James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mysteries, Bad Policy (March 2013) and Cabin Fever (April 2014), published by Barking Rain Press. Bad Policy won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Known as James Montgomery Jackson on his tax return and to his mother whenever she was really mad at him, he splits his time between the Upper Peninsula of Michigan woods and Georgia’s low country. Jim has also published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, One Trick At A Time: How to start winning at bridge (Master Point Press 2012).
The United States has long been status conscious and the automotive industry has been at the forefront of helping us define ourselves through our vehicles. When I developed Seamus McCree, the protagonist in Bad Policy and Cabin Fever, one of the things I needed to decide was what kind of wheels he should drive. Making the right choice would reinforce readers’ understanding of what make him tick.
When in doubt, consider what masters have done before you.
I grew up reading my father’s favorite mysteries, including Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. Wolfe was scared of driving and, on those rare occasions when he would leave his abode, he would have Archie Goodwin drive him around in a Heron. That did open up the choice of manufacturing a fictional car model if I wanted. Unlike Wolfe, who sat in the middle of the back seat, ramrod straight, holding on for dear life, Seamus grew up with cars and has no fear of leaving home. Therefore a real car would suit him better.
Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone drives an oft broken down VW Bug. Perfect for Kinsey who doesn’t have a lot of spare change. Seamus has some serious coin from his stint working on Wall Street before he quit in disgust and wouldn’t put up with something that broke down.
Both Seamus and Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski are attracted to financial crimes. Should Seamus adopt something a bit more sporty, like VI’s Trans Am? Seamus was never a car nut, preferring sports and reading to wrenches and torques.
Wait! What does Stephanie Plum drive? Maybe if Seamus drove the same thing he would turn into a best seller too. I can’t remember what Stephanie drives and it doesn’t much matter because Janet Evanovich wrecks most of Stephanie’s cars partway through each story.
I once described Seamus as a mash-up of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport and Winnie the Pooh. Winnie isn’t going to help for this one. I maybe (??) remember Spenser drives an MG that Hawk complains is too small. Nothing solid there, which leaves Davenport, who tools around in a Porsche or a Lexus SUV when the occasion warrants.
Seamus might have nearly as much money as Lucas, but he’s not as comfortable with his wealth and would consider either of Davenport’s vehicles as showing off and a waste of good money. At his home in Cincinnati where Bad Policy kicks off, I gave him an aging Infiniti G-20. He had bought it new—many years ago. It’s not strictly utilitarian, having some advanced comforts for the time. But at the time of the novels, Seamus is too thrifty to trade it in because it still serves its basic purpose of getting him from point A to point B. [Since he won’t get a new car on his own, I’m taking a leaf from Janet Evanovich and wrecking it in the third Seamus McCree mystery. That will show him who’s boss.]
Cabin Fever is set deep in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There, I’ve provided him a very serviceable Ford Ranger “woods truck.” Someone visited us once in a Lexus SUV and the result was not pretty after they had to drive over a downed tree. Cabin Fever takes place during deep winter and Seamus discovers he needs a snowmobile. He hates their noise but decides it’s unavoidable, and he buys a used—well, I don’t want to spoil that particular secret.
I think Seamus’s next car will be a Subaru. It’s a cross-over vehicle that should work well both on the road and in the woods—just the kind of thrifty mash-up he would appreciate.