Literary crime wave hits the Hamptons

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Murder, mobsters and corruption in Southampton? Say it ain’t so.

Though the East End is widely perceived as a bastion of wealth and privilege, there is also a large segment of the population that will never make the society pages, including those for whom multimillion-dollar estates are way out of reach and the working poor, who struggle to make enough coin to survive week to week. And though it is not really on the radar of polite society, there also exists—at least in the minds of fiction writers—a small criminal element on the East End that covets the sometimes ostentatious display of affluence by those who believe that having it requires one to flaunt it.

These East End reprobates and miscreants will do anything to take what they haven’t earned, even if that means committing murder, according to the latest book by crime-writer Daniel Judson.

Drawing on his imagination and some of his own experience as a struggling writer, waiter, bookstore clerk and student in Southampton, Mr. Judson explores the morally bankrupt and criminally inclined in his most recent book, “The Water’s Edge.” In this crime/mystery/drama, the Southampton College graduate paints an evocative tale of the seamy underside of life on the East End.

Exploring the darker side of the Hamptons is nothing new for the Shamus Award-winner, who also wrote “The Darkest Place,” “The Bone Orchard” and “The Poisoned Rose,” all of which are crime novels set in and around Southampton Town.

Interviewed early last summer, Mr. Judson explained why he felt the ritzy Hamptons represent the perfect locale for a crime thriller.

“These are places that are teeming with the rich for three months out of the year,” he said, “but the rest of the time it’s just regular people trying to make a living, and that does create some tension.”

Using actual locations, such as the bridge over the Shinnecock Canal, which is pictured on the cover of the book, Tide Runners restaurant, which overlooks the canal, and the Long Island Rail Road Station in Southampton, the author creates very real settings in his novel. But he admitted he used poetic license to make “The Water’s Edge” more dramatic, since it is, after all, a work of fiction.

“When I lived there, there were two distinctly different towns, the rich and the not rich,” Mr. Judson said. “Southampton is nowhere near as grim as I make it out to be for the sake of drama, but there was a seedier element that was worth exploring.”

Another consideration was the fact that villainous thugs and the “have-nots” tend to be much more interesting characters than regular law-abiding citizens, according to the author, who first carved his niche in Hamptons-based crime writing in 2002 with the novel “The Bone Orchard.”

According to a representative of Mr. Judson’s publisher, St. Martin’s Press, there is a growing appetite for crime novels set on the affluent East End. “We encouraged Dan to continue on the geographical series of novels there,” said St. Martin’s Minotaur publicity manager Hector DeJean earlier this year. “This is a great location to explore in the crime genre.”

Though he now lives in Watertown, Connecticut, Mr. Judson said he met his fair share of interesting characters when he made his home here back in the 1980s. One of those characters was his former boss, Jorge Costello. Mr. Costello once co-owned BookHampton, where Mr. Judson worked as a clerk. In fact, Mr. Costello’s name appears in both “The Water’s Edge” and “The Darkest Place.”

“The area—and the people who live there—is such a big part of my life and part of who I am,” Mr. Judson said of the time he spent on the East End. He continues to visit here several times a year to catch up with friends and conduct research for his next novel, which will also be set in Southampton Town.

Though the East End locations are integral to Mr. Judson’s work, perhaps one of the most significant influences on the author is his first mentor, author and artist Joe Pintauro, who was one of his instructors at Southampton College. Mr. Judson credits Mr. Pintauro with helping him to become a writer.

“Joe was the first published novelist I ever met and I held him in awe,” Mr. Judson said. “His book, ‘Cold Hands,’ is the most beautiful book ever written and it had a huge influence on me … It became a manual for me on how to write.”

After meeting Mr. Pintauro at Southampton College, the inspired student started writing in earnest. But there were many obstacles in his quest to become an American author in the vein of his literary idols John Cheever, John Updike and Mr. Pintauro.

It took 18 years, 10 books, and a switch in genre to crime writing before “The Bone Orchard” was published, and was then nominated for Barry and Shamus awards. His second novel, “The Poisoned Rose,” also published in 2002, won the Shamus award.

Mr. Pintauro had this to say about his former student, who persevered in spite of the setbacks.

“I knew from the beginning when he showed up clutching my book that he was someone that was inspired to write,” Mr. Pintauro said. “He pursued writing almost like somebody pursuing a love, not for ambition or desire for fame but simply for the love of writing and his development as an author. I’m proud that he stuck with it and for what he has accomplished.”

Mr. Judson acknowledged that his struggle to become a published author was tough but that, in the end, the process has made him a better, more informed writer. And though he is now an award-winning author, Mr. Judson said he will never forget how he got started here on the East End.

As he strolled into the BookHampton store in Sag Harbor this summer, Mr. Judson exclaimed, “Check this out: I used to work here and now my newest book is being displayed here … That’s pretty cool.”

“The Water’s Edge” is available at local stores and through www.amazon.com.

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