On Sunday, May 20, the Whitingham Free Public Library will host an author’s tea with Donaghue at 3 pm. Copies of the book will be available for sale at the reading and discussion.
On the surface, Donaghue’s “Resurrection” is a murder mystery novel, of the “hard boiled” detective variety. But it’s also a window into Donaghue’s own past. The plot is loosely based on the real unsolved murder of a young gay man, one that her police detective father Jim Donaghue investigated in the 1970s. And one of the main characters in the novel, senior detective Mike Muldoon, is based on Donaghue’s father. “He was a likeable character in real life,” she says, “a funny, smart, and wise guy. He really left his mark on me, and on my brother, a colonel in the Marine Corps.”
Before he died in 1993, Donaghue promised her father that she would write about the case. “The murder case was a big deal for him. It got him his 15 minutes of fame with a big write-up in the Boston Globe Magazine. He was frustrated that he couldn’t solve it, but he was delighted that I was going to write about it.”
The main character, Mike Muldoon’s daughter Mary Elizabeth Muldoon, also a Lowell Police detective, is based on Donaghue herself. Donaghue did work for the city in the Lowell Police Department building, and even took the exam to become a police officer, much to her father’s chagrin. “They never called me to take the physical, my father had put the kibosh on that,” she says. “Dad wanted me to be a stewardess. I was his princess, and he thought that was the most glamorous job in the world for a woman.”
But Donaghue is careful to emphasize that Mary Elizabeth, the hard-drinking detective who falls out of one bed and into another within the span of a chapter, is only “very loosely” based on her own personality. “Mary Elizabeth is a little wilder than I am,” Donaghue laughs. “I’m more of a wuss than Mary Elizabeth, and have fewer demons. She’s more like an extension of me – there’s a lot of me in there.”
Lowell is Donaghue’s hometown. Seen through Mary Elizabeth’s eyes and Donaghue’s chapter prologues, the city becomes one of the characters in the book. When Donaghue was growing up in Lowell, the city was in decline, with empty mills, filthy canals, and plenty of street crime. “It was called the armpit of Massachusetts,” Donaghue says. “I couldn’t wait to leave.”
During the 1980s and ‘90s, the city was transformed. “It was named an urban National Park,” Donaghue says. “Money came in, and the old mills were fixed up, and the canals were cleaned up. Now there are boat rides on them and it’s called the Venice of America because of all the canals. It became a tourist destination, which always struck us as funny.”
Donaghue’s family history is intertwined with Lowell. One of the city’s architectural showpieces, the Memorial Auditorium was built by her grandfather. “There’s a lot to be said for the city,” she says. “It was a real melting pot, a destination for many different ethnic groups. They all hated the one that came after them.”
Donaghue’s name should be familiar to Deerfield Valley News readers. She has been a longtime contributor, documenting the history and personal stories of local residents. Although “Resurrection” is her first novel, it isn’t her first book. One of her books, “A Goodly Heritage,” includes her previously published stories about Whitingham residents.
Donaghue’s writing experience shows in “Resurrection.” Perhaps because the novel was written over almost 20 years, or perhaps because the characters are based on people who are real to Donaghue, the character development builds quickly and believably through dialogue and first-person narrative.
The plot has enough twist and turns to keep the reader interested, but not so many as to become tiresome or confusing. As with any good mystery, the ending comes as a surprise, but without any last-minute contrivance or fantastic revelation.
The cover features an original painting by local artist Melinda Coombs. “I gave her a picture of a Lowell mill,” said Dongahue, “and another of a cemetery in Lowell, and the painting turned out exactly the way I wanted it to be. Lowell resurrected itself, and that was the point I wanted to make with the cover.”
Donaghue is already at work on another novel, again with a family connection. The story revolves around a family home in Rockport, MA, built by her grandfather before World War I. Will it be another mystery? “I’m still working on that,” she says. “I thought it could have a mystery element, but it’s mostly a novel about the house.”
In addition to Sunday’s event at the Whitingham Free Public Library, Donaghue’s book is available locally at Bartleby’s Books or at www.createspace.com/3489341 and Amazon.com.