Author pens third County mystery

8 years ago
By Paula Brewer
Staff Writer

Somewhere in Aroostook County, a young boy emerges from the trees and approaches a Border Patrol agent. Wary, the agent attempts conversation. When the boy finally speaks, his Ukrainian accent seizes her attention 

So begins “Destiny’s Pawn,” the latest novel by D.A. Keeley in his series focusing on County resident, single mom and Border Patrol agent Peyton Cote, in a story weaving together aspects of the crisis in Ukraine and a famously unsolved American art theft.

D.A. Keeley is a pen name of John R. Corrigan, a former Presque Isle resident who taught at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics and then at Northern Maine Community College. He has also written under K.A. Delaney; both pen names were inspired by his daughters, Delaney, Audrey and Keeley.

Corrigan, his wife and family now live in Gill, Massachusetts, where he is a teacher and department head at the Northfield Mount Hermon boarding school.

“Destiny’s Pawn” officially comes out today, June 8, and Corrigan calls it his most plot-driven book of the series.

“I see the series as three very different books,” he said from his home Thursday. “I like that the publisher lets me do that. ‘Bitter Crossing’ is pretty much your classic third-person detective story, really, and ‘Fallen Sparrow’ is more about Peyton Cote’s past. And then ‘Destiny’s Pawn’ is told from several different points of view.”

The novel involves the actual March 18, 1990 theft of 13 works from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston — a crime which has never been solved. It is a case that has riveted the author since it happened.

“I saw a presentation about the Gardner Museum and the heist, and was immediately fascinated. Somebody stole something they can never sell,” he said. “I really got into it. I bought books on art, famous artworks that had been stolen.”

One of the missing works is Rembrandt’s 1633 painting, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” “That particular painting, I see as just absolutely astonishing,” Corrigan said. “Just the brilliance of that, and the thought that it’s somewhere — things just came together in terms of that type of book.”

The more he thought about the theft and work done to solve the crime, the more fascinated he became. “The reason you would steal [something like] that, typically, is if you know you will be charged with a crime in the future. This is the card people have played, typically people in organized crime: ‘I know where one of them is,’ and of course people want to make the trade.”

The Ukrainian boy who appears at the novel’s beginning is Aleksei Vann. Vann is in the U.S. because of actions by his father, who was “put in a position where life’s circumstances have him making a really bad choice,” the author explained.

The home base is Garrett, a small Aroostook County town near the Canadian border, in which the heroine endeavors to keep her life in balance. For Corrigan, Cote herself is the highlight of all the books. “The fact that she’s a single mom and she’s always struggling with home vs. her work life — that balance is very real,” he said.

“Even as a writer, I’m more interested with Peyton Cote’s personal life and growth as a character than I am the crime aspects of these books. It’s Peyton Cote’s home life that sort of keeps me going — and the setting.”

That setting is close to Corrigan’s heart.

“I grew up in Readfield, and then got hired by MSSM, so I was there for seven years, and then at NMCC for three years. We lived in Presque Isle for seven or eight years of that decade, and that’s still home for me — just great, great memories. I fell totally in love with the place.

“When I started writing the series, I had moved, and it was almost out of homesickness that the setting came about,” he added. “Being able to convey some of those images, and hopefully authenticity, was for me more than the readers, trying to pick images that speak to the reader and show the unique setting.”

Some County folk have even contributed to his writing; in the book’s acknowledgements Corrigan thanks Maine State Trooper Adam Stoutamyer for his assistance with state drug laws.

“Adam is a dear friend and has often, for probably more than a decade, offered technical insight — including last night by email — about things like ballistics and procedure,” said the author. “He’s always been open with his time, and again, I consider him a close friend and I’m lucky to have him be willing to share his insights.”

He also mentioned former U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Kevin Stevens. “That’s an interesting connection, because his sister worked at NMCC with me,” Corrigan recalled. “So to be able to have the man who once ran the entire Border Patrol answering questions about specifics … that’s a huge asset. Without people like Adam and Kevin for me to be able to research and ask questions, you couldn’t do Border Patrol in places like The County.”

He emphasized he writes about the area because he loves it. “The first book was dedicated to the people of The County,” he said. “That’s one of the things I hope, is that especially people up there see that I’m trying to honor the region, the culture and the way of life. I respect and admire the area and the people, and I hope that comes out in all these books.”

School has just ended for Corrigan, but in between summer school he will also be working on book four in the Peyton Cote series.

“Contemporary readers of crime fiction demand all the elements of literary fiction, but they also demand that you keep them on the edge of their seats,” he concluded.

Which is exactly where he wants readers to be.

For further information, visit the author’s page on