By GWEN OREL
“Bad Boy Boogie,” by Thomas Pluck, takes place in New Jersey. Much of it takes place in Nutley, where Pluck, now a Montclairite, grew up.
“The basic story was inspired by news stories and happenings that I overheard throughout my life,” Pluck said. “I wouldn’t say it was based on a true story. It’s the attitude there a little more, the struggle between the middle class and the working class.”
Good thing it’s not 100 percent based on truth, since the novel is about a convicted murderer seeking revenge.
Pluck will read from his book on Thursday, April 27, at Watchung Booksellers, 54 Fairfield St. It’s the launch of the novel, which came out last month. Pluck will talk about crime and mystery with fellow mystery writers Alex Segura and Dave White.
The book, Pluck’s second novel, is labeled “A Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller.” It’s the first one in the series, and Pluck is at work on the second, which will be set in Louisiana.
“Regionalists might be a little disappointed,” Pluck said with a laugh. His wife is from the Southern state, which Pluck described as “one of the things that’s unique in America, and in the world.”
But getting back to New Jersey.
“I come from Nutley, where Martha Stewart is from,” Pluck said.
Crime stories set in New Jersey are not uncommon in this post-“Sopranos,” post-“Atlantic City” era.
One thing that sets “Bad Boy Boogie” apart is its lack of a sense of criminal organization. Author Wallace Stroby blurbs “Bad Boy Boogie” as “a vivid dose of New Jersey noir with heart, soul and muscle” on the book’s back cover.
“It had to be set in New Jersey,” Pluck said. “It has everything.” Towns are mixed with different ethnicities, as they always were: now newcomers may be Ethiopian and Vietnamese, but even “the Irish weren’t welcomed here but they made it. We never learn with that. We do fight them but a generation or two in, ‘OK, they’re Americans.’ Some of us are trying to fight that.”
New Jersey, he said, is “a microcosm of what we think of when we think of America. People from all over the world coming here to live together.” The image of an American as “the Marlboro man riding through a desert” is a stereotype, he said.
On the street he grew up on in Nutley, which he described as “industrial, literally on the other side of the tracks,” there were “African-Americans, Vietnamese. Our street was treated like a dump. The street lights were out. My grandmother went to town hall to say kids were playing ball and could get hit. Mayor Carmen Orechio said ‘If you don’t like it, move.’ The attitude was that if you don’t live on nice streets or near parks, you’re garbage. It’s kind of how we treat immigrants.”
But he makes a point of including Newark, which is “a city with great problems, but still a great city.” He went to Rutgers in Newark, and has experienced suburban snobbery: “There’s a pecking order among suburbs. The closer to Newark, the more they look down the nose.”
Pluck, a computer administrator by day, has a degree in English. He said the “excuse” he uses for writing crime fiction is that his family was blue collar, bikers, mechanics and bartenders, and enjoyed mysteries and crime stories the most. So it was natural for him to write them.
“This one is definitely a crime thriller. It’s meant to be exciting and have action, but touch on problems in a realistic way.
Today he lives in the Third Ward. “I always wanted to live in Montclair,” he said. Growing up, he thought of it as a cool town with used bookstores and antique shops, even a punk shop, “the best Essex town.” There’s even a scene set on Upper Mountain Avenue, a place Pluck remembers being driven to see as a kid. There’s a scene with a horse, inspired by the Montclair horse, Rocky. Rocky died last year, but “he’s immortal in the book now.”
EXCERPT: “Bad Boy Boogie”
by Thomas Pluck
The streets were torn up with construction. Andre used to joke that New Jersey only had two seasons: winter and
road work. Nutley’s main drag was sliced stem to stern in the heart of town as utility trucks performed surgery on the
main intersection. Memories teased the back of Jay’s mind as he cruised through town. The street where Matt got his dreaded nickname. The junk lot where Joey Bello’s picador games of torment began. The park where it had all ended in blood.
The death shroud lifted as he crossed the border and climbed the hills of Montclair. The dividing lines were a jigsaw, but
each town had its own character. Montclair had been considered bohemian with its antique shops, punk record store, and
restaurants that served more than burgers, Chinese, or pizza. The quirky edges had been polished off and the gentrifying
denizens eyed his loud ride with curious disdain. Ramona’s address brought him to a Tudor mansion on a ridge overlooking Manhattan. It looked half as big as Rahway prison and nearly as imposing.
‘A Night of Mystery’
Thomas Pluck, ‘Bad Boy Boogie’
Friday, April 27, 7 p.m.
Thomas Pluck talks with Alex Segura, author of the Pete Fernandez mysteries, and Dave White, author of “Blind to Sin”
54 Fairfield St.