novels set in the Gulf Islands

The Herbert West Series blog header, blue, purple, and pink with Mercurius symbol

November Novel #3

In November 2000, I started writing the first novel of what would become the Herbert West Series. This November, I have set myself a goal to finish writing a collection of stories I intend to publish in 2020. Call it my own version of NaNoWriMo. So, I’ve scheduled posts for the next four weeks featuring each of the four books of the series. Oh, and November 7th was Herbert West’s 133rd birthday!

The third book in the series is Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure

Abandoned and abused, young Herbert West resorts to drastic measures to survive. At Miskatonic University, he becomes a scientist who commits crimes and creates monstrosities. Decades later, haunted by his past, he finds safety as Dr. Francis Dexter of Bellefleur Island, but his divided nature threatens those he loves and forces him to face the truth about his healing powers.

I intended Islands of the Gulf to be a single novel, but it was so long, I split it into two. This part is narrated by Herbert West/Francis Dexter himself, the only time in the entire series he gets to tell his own story. The first half covers his childhood and early years, the second his time on Bellefleur Island. He’s not an entirely reliable narrator, though, so the reader has to consider where the truth may have been shaped by his experiences.

In this scene from Chapter 3, Herbert is questioned by his father, Hiram West.


In his office, Hiram took his place behind the desk and waved me to the usual chair in front of it. “So, Herbert,” he said, “from what I hear, you’re spending a lot of time in the North End these days.”

As recently as a year before, and certainly in my mother’s time, I would have responded to such a remark with floods of self-justification, or a sullen, guilt-admitting silence. Now I let his words reverberate in the air around us for a second or two before I responded.

“What is it that you hear?” I asked.

“I hear that a kid who looks a lot like you has been running with a bunch of little punks that call themselves the Raiders. The North End Raiders. Small-time thieves – specialize in stealing from little old ladies, it seems.”

If this was a strategy intended to provoke me into a self-incriminating defence of the Raiders, it failed.

“Is that all?” I asked.

“Isn’t it enough? Come on, Herbert, ‘fess up. What have you been up to? Believe me, I’m not interested in paying Collins a fat salary just to have you wind up arrested for stealing apples with a bunch of third-rate twerps. So start talking.”

“Excuse me, Father, but I must question your initial premise. You’ve heard that someone that looks like me has been seen in the North End. Well, that’s quite possible. But I must ask you – who said this? And when, and under what circumstances did he see this person? Without knowing these things I don’t believe I can give you an answer.”

Hiram looked at me hard, as though I had sprouted wings or developed a third eye.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here? Twelve years old and talking like a professor to his old man! So this is what Collins has been teaching you. ‘Initial premise,’ indeed. Geez, boy, you’re going to be a lawyer, if you don’t watch out.” He grinned broadly, a grin I didn’t often see aimed at me.

“Okay, here’s the goods – a while ago, I asked someone (no one important, believe me) to keep an eye on you. I know what boys are like, and I got an idea you weren’t always in the house on Collins’s nights off. So this fellow told me he’d seen you (yeah, he was sure it was you) running around the streets by the Haymarket. Two Fridays ago, this was, and he said he spotted you again last week. He asked around about the kids you were with, and people told him they call themselves the North End Raiders. Just a gang of boys, they said. Minor mischief, that’s all. But no one seemed to know who you were, just ‘some other kid that hangs around with those guys.’ Okay, Professor, is that good enough? Now it’s your turn to do some talking, so get busy.”

I had been busy thinking already, so when he finished I promptly produced a fabrication. I had heard a lot about the North End of Boston from Mrs. Petrucci and her grandchildren, who, I reminded Hiram, had been guests at my ninth birthday party, more than three years ago…

“Yeah, I remember,” he said, making a face. “Regular fuss you kicked up about that birthday of yours. Go on.”

I figured I was old enough to go places on my own, I said, and was tired of the museums, art galleries, concerts and church services that Mr. Collins took me to, so I decided one Saturday to take a walk around this other part of the city, which was not so distant in miles, but socially might as well have been another planet.

“It was like a field trip,” I said. “I was walking along, just looking at things, when I saw this little kid crying on the sidewalk. He told me that some other kids had knocked him down. I asked him where he lived and took him home. His mother and sisters were glad to see him back and thanked me. They asked me to come and visit again, so I did. I guess that’s when that fellow saw me.”

He’d been watching me narrowly while I talked. Now he said, “I dunno, Herbert. The way I heard it you were with a bunch of other boys. Running around, not calling on young ladies. So what about these sisters? You been seeing a lot of them? Don’t tell me you’re getting ideas like that at age twelve, for God’s sake!”

