Local author’s online novel makes it to print — but the triumph is bittersweet
I first read A.C. Henley’s series of stories about lesbian private investigator Quin McKee online.
Henley — the pen name for North Texas resident Bridgette Wyman — posted each chapter to a fiction Web site, and later her own Yahoo group, as she finished them. The writing then was in rough form, but the story was engrossing, and I, along with many others, eagerly awaited each update.
This week, I read "McKee: The Return" in its final, paperback, published form. And even though I had been worried that I might not like it so much the second time, once again I found myself engrossed in a fast-moving, well-plotted tale.
Henley didn’t set out to remake the detective genre. Some things in the book will sound very familiar — for instance, the characters. Quinlan "Quin" McKee is the typical hard-boiled, loner detective with smoldering good looks and a dark past. Vivian Walsh is a beautiful and dedicated yet distant cop with a past of her own. There’s Quin’s stable of devoted minions, and Vivian’s tough-on-the-outside/marshmallow-soft-on-the-inside partner.
The good guys and the bad guys are well defined. You’ll know the bad cop when you encounter him, and the crooks are despicable and easily hated. But the good guys have faults — not always on the right side of the law, even if always on the right side of justice.
The setting is familiar, too: lots of vintage cars, crowded offices, dank and smelly alleys populated with drug dealers and junkies and hookers and feisty grandmothers and handsome men and beautiful women and lost souls — all set to a bluesy soundtrack that’s heavy on the Etta James.
But it’s the plot that keeps you glued, with plenty of twists and turns and unexpected developments that will keep you guessing — and turning pages.
The online version included some events and characters that I didn’t see in the pages of "McKee: The Return." That could be because the online stories comprised three separate novels, and the published book includes just the first two. Whatever the reason, not having those characters in the published novel doesn’t take away from the story. If you never read the online versions, you won’t even know they are missing.
And you might not miss them even if you read the Web version; not having those characters included keeps the plots more condensed and moving along at a much faster clip.
Henley, who was also working on a separate science fiction series and some other stories, stopped updating the McKee stories online some time back. She was diagnosed with stage four metastatic uterine cancer in the fall of 2005, and her battle with the disease since then often left her without the energy to write. (See an interview with Henley, "Bridgette Wyman’s final message," on DallasVoice.com/Instant-Tea for more about the author’s fight against cancer.)
She has bounced back more than once, but recently doctors told her the end was very near, and so it doesn’t look like there will be any more McKee stories, unless her partner, Sherry Barker, and some of her fellow online novelists join together to extend the series. That might not be too far-fetched, since Henley said that Barker and some friends "with similar writing styles" are planning to complete a different novel she had started.
It was, in fact, some of Henley’s friends and online fans who worked to get "McKee: The Return" rushed through the publishing process so that they could get the book published in time for Henley to see it and enjoy that success before her death.
But even if there are no more McKee stories, even if none of Henley’s unfinished novels are ever completed, she has left behind a legacy in "McKee: The Return" and in her online work, that she, her family, her friends and her fans can be proud of.
— Tammye Nash
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.