Several years ago I started writing a new series about a young Indian American woman living in India, a country I have loved since I was a child. It was easy to get caught up in writing about Anita Ray in short stories; the short story format gave me a chance to explore facets of her personality and different locations in India. I had a great time, and soon had a full-length novel featuring Anita and her Auntie Meena and other characters I had come to know through the stories. There was only one problem. I set aside the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva and I missed Joe.
When I began the Anita Ray series I had already written six Joe Silva novels, but only five had been published, three by Scribner and two by Five Star/Thorndike. I set aside the mss of the sixth book when I chose to work on the India series. I thought it would sit in my closet with the pages turning dry and brittle.
The sixth Joe Silva grew out of a question a reader asked me some years back. After a book signing, a woman said, "Why doesn't Joe ever talk about his family? What's the story there?" It seemed to bother her that Joe was so distant from his large birth family, which he clearly loved. He called his mother regularly and she had become friendly with his upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Alesandro. They were both elderly ladies who had much to share, and Joe was only part of that. Beyond being surprised at how much some readers cared about a series character's personal life, I didn't think much about the question. But it never went away. The reader and her question nagged at me, and I can still see her standing at the end of a row of chairs as the event was breaking up cradling a stack of books in her arms. "What about Joe's family?"
It took me several years to decide to answer the question, and I had to think long and hard about it. When I began writing about Joe back in the early 1990s, I had a pretty good idea who he was and what his family was like, but other than a few odd references here and there I left the family background out of everything. Now I had to go back and recall and reconstruct. It took a while, but the result was a story of our times, of a family bound by love and loyalty and yet beset with all the troubles of the modern world--a marriage gone bad through no fault of the wife, the oldest son dead and eternally young, the aging brothers and sisters who built lives and loved their families and would never think of not loving each and every one of their relatives, and the siblings who had moved away to live lives that would have worried Joe if they'd stayed in his area.
The aging patriarch is determined to bring his entire family together again for one last reunion. But his motivation is more than family togetherness--he wants to settle an old doubt, erase an old suspicion. Unfortunately, he sets in motion the circumstances for another crime.
I came to love Joe's family and now I think I want to visit them again in another Mellingham mystery. Until then, I hope fans of the earlier Mellingham books will enjoy the latest installment. Last Call for Justice answers all those questions about Joe's family--and tells readers a lot they didn't know about Joe. Gwen, Joe's longtime partner, discovers a few things too, and we get to know her better. I love this book partly for the door it opens into Joe's life, and partly because I came to love Joe's family, his Mae and Pae especially, and their staunch determination to make life work, to love their children and support them throughout their sometimes difficult lives. Even a murder won't tear this family apart.
Look for the new Joe Silva on Amazon.com and, soon, available for Nook. Just click on the link: Last Call for Justice: A Mellingham Mystery