“Ideas like what?” I was genuinely puzzled. “When I went back to visit, I met some other kids and we got friendly. A couple of times they… showed me around the neighbourhood. It was interesting. That’s all.”

“That’s all, eh?” Hiram stood, went over to the window and looked out long enough that I almost went over to have a look myself, thinking something interesting was happening. He turned quickly and came back to the desk, resuming his seat and leaning forward, close enough that I could see the pores on his nose.

“I’m thinking you need an extra lesson or two,” he said. “Things Collins can’t teach you because his head’s full of Greeks and Romans and fancy notions. So let’s start right now. Number one – don’t get mixed up in things before you understand what’s really going on. Now, who are these pals of yours in the North End? What are their names?”

“They’re just kids!” I protested. “What do their names matter?”

He slammed his open palm down on the desk, startling me. “Answer my question! Names?”

“Angelo, Lou, Mike, Joe, Pete – ”

“No last names? Come on, Herbert – stop playing games and spit it out!” No smile now, not even a smirk. His face was a block of stone.

“I don’t know their last names,” I said, almost truthfully. “They didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask.”

Hiram blew out his cheeks. “Sheesh, you kids. So one of them’s called Angelo? Are they all Eyeties?”

“Italians? I suppose so.”

“You suppose so. All right, Professor – what’s your name?”

“You know my name, Father – Herbert West.”

Hiram laughed, a harsh laugh with a note of derision in it. “Right, but I mean what’s your name when you’re with your gang? What do they call you?”

I was afraid to hesitate too long and provoke him, but my inventive skills had left me. “Frank,” I said, reluctantly.

“Just Frank? Come on, Herbert, I don’t have all day.”

“Franco Petrucci,” I muttered.

He laughed again. “Oh boy, does Mrs. P. know she’s got another kid? Why an Eyetie name?”

“Well, I thought… I wanted to fit in.” What I really wanted was to get away from him. Trying to avoid the gaze of his narrowed eyes, I looked at the floor, hating myself for letting him put me in this supplicant position.

“Okay, Herbert,” he said. “Lesson two. There’s Back Bay and Beacon Hill and then there’s everywhere else. You can’t take short cuts in between, and you can’t sit on the fence. Not unless you know what you’re doing, and I don’t think you do. So let’s make a deal. Go ahead and play with your Eyetie friends, but keep your eyes and ears open while you’re at it. Find out your friends’ dads’ names – their last names – and who they work for. And remember – I’ll hear all about it if you make any wrong moves. So will your pals. Okay, kid, that’s enough for now.”

Relieved, I made for the door, but he called me back. “One last question, Herbert. Everything you told me just now, was it true?”

I pretended to think for a moment. “Most of it,” I said.

He laughed again. “Oh boy, you’re coming along! Just remember your old man’s advice and you’ll be fine.”

As my hand touched the doorknob, he spoke again. “Okay, I lied. One more question. What were you really doing in the North End?”

I knew he was playing a game with me and began to feel angry. “I was looking for my mother,” I said, realizing too late that I was telling a painful truth.

“Now that’s a complete waste of time,” he answered, his voice going flat and hard again, all traces of hilarity and false camaraderie gone. “Don’t bother yourself about her, Herbert. She’s gone.”

“Where has she gone?” I asked. “Do you know where she is?” It took a lot of resolve to ask these questions, and my voice came out gaspy and breathless.

“No,” he said. “I don’t. She made her choices and no doubt she’s taking the consequences, somewhere. I don’t think about her and I don’t talk about her. Now get out!” He picked up some papers from his desk and began looking at them. He didn’t look at me. After a moment, I left.


What readers have said:

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  • “… it is beautifully written, with descriptive passages that are a joy to read. Some of the paranormal passages are particularly memorable. ”
  • “I love character driven stories and I found book 3 incredibly satisfying. It’s not often that all the parts of an over-arching story are equally good. These are. Very good.”
  • “The adult Herbert explores love and experiences loss and learns to see beauty. I came to care for him so much that he will stay with me many years I’m sure.”

Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure is available from:

Amazon US UK CA AU DE

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

This is the third of four posts about the Herbert West novels. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.

Header image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. Book cover image by Damonza.

The Herbert West Series blog header, blue, purple, and pink with Mercurius symbol

November Novel #2

In November 2000, I started writing the first novel of what would become the Herbert West Series. This November, I have set myself a goal to finish writing a collection of stories I intend to publish in 2020. Call it my own version of NaNoWriMo. So, I’ve scheduled posts for the next four weeks featuring each of the four books of the series. Oh, and November 7th was Herbert West’s 133rd birthday!

