It’s 1999 and Luke Murphy of Shawville finishes off a pretty two-on-one play, putting the puck upstairs behind goalie Mathieu Chouinard. It’s the winning goal in a Florida Panthers’ 3-2 exhibition-game victory over the Ottawa Senators.
The Ottawa Valley boy is flying, but his fortune runs out when he breaks his hand later in the Panthers’ training camp.
“I was having a good camp. I was playing pretty well,” said Murphy, one of the smallest players on the ice, at 165 pounds.
He doesn’t make the team, but when offered a minor league contract, he takes it and ends up playing pro hockey in the minors for six seasons.
Murphy loves telling the story, but the 36-year-old is hoping a longer story of his, all 230 pages of it, also creates positive dividends.
Now working for school boards in Renfrew County and western Quebec, as an occasional teacher, he’s also enjoying a literary triumph — the publication of his debut novel, Dead Man’s Hand, by Imajin Books.
The e-book version was released, with Amazon, in mid-October. The print version followed, also last month.
With deep roots in sports, Murphy admits he wanted his main character to be involved in sports. So former football star Calvin Watters, of the University of Southern California, becomes one of two main characters in a story that is steeped in the seedier side of Las Vegas, and a city Murphy has visited for research purposes.
Following rave reviews from such best-selling authors as Thomas Perry of Poison Flower, Anne Frasier of Hush and Anthony Bidulka of Dos Equis, Murphy is hopeful that the book will resonate with readers.
Dead Man’s Hand isn’t exactly an aberration for Murphy, either. Growing up in a family that enjoyed reading, he was no exception. He particularly enjoyed crimes and mysteries, including those that were parlayed into movies.
“I always loved reading,” he says. “I loved reading books on road trips or in the cafeteria (during my hockey career). All my family loved reading.”
It was an injury, it turns out, that created a literary opening for Murphy, who already enjoyed such crime authors as Greg Iles, Michael Connelly and Harlen Coben. Suffering a season-ending injury to his left eye meant he only managed to play five games with the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League, but he used that winter of 2000 wisely.
He sat down at the computer and began writing. Writing a little every day, while continuing an intensive rehab program for his eye, he soon completed his first manuscript, one that is still unpublished.
Before long, he was back playing hockey, but Murphy continued his interest in writing, researching, reading up on the industry, making friends with published and unpublished authors, and learning more about how to write well.
Eventually, after his playing career was over, he returned to university, to earn his teaching degree at the University of Ottawa in 2009. But he also returned to writing more vigorously. In the winter of 2007 he began two years of writing what became Dead Man’s Hand.
He also hired Jennifer Lyons of the Jennifer Lyons Literacy Agency, but only after taking his rough manuscript to New York editor Paul McCarthy.
“He really liked it, but he said it needed work, and we worked on it off and on for six months,” says Murphy. “Finally, we had it polished.”
Along the way, Murphy says he’s learned two huge lessons about his own writing.
“A lot was trusting my readers more. (Before) I told too much.”
Secondly, he says the author needs to let the reader imagine.
“You don’t have to describe every movement of every character,” he explains. “Make sure you show; don’t tell.”
That’s what he does in Dead Man’s Hand, which begins with main character Calvin Watters crossing the street of a quiet neighbourhood. He heads past cobwebs into the basement, and begins a conversation with James Pierce, the man he has tied to a chair in the middle of the room because he hasn’t paid his debts.
After Pierce promises to pay, Murphy writes this about Watters and his captive:
He leaned over the table. For effect, he took his time as he opened the leather case and removed the tools of his trade. “One day, one joint.”
This was when most of them broke down all the way. And Pierce didn’t disappoint him. A scream boiled from the man’s belly and erupted like a relentless siren.
Calvin ignored Pierce as best he could. There were 206 bones in the human skeleton. A pro had trained him to use them all.
“Hammer or pipe cutter?”
In May 2012, Murphy signed a publishing contract for Dead Man’s Hand with Imajin Books (Alberta). Murphy’s second book, which he’s working on, is a crime thriller. The book features a rookie female detective who is pulled between two murder cases, one of a university professor, one of her own father, who also worked for the Los Angeles Police Department.