PURGATORY BAY gets the mystery-thriller form sort of backward. I didn’t plan it that way, but it happened.
The main character in the story is Jubilee Rathman, a 29-year-old woman who lives in a virtual fortress on Purgatory Bay near the Lake Michigan town of Bleak Harbor. I hesitate to call Jubilee a protagonist because she is not a character for whom a reader would naturally root. Jubilee’s life is committed to a diabolical plot to exact revenge on people she considers responsible for ruining her life as a girl.
This is not a spoiler. The reader knows early on what Jubilee is up to. The question is whether she will succeed. Two other women are the keys to stopping Jubilee’s murderous plans. Michaela “Mikey” Deming is a former journalist who may have put Jubilee’s family in danger twelve years ago. Katya Malone is the Bleak Harbor police chief who investigates some strange occurrences in town that may or may not lead her to Jubilee. As one Goodreads reviewer put it, it’s less a who-dunnit than a why-dunnit.
I didn’t set out to write PURGATORY BAY that way. In fact, Jubilee wasn’t even the character with whom I started. That character was Ophelia, Mikey Deming’s sister, a blind sculptor who lives in Bleak Harbor. One night, I woke up with the Band song “Ophelia” playing in my head: “Bars on the windows, mail at the door / Why would anybody leave so quickly for? / Ophelia where have you gone?” Ophelia’s disappearance essentially begins my story. But who took her? Or lured her away? That took me to Jubilee.
Thus far, most readers seem fine with my upside-down tale. Instead of a single, likeable protagonist to take them by the hand and walk them through a tangle of plot threads, they have a main character who plays with their emotions while a handful of likeable people—Mikey and Katya among them—try to save themselves and others while confronting their own troubled pasts. The tale isn’t simple, but I had great fun figuring out how to pull it off. Not that I was trying to “transcend the genre,” but next time I think I’ll take a more conventional approach.