with Strike Dog
By Glen Young
Author Joe Heywood genuinely likes conservation officer Grady Service.
Heywood, a retired pharmaceutical executive, believes Service, the curmudgeonly Upper Peninsula woods cop, has a big heart, a sharp mind, and a knack for finding the bad guys.
Service is the fictional creation of Heywood, and the two have returned for a fifth installment of the Woods Cop mystery series published by The Lyons Press.
Heywood has pressed Service back into active duty in Strike Dog, the latest adventure in the series that began in 2001 with Ice Hunter.
A 1961 graduate of Rudyard High School, Heywood now lives in Portage, near Kalamazoo. But every year he returns to the U.P., riding alongside conservation officers and scouting new locations and new ideas. More than anything, however, Heywood finds a greater appreciation for the real-life woods cops.
Being alone in an environment where nearly everyone is armed, is the hardest part of being a game warden, Heywood says. In addition, he feels the biggest impediment is too few officers. They cant cover territory as well as theyd like.
Heywood says the idea for Grady Service came to him strictly by serendipity. Service first appeared as a minor character in Heywoods 1993 novel The Snow Fly.
I really liked Service, Heywood says. I arbitrarily made him a game warden. After inventing him, Heywood wondered what game wardens do, so he contacted the Plainwell office of the Department of Natural Resources and began a longtime friendship with several woods cops, both close to home and across the state.
In his writing, Heywood doesnt ease into Services troubles. In the opening pages of Strike Dog, Services girlfriend Maridly Nantz and his adult son Walter are killed in a car wreck, triggering a highly personal and keenly emotional storyline. When Services friend Wayno, a conservation officer in Wisconsin, is killed soon after, Grady Service finds himself investigating all three deaths for a connection.
I didnt know it was going to happen, Heywood says of Nantz and Walters deaths. When I first began drafting the book, I had her and the boy all the way through.
What Heywood realized while writing, however, is life is not neat. Bad things happen to great people.
Service struggles through his bad things, ranging from the U.P. to Wisconsin, and then to Arkansas, drawn into a national manhunt for a deranged killer who is targeting conservation officers. Working alongside other officers as well as the FBI, Service hopes to solve the several related murders while also preventing his own.
In reliable Service fashion, the solitary woodsman finds his colleagues a step short and a clue behind. The FBI agents prove to be even more limited than the woods cops, but no less inviting as characters.
Returning with Service are some of Heywoods other memorable characters, including the disagreeable Limpy Allerdyce, the U.P.s most despised poacher. Allerdyce claims to have changed, however. Hes probably my favorite character, Heywood says of Services nemesis.
Heywood admits that Service too is changing. The way hes evolving is in part greatly influenced by the people hes around, Heywood says. Hes a shit magnet, but hes becoming much more open to people. Hes showing himself to be a very caring person.
TRUE TO THE U.P.
Strike Dog marks the widest geographical range for Service. My agent for years was yelling at me to take (Service) to other parts of the country. Heywood always believed if there is a reason for him to go, Ill take him there. He says he has a new agent now who doesnt bother him about Gradys travels.
Death Roe, the next installment of the Woods Cop series, will be out in late 2008. Heywood is currently at work on the next mystery, and is hopeful this one will reach readers in 2009. He expects to complete at least 10 Grady Service mysteries, but admits he doesnt have an end in mind for the series.
Heywood isnt sure he would have made a good game warden himself. I dont think I have the listening skills. He believes game wardens are successful when they dont draw quick immediate judgment on people, something that takes great listening prowess.
He certainly does, however, demonstrate a keen ear in his characters above-the-bridge vernacular. His pitch-on delivery of U.P. colloquialisms parallels his careful attention to Yooper detail, from the taste of pasties to a disdain for trolls.
About the writing process, Heywood does say its easier to write with an ending in mind; you know where youre going. He says he always has either a beginning or an ending in mind when he begins a book, but if you have a beginning in mind and you dont know where its going, thats the hardest book to write.
His writing habits involve heavy doses of writing longhand. Then the next day I edit and type, Heywood says. Its a constant process, edit and proofread. He believes its very much about discipline. Something Grady Service would no doubt appreciate.
For more about both Heywood and Service, check out Heywoods new website at www.josephheywood.com.