Next comes Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey

Once, he was Herbert West, superlative surgeon and revivifier of the dead. Now he’s lost his reputation, his country and his name. Rebuilding his life as a country doctor on Bellefleur Island, he struggles with doubts, emotional entanglements and terrible memories of the Great War. Above all, he must forge a new relationship with his old adversary – death – and negotiate with a new one – love.

When I finished writing The Friendship of Mortals, I couldn’t let go of the story. As one of the reviews I quoted says, it ends with something like a cliffhanger. I also decided to move the action to my part of the world — the west coast of Canada, specifically the Gulf Islands. I invented a fictional island and people to live on it, and sent Herbert West (under an assumed name) on a long journey to that destination. As other reviews (see below) point out, this novel is about relationships and personal choices, rather than the supernatural.

The novel has two narrators, Andre Boudreau and Margaret Bellgarde. Here is an excerpt from each of them.


I don’t have memories of my childhood. My first memories are of blackness. I came out of blackness. I was a very small thing, a little spark in the blackness. That was all, for a long time.

Then I began to see. Only for short moments, like when there’s lightning at night. Except it was slow lightning. I’d open my eyes and see things, but I didn’t know what they were. Now I think they were the roof of a tent, the inside of a train, the ceiling of some building. A face. Another face. Faces coming and going. Sometimes I heard groans, screams, someone praying in words I couldn’t understand. Maybe it was me. I couldn’t feel anything, though. There was no pain. I wasn’t even cold. Then the darkness again, for I don’t know how long. It wasn’t really me who saw and heard these things, just a little part of me acting like a scout for the rest, which was back in the blackness, waiting for the scout to report so it could decide what to do next.

There was one picture clearer than the rest – I saw the angel of death standing before me. He was beautiful and terrible – all white and silver, with eyes like ice. He looked at me for a long time and said, “No. Not this one. He’s already dead.” So I thought, “There’s no need to hold on anymore,” and let myself slide back into the blackness. As I went I said goodbye to everything – my childhood, family, comrades, my newly hatched young man’s ambitions and lusts. I wasn’t going to go back to New Brunswick after the war to show them how things worked in the big world. Goodbye, everyone. Goodbye Maman, Papa, Nicholas, Michel, Roger, Paulette, Marguerite, sweet little Louise. Goodbye, Grassadoo, goodbye Andre. Short but sweet, it was. Now it’s all gone.

I don’t know how long it lasted. I don’t think I’ll ever know. But it was nothing. There was no “I” any more. It’s like trying to think of what there was, before there was anything. Before God made the world there was nothing, they say. But there was –  No, nothing. My mind can’t think this thing. So I say only: there was nothing.

Then, my first new memory. It was only a feeling. Hot, like fire. Fire was running all through me. I was a man made of fire and heat, my shape burning a hole in the nothing. A red mist swirled through my head and I could feel my heart pumping. No, being pumped, by something outside me. It was like a machine had taken over and was running me, running too hard and hot and jerky. It felt dangerous. It felt wrong. It was worse than dying. I was terribly afraid. Maybe I was in Hell and this would go on forever.

Then I opened my eyes. No, that wasn’t it. My eyes were opened, like somebody pulled a string. Light stabbed into my head, and the pain it made joined the heat in my body. I saw the angel again and thought, “I must be in Heaven. But why does everything hurt, and why am I so afraid?”

He was different now, not like the death angel I saw before. He was white and golden now. There was a brightness behind his head, and his strange bright eyes seemed to look right into my soul. I was still afraid, but I could feel his hands touching me, cooling the heat in my body. Then I was in a river, moving faster and faster. Was I going to drown? I didn’t care any more. It was too much trouble to care. I closed my eyes and gave up. If the angel wanted to, he would save me. If not, it didn’t matter.


The first time I saw him I thought he was my husband. Which was absurd, of course, because by then Richard had been dead for nearly ten years – Richard Bellgarde, the man I married, who brought me to Bellefleur. But the evening before I had seen a perfect little silver crescent moon floating over the house – just like the one over the old London houses the night we met. So an unthinking part of me must have expected to see Richard as well.

That day in April of 1926, when the Captain came back from Victoria, I was on the dock, along with Joe the handyman. A couple of men from the farm were there too, and the usual collection of boys who should have been in school, but had escaped early to hang around the dock in case something interesting happened.

As the launch came closer, I could distinguish the four men aboard – Todd at the wheel as usual, and the Captain close by him. He rarely steered a boat, but was generally ‘on the bridge,’ a hold-over from his seafaring days. A little apart from them were a short, dark-haired fellow and – it’s Richard! I thought, even though I knew that was impossible. But for a moment there was such a resemblance – the way he held his head, his bright hair ruffled by the breeze. Almost I could see the smile in his eyes, the one he saved for me alone.

