By Michael J. Tucker
Full disclosure: For the past year, the author and I were in a critique group, reading sections of each other’s works in progress. This is my first reading of the final edited version of Capricorn’s Collapse, the author’s second in a series. The author reviewed my debut novel, Vendetta Stone, in September. —Tom Wood
It’s not easy to like protagonist Tom Delaney and most of the amoral major characters in Capricorn’s Collapse, the “Zodiac” series sequel to Aquarius Falling. But liking the writing style of Michael J. Tucker? Yeah, that’s pretty easy. His book has dark undertones, but the darker characters are so well-written that you can’t help liking them — perhaps feel sympathetic toward them — even if they are unsavory sorts who deal in drugs, prostitution and murder.
If anti-heroes like Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) or, more recently, Walter White (Breaking Bad), appeal to you, then you will enjoy reading about the up-and-down capers of mob accountant Delaney and old flame Misty Vail, whose intertwined lives will never be the same.
Set in 1972-74, the action ingeniously revolves around the sordid Watergate Hotel break-in which eventually forced the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. This story very much reminds me of the Washington-based “Murder” series of books by Margaret Truman, blending facts and familiar settings with a tension-filled story. Mr. Tucker’s tale is certainly much grittier than anything Miss Truman ever wrote, showing us the underbelly of the nation’s capital and nearby Baltimore, Maryland. But he perfectly captures the essence of the innocence-lost era with the dialogue, the musical references, the clothes and the headlines of the day.
The Principle Characters
Tom Delaney — Accountant for the mob
Misty Vail — Prostitute, astrologer and Delaney’s old flame
Patrick (OB) O’Brien — Delaney’s business partner
Sheila O’Brien — OB’s wife
Lou (Spam) Spamanado — Mob leader
Michael Dougherty and Seamus — IRA leader and his chief enforcer
Detective Dennis Mullen — Drug-abusing, heavy gambler, alcoholic and friend of Delaney
Chris Mann — The complex, troubled girlfriend of Mullen
Ann — Delaney’s girlfriend
In the eight years that have passed since the events described in Aquarius Falling, Tom Delaney has established a legitimate CPA firm in Washington, D.C.—that serves as a front for the illegitimate accounting work he does for mobsters. It’s mere happenstance that Delaney is working late at night in his office—just down the hall from the Democratic headquarters located in the Watergate Hotel. He hears noises in the hall and, fearing they’re after him, calls security—setting in motion the chain of events that would bring down a President. It leads Delaney to discover that the woman of his dreams, Misty Vail, also has an office in the hotel. Their paths crisscross time and again, sometimes in near-fatal circumstances.
Meanwhile, Delany’s stomach-churning, complicated life—he has ties to the mob as well as a run-down, dirty detective—is about to get even more so with the arrival of a leader of the Irish Republican Army. This fast-paced story has as many twists and turns as the Beltway, but it’s a fun ride to the very end. You won’t be disappointed, but be forewarned that you might feel like you need a shower after you’re finished.
By Michael J. Tucker
TW: Mike, I’ve gotten to know you pretty well in the last year and you are a pretty nice guy. So why do you choose to write about the darkest side of life in your novels? I mean, if you like happy endings …
MJT: Well Tom, life doesn’t always give us happy endings, and I want my novels to have a real life feel to them. Bad things can happen to good people, and good people can sometimes get caught up in circumstances they can’t control, and end up in a place they don’t want to be. My Delaney character is like that. Early in his life he was snared by the mob due to his financial circumstances and ever since he has tried to find a way out.
TW: Your books have a great deal of social commentary in them, addressing topics such as racism, bigotry and drug use as well as organized crime, prostitution and murder. What drives you to expound on and explore these topics?
MJT: These are subjects that have consequences in peoples’ lives. Bigotry, based on race or religion, is born of ignorance. It’s something that’s just not necessary. In Aquarius Falling I showed the hurtful impact of racism. Capricorn’s Collapse focused attention on religious prejudice and the devastating consequences. Sadly, religious bigotry is driving our wars today. Fanatical terrorists become criminals for misguided beliefs.
Drug use in America is a reality for millions of people, and it is problem that we’ve not been able to solve. The “War on Drugs” has only served to profit the prison industry. By writing about the dependency on drugs and the underworld profits, I’m trying to get my readers to think of alternatives to the drug problem. What can we do different? We have to find a new solution because what we’re doing today is not working.
