Gail McCarthy

CNHI News Service

Gloucester native James Irving found that the machinations of his imagination, coupled with his upbringing in a historic seaport and a career in law, served him well in his efforts as an author.

Now semi-retired as a partner in a Virginia law firm, he has returned to the love of writing he developed during his high school days.

The University of Virginia Alumni Magazine has chosen her debut book, “Friends Like These,” as one of its 16 summer “must reads” for 2021. It’s the first in a series of thrillers centered on the main character Joth Proctor in these “repairers” detective novel genre.

“I would love to see the book arrive in Good Harbor Beach this summer,” said Irving, 68, who splits his time between Virginia and Gloucester.

The next two books in the series are “Friend of a Friend” and “Friend of the Court”; and this spring in Gloucester he wrote the closing pages of ‘Friend of the Devil’, due for publication in the fall.

Irving’s father, a doctor from Gloucester, died when he was 15. After high school, Irving left Gloucester to attend the University of Virginia, where he majored in English. His mother would also move to Virginia.

For two years after college in the 1970s, he worked as a private investigator during which he tracked lost spouses, located people who did not want to be found, and conducted criminal investigations.

“It was a job that gave me an opportunity for excitement and adventure. Sometimes it was grim, boring and sometimes dangerous, but interspersed with moments of zest for life,” said Irving, who went on to earn a law degree from the College of William and Mary.

He practiced criminal law in his early years as a lawyer, which, along with his detective adventures, provides a rich background for his fictionalized account of Salem native Joth Proctor.

“Joth is a nickname for Jonathan among some old Yankee families,” Irving said. “He’s an excellent litigator, but he doesn’t have the talent to develop cases. It tends to attract customers with questionable cases. Since he can’t afford to refuse them, he regularly finds himself pushing ethical and moral boundaries.

Irving explained that Proctor, who practices alone, carries a lot of personal baggage.

“I think the show works in large part because of the relationship between the five or six characters that appear in each of the books. The development of those relationships gives the show its energy.

Of the recurring characters, the critical relationship is between Joth and Heather Burke, the woman who broke his heart years before and who is now the local jurisdiction’s chief prosecutor.

“In constructing a fictional character, I started from what I know to understand Joth’s motivations. For example, I made Joth a graduate of the University of Virginia to give me a sense of his background,” Irving added.

Raymond Smith, an English professor at Indiana University, gave the series high marks. In a review, he wrote, “Irving has produced not only fine detective fiction, but beautiful fiction: he has an enviable artist’s eye for detail both mundane and macabre. The reader of the Joth Proctor Fixer series has a real sense of being there, even when no sane reader would want to be there.

Writing has always been a passion for Irving, who wrote stories even as a youth in Gloucester. He also worked summers as a sports rope access technician at the Gloucester Daily Times after high school.

“I’ve always been a writer and found that like going to the gym, you get some level of satisfaction from the discipline it requires,” he recalls. “About four years ago, I felt I had to take a more serious chance and finished the first book. After reviewing it, my agent told me I had to make a series, so I came up with a second book and a plan for the third, and at that point I was offered a contract.

The author has always been drawn to dialogue, beginning with his studies of Shakespeare in high school and university, where he focused on Renaissance theater. With his legal background, he has the ability to create authentic dialogue honed by years of interviewing witnesses.

Like other Gloucester natives who are moving away, Irving has found a way to come back.

“Cape Ann was a kid’s paradise. It has it all – beaches, ponds, fields and so much to do here. It’s also insular and self-contained with a rich history. It’s across the river from the rest of Massachusetts,” he said. “Cape Ann is also a rich environment for creatives, artists and writers. If you want to be a writer, this is a great place. This overwhelmingly beautiful space tends to generate stories for those who want to bring them out. »