Santa Barbara is the latest stop on reluctant hero Rick Cahill’s road to redemption.
The fictional private investigator finds another murder mystery to solve in “Lost Tomorrows: A Rick Cahill Novel” (Oceanview Publishing, $26.95). It’s written by Matt Coyle, a San Diego resident who earned his bachelor’s in English in 1981 at UCSB.
The first five Rick Cahill novels were set in San Diego, but Mr. Coyle, 60, decided to explore Santa Barbara and its connection for Rick for the sixth adventure in the series.
The novel will be released Dec. 3. It features Santa Barbara locations such as Joe’s Cafe and Stearns Wharf, and a photo of the wharf at night is on the cover.
Mr. Coyle will sign copies at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 at Chaucer’s Books on upper State Street.
The author said that in addition to attending UCSB, he made trips to Santa Barbara over the years with his ex-wife.
“I made a couple long weekend trips there while I was writing the book to get a sense of what it is like today,” Mr. Coyle told the News-Press recently by phone from his San Diego home.
Santa Barbara is a key part of private eye Rick Cahill’s back story, which sets the stage for the new novel.
Rick worked as an officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department, but was kicked off the force after being falsely accused of murder.
“He was arrested for his wife’s murder, but never tried — and never exonerated,” Mr. Coyle said.
Rick tries to build a life for himself in his hometown of San Diego, where he works on cases and bumps up against the fictional La Jolla Police Department, which sees him as an ex-cop with a bad reputation. (La Jolla is a San Diego area that, in reality, is served by the San Diego Police Department.)
Rick’s connection with the Santa Barbara Police Department wasn’t the only reason Mr. Coyle placed “Lost Tomorrows” in the city. He explained Santa Barbara is small enough in his fictional world for potential corruption going unchecked in the police department.
That potential could be a reason for a private investigator to take a case.
“If you’re a private investigator, there has to be a reason for the P.I. to take the case, and it’s generally because they (people concerned about the murder) feel the police didn’t do so something,” Mr. Coyle said. “Thus at certain times, I make police officers make mistakes or see things differently than Rick does.”
But the author, whose brother-in-law is a police officer, emphasized that he has a lot of respect for the real-life police in Santa Barbara and elsewhere. He added that he likes the Santa Barbara police headquarters, a Figueroa Street location that is mentioned in “Lost Tomorrows.”
“It’s such a cool building, right down in the middle of a mixed area of residential and retail buildings,” Mr. Coyle said. “I think there’s some charm to the Santa Barbara Police Department.”
He called Santa Barbara “a beautiful small town.”
“I just love that vibe,” Mr. Coyle said.
In the beginning of “Lost Tomorrows,” Rick is trying to avoid emotional entanglements by simply being a process server, but is drawn back to Santa Barbara after the supposed accidental death of Krista Landingham, his training officer with the Santa Barbara police. After a lot of internal debate, he risks a confrontation with the officers who still think he’s guilty of murdering his wife, Colleen.
He runs into those officers when he attends Krista’s funeral at Trinity Episcopal Church, another real Santa Barbara location in this fictional story.
Afterward, Rick encounters Leah Landingham, Krista’s sister, who believes there was foul play in Krista’s death. Rick feels morally obligated to investigate the case because he worked with Krista.
In addition, Rick is continuing his quest for redemption after a horrible thing he did to his dead wife. He didn’t kill her, but “Lost Tomorrows” explains his true offense.
In setting his book in Santa Barbara, Mr. Coyle is part of a tradition set by the late, renowned local murder mystery novelists Ross Macdonald and Sue Grafton.
Ross Macdonald was the pseudonym for Kenneth Millar (1915-1983). He set his stories in Santa Teresa, a fictional city based on Santa Barbara, where he lived.
Ms. Grafton (1940-2017), who had a home in Montecito, placed her alphabet mystery series in the city that Mr. Millar invented. She once told the News-Press that Santa Teresa allowed her some creative freedom with real-life Santa Barbara locations.
Mr. Coyle said he was a fan of both authors and got to meet Ms. Grafton at a Los Angeles dinner when he was on the board of Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.
“She could not have been more charming. She was so funny,” Mr. Coyle said. “It was one of the best nights of my life.”
He said he almost met Mr. Macdonald, who was scheduled to give a talk to a UCSB detective fiction class that he was taking. “He couldn’t make it. It was one of the biggest disappointments in my life at the time.”
Mr. Coyle’s love for mysteries and the authors behind them started when he was a kid. He grew up reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie’s novels.
“When I was 13 or 14, my dad gave me the ‘Simple Art of Murder’ by Raymond Chandler. It was a bunch of his short stories and his thesis on modern P.I. fiction at the time,” Mr. Coyle said.
Mr. Coyle read more of Mr. Chandler’s stories and came to like the shades of gray in them.
After his studies at UCSB, Mr. Coyle moved back to San Diego. He worked in the restaurant, golf and sport licensing industries. He kept his day jobs while starting his writing career in his 40s.
“You pretty much have to have a day job to write, at least in mysteries. There’s not a whole bunch of money out there,” Mr. Coyle said.
Like many authors, Mr. Coyle didn’t become successful overnight, but he persevered.
“I’ve been writing this character for 17 years,” Mr. Coyle said. “It took me 10 years from writing on a floppy disc to getting published.”
His first Rick Cahill novel, “Yesterday’s Echo,” was published in 2013, followed by more novels about Rick: “Night Tremors” (2015), “Dark Fissures” (2016), “Blood Truth” (2017) and “Wrong Light” (2018).
After “Wrong Light,” the author reached the point where he could make writing his entire career.
“I actually quit my (sports licensing) job at the end of last year to write full time,” Mr. Coyle said.
Mr. Coyle doesn’t want to give away whether Rick lives or dies at the end of “Lost Tomorrows,” but he is under contract with his publisher to write two more books. He hasn’t announced yet whether the next book is a Rock Cahill novel.
What’s certain is Rick’s black Lab, Midnight, remains popular with readers and characters.
“People like Midnight better than they like Rick,” Mr. Coyle said.
“Midnight was inspired by a black Lab I had that was called Brody,” Mr. Coyle said. “He lived to be 13.”
Mr. Coyle said Midnight shares some traits with his current pet, a yellow Lab named Angus.
“He’s a good guard dog,” Mr. Coyle said about Midnight, who loves Rick despite what the rest of the world thinks of the private eye.
Mr. Coyle said Rick appreciates his pet’s affection for him.
“He needs somebody to love him when he gets home.”
“Lost Tomorrows: A Rick Cahill Novel” by Matt Coyle (Oceanview Publishing, $26.95) will be released Dec. 3.
Mr. Coyle will sign copies at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St. (805-682-6787). In addition to being sold at Chaucer’s, the book is available for pre-orders at www.amazon.com.