TW: You also effectively use song titles and music to make a point or set the mood for a certain scene. How do you select them? Is that part of your roots showing? And since you now live in Nashville, I noticed an absence of country music. Is that just staying true to the characters … or something else?
MJT: The music certainly shows my roots. I’ve always loved the Beach Boys and try to work their music into a scene if I can. Same with Sinatra. Anyone, regardless of background, can be a county music fan, so if I wanted to, I could have one of my characters really dig it. But rock and roll, pop, and jazz are what I know, so when I want to work a song into a scene that’s my fallback.
To find a song, usually I’m looking for lyrics that fit what is happening or about to happen. I’ll troll YouTube to find the right song and artist. Often the music is foreshadowing a scene. What leads to a song could be any number of things, the weather, a character’s comment, action in the scene or a woman’s name. You know, something like, “Misty” by Johnny Mathis.
TW: You had to do a ton of research about this turbulent, dark period in American history. What was the most difficult part about getting it just right?
MJT: Timing. Capricorn’s Collapse is a date driven story that starts with the Watergate burglary and ends with Nixon’s resignation, a period that spans two years. I had to coordinate my characters actions with time specific events. One example is the Munich Olympic Games. At first glance, it seems like a scene tossed in just to show an event occurring at that time, but the scene is much more than just two people watching things unfold on a television screen. A piece of Misty is revealed and a seed of doubt is planted for Delaney’s future.
TW: There were a couple of extremely tough—and torrid—scenes involving Tom and Misty. I know you worked really hard to get those just right. Can you discuss that?
MJT: There were a couple of challenges with Tom and Misty. First, there was their history, they had lived together for the summer in Aquarius Falling, so how do you rekindle their romance so that it feels like, or better than, the first time? To build a sexual tension they had to get over past hurts, do little favors for each other, and romance each other again.
Then second, there has to be a cathartic event that pulls them together.
Finding and writing that event was tough. I thought I’d nailed the perfect scene. The feedback I got from most people about the scene indicated some discomfort. Those people were being polite. They didn’t want to hurt my feelings. However a couple people were more direct and honest. I knew then that what I thought was a great scene might cause the average reader to close the book. The scene was ditched and re-written.
TW: Let’s focus on the two main characters, Tom and Misty. You defined their personalities in Aquarius Falling, and let them grow in Capricorn’s Collapse. Most of their actions are indefensible, yet they both have redeeming traits and likeable personalities. Talk about their past (mid-1960s), present (early ’70s) and future.
MJT: Misty is a smart college graduate with a degree in psychology and a knack for predictive astrology. While in college she found that sex with professors could lead to better grades. After graduation she was shuttled into secretarial jobs while her male classmates were offered plum positions. Remember this was the early ’60’s. Prostitution became an attractive financial option. She eventually finds her way to the halls of power in Washington, D.C., where she limits herself to a select but highly profitable clientele.
Tom was an orphan, raised in a Catholic orphanage. Though he has no idea of his parents or why he was an orphan, he knows he is of Irish-American heritage. He was smart enough to earn a college scholarship to Georgetown but is expelled just before his final year. Financial circumstances and falling into the wrong crowd leads Tom, first to pimping for Misty, then selling cocaine for the mob. This connection with the mob becomes important for him during the period between the two novels. His college education is now mob financed and he becomes their indentured servant. After earning his CPA he is fed mob clients for the purpose of phony tax returns and money laundering. He is always looking for an escape route
The future for Tom and Misty will not be a rosy one. Tom doesn’t know it, but Misty had to pay a price to join him. It’s a price that will continue to haunt their future.
TW: So what’s your next project and when will it be completed?
MJT: Based on my comment above, obviously there will be more to come with Tom and Misty. However, I’m currently working on a novel that is not part of the Zodiac series. The working title is, Their Hearts Were Full of Spring. It’s a tragic love triangle involving musician friends. It takes place in Nashville and for a change in my writing style, it will involve a lot of country music.
If I write like my pants are on fire, the novel should be published by next summer. Then I can get back to Tom and Misty.
TW: Tell us about your website and where we can find Capricorn’s Collapse.
MJT: On my website readers will find posted short stories and poems that I’ve written and also on the “blog” tap will be book and movie reviews and author interviews I’ve conducted with other writers.
The link for my website is: http://www.michaeltuckerauthor.com
Both of my novel are available on Amazon. The link for Capricorn’s Collapse is: http://amzn.to/14upmpi
And the link for Aquarius Falling is: http://amzn.to/143xKfF