These notions vanished in the time it took to dock the launch and make her fast. I could see then that any resemblance between Francis Dexter and my dead husband was a fleeting and illusory one. Dexter was rather short, not very much taller than I. As he and the Captain approached me, I thought that he was quite young, not much over thirty. His face had a sculptured fineness that created an impression of youth and delicacy.

But there was nothing delicate about the way he gripped my hand, after a brief awkward moment when it seemed he was about to offer his left but changed quickly to his right. His eyes looked straight into mine for a few seconds that banished forever any idea of a resemblance to Richard. For they were grey eyes, not blue, a strange light colour I found disconcerting, even as I was charmed by the contrast of long dark lashes and finely drawn brows. If he reminded me of anyone, it was my son Alex, who has a way of looking at me sometimes that seems to go beyond the eyes and finds a way straight into my unspoken thoughts. This man had the same sort of gaze.

Feeling uncomfortable, I distracted myself by paying attention to his general appearance while we exchanged the conventional amenities. He wore a tweed suit, old and weathered, but obviously of excellent cut and quality. The buttons, however, were of bone, rather coarse, suggesting that the originals had been replaced for some reason. His boots and hat appeared to have been of the first quality when new, but had been subjected to long, perhaps hard wear.

His voice was rather soft, or perhaps it was only his American accent that made it seem so, to ears more familiar with the King’s English spoken by people anxious to maintain it at all costs in this land so distant from the mother country. At close quarters I could see that he wasn’t as young as I had first thought – nearer forty than thirty, judging by the lines around his mouth and eyes, and the gold-rimmed spectacles he wore.

He struck me as someone who had come down in the world, yet he wasn’t another remittance man, or one more of the marginal types so often attracted to our part of the world. He didn’t have the look. There was something about him that reminded me of the missionaries we sometimes entertained on Bellefleur – a deliberate renunciation of comforts for a greater purpose. But that wasn’t quite it either. I wondered who he was, exactly, and why the Captain had invited him to stay with us. Walking toward the house with them, I made a mental list of things that would have to be done to accommodate this guest, and wondered how long he would stay.

“Are you on holiday, Dr. Dexter?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” he said. “A journey, rather. One without a destination as yet.”


What readers have said:

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  • “Islands of the Gulf-Part I slipped down like fine sherry … Beware, though, reader, there’s more than a bit of Patricia Highsmith in Ms. Driscoll, and her heroes–like the Talented Mr. Ripley– have a dark side.”
  • “The characters are compelling and the plot is a page-turner!”
  • “Hardcore HPL fans might be disappointed … However, this is a terrific novel in its own right–one of the better works of literary fiction I’ve read. I repeatedly thought of Steinbeck as I read it, specifically “East of Eden”. Like that book, it’s long–sometimes meandering–but it always commands the reader’s interest with its sweeping narrative and gorgeous prose.”
  • “… this one really kept me up at night as the character of Herbert West continued to evolve and /change/. I particularly liked seeing Herbert West aka Francis Dexter through the eyes of Margaret, the narrator of the second half of the book.”

Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey is available from:

Amazon US UK CA AU DE

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

This is the second of four parts. Here is the link to Part 1

Header image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. Book cover image by Damonza.

Second Novel Published

Islands of the Gulf, Volume One, the second novel of my Herbert West Trilogy, is now available on Smashwords.

When I finished writing The Friendship of Mortals, I suspected that a sequel was called for. Charles Milburn, the narrator of that book, wasn’t finished with his friend Herbert West, and neither was I. At the same time, I wanted to try my hand at a piece of writing set here on the west coast of Canada, in particular among the Gulf Islands. Why not combine the two elements and see what would happen? After all, I began writing in 2000 as a kind of experiment, with no set expectations.

The first task was to get Herbert West, renegade physician and amoral scientist, from New England to the Gulf Islands. For reasons I will not disclose here, he renames himself Francis Dexter and, with his former servant Andre Boudreau, undertakes a long journey — from New York City to New Brunswick and then via St. Louis to New Orleans. There, the two end up on a peculiar tramp steamer which takes them across the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal, and northward along the west coast of North America. The trip is not without incident, and at its conclusion, Francis and Andre find themselves on a (fictitious) Gulf Island called Bellefleur. There, the process of transformation continues — Herbert West to Francis Dexter, amoral scientist to country doctor, revivifier of corpses to… something else.

Because Islands of the Gulf is a long book, I decided to publish it in two volumes. Volume Two will be available in July 2012.