current term is,” O’Mara says. “I personally know some folks who’ve gone through various forms of substance abuse treatment. It was important to me to show people in recovery as human beings who are trying to get well. Addiction treatment is not an easy thing on either side of the desk.”
Some readers expect characters in a series to remain the same or to change at an almost imperceptible pace. However, across five books, Raymond Donne has changed considerably.
“He’s in a long-term relationship now,” O’Mara says. “He’s become a dean, which allows him to use his cop skills at school. I was a dean for six years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s like being the cop in the building. Ray is also not as knee-jerk of a liberal as he was in the first book. I myself went through a similar transformation after working with countless kids and families in crisis who never gave up and never made excuses.”
This time around Allison Rogers, Donne’s girlfriend, deals with the changing times by going into non-traditional journalism. In one scene she points out that online news sites need subscribers and advertisers for the business to survive, while the general population doesn’t want to be reminded that it takes money to run a news business—or any business, for that matter.
“I wanted to use more of Allison’s voice in this book, so I wanted to do things differently and challenge myself as a storyteller,” O’Mara says. “You get to hear how she perceives the world through her online journalism. Because all the Raymond books are in the first person, this is the first time you get inside another character’s head without the filter of Raymond.”
Another character that shines in THE HOOK is Edgar Martinez, a tech wizard with an ironic lack of understanding about how humans interact. O’Mara loves writing this character’s scenes, even at the risk of playing favorites.
“He so much wants to help, and having Ray in his life allows him to do just that,” O’Mara says. “There’s so much fun tech stuff out there that I know Edgar would be first in line for at the store. Edgar is basically a grown-up version of the special needs kids I worked with for more than 30 years. He brings a unique set of skills to the stories and a unique perspective on the world the novels take place in. If he were to be diagnosed—and I never will do that in the books—he’d surely be on the spectrum. But we need Edgars in this world to show us other ways of looking at life.”
O’Mara always felt that every crime is a story waiting to be told. In his books, detectives start with a dead body and work backwards. That’s kind of the way he approaches his writing, using the language of the classic detective stories.
“I have Mojo dead on the roof, shot by an arrow, when the book opens,” he says. “I honestly didn’t know where that was going to take me beyond knowing I was going to address the opioid crisis and the white nationalist movement. I also love to make people speak and have a pretty good ear for dialogue. I take great care in not making any two characters sound alike. If I have two characters who are saying the same thing in the same way, I only need one of them.”
O’Mara is a high-school teacher, a career he shares with his character, Raymond Donne. The cop part comes from his brother, Sgt. Mike O’Mara, and thus the character is like an amalgamation of the O’Mara siblings—which of course makes their mother very proud.
“Mike’s there whenever I have a ‘cop question’ and has called me with story ideas,” O’Mara says. “The character named Lowtide from Dead Red is my brother’s creation. That character opened up an avenue in that book I didn’t have until my brother called me.”
O’Mara’s next book is a high school-based crime drama that deals with three main characters and will be told from three different points of view. He says he’s fascinated by the idea of what the word privacy means in these days of smartphones, CCTV cameras, and the internet. There’s a great quote in the crime writing world: Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.
“I’m keeping that quote in mind as I write this new piece,” O’Mara says. “Also, because it’s not a Raymond Donne book, I’ve had to break out some new writing muscles and allow myself to make all new kinds of mistakes. It’s quite freeing, actually.”
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