Seasoned detective Joe Hampton just wants what we all want: to retire peacefully and enjoy a bit of the Florida lifestyle. But a series of murders at his Clearwater condo pulls him back into the sleuthing game, and right into the path of a murderer who’d also like him to retire – permanently.
So runs the plotline of Stephen Burdick’s Yesterday Rising (Down & Out Books, 2023), a collection of three novellas featuring Hampton, his new friends at Clearwater PD, and a whole lotta murder in paradise. The volume is the second in Burdick’s Gray Detective series, following a similar three-novella collection, “The Gray Detective” (Down & Out Books, 2022).
Putting the Pieces Together
Burdick, a Gulfport resident for the last 20 years, has been a lifelong fan of mysteries, which he remembers enjoying alongside his mother as a child. But writing his own fiction came much later. While working at Madeira Beach Parks Department, he shared a story he wrote with his boss, then with friends and family – all of whom told him to keep it up.
“They thought there was something to it,” he recalls.
In 2012, he found a writers’ group at the Gulfport Public Library. Despite some initial hesitation – “I couldn’t believe there were so many people. And they were all really good writers!” – he started sharing a trove of detective novellas he’d written, all set in the Tampa Bay area.
The Plot Thickens
Joe Hampton, intrepid retiree detective, began to emerge. In Yesterday Rising, he confronts a series of trials including a double-murder family drama, would-be girlfriends seeking revenge, and a serial killer who specializes in leaving his victims’ limbs in local parks.
Through all this fast-paced action and gritty police banter, his relationship with his boss, Detective Sergeant Carly Truffant, shines through as one of the most unique and complex elements of the book. Not quite a romance, but much more than a friendship, theirs is a bond that has survived many close scrapes, and makes each character all the more dynamic as it develops.
Then there’s Joe’s relationship with his recently deceased wife, whose fantasy it was to move to Clearwater. While she did not live to realize that dream, she’s still there in spirit – literally. She’s a wry and encouraging voice in Joe’s ear that adds a special poignancy to the tired bones and loneliness he sometimes feels.
The Next Chapter
As for Burdick, he’s far from finished. While he has told all of his Joe Hampton stories for the moment, a new detective and a new series – Jan Larkin of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department – is on the horizon. He will also share a reading from Yesterday Rising at the Gulfport Arts Center at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 5.
And he has some advice for other aspiring writers: “Persevere! You have to keep knocking on doors and stay with it until you find the right publisher for your book.”
“And find a good writers’ group!” he adds.