The second book in the John Q Texas Ranger series, this bears no relation to “Walker” on TV. I stress that because some people have asked me about it and I never watched the series back in the day. That’s not to be disparaging, just to say there is no comparison. John Quarrie was born out of a desire to write a character with old west values (such as they were) that embody the honesty, toughness and integrity you still find in small town Americans today. Having spent an inordinate amount of time in such locations all across the west, I’ve always found people with a spirit of adventure and lack of cynicism, that echoes the pioneering spirit of yesterday.
So many fictional heroes are beset with demons and issues (my own previous characters included) that I decided I would try to write someone who knew exactly who he was and what his role in life was. That had to be both as regards work and his relationships, and when people read John Q novels they’re as keen on his home life with his son as they are his work as a Texas Ranger. Living on a ranch in the Texas panhandle, he’s surrounded by friends he’s known since he was fourteen. A widower, he promised his wife he would always take care of their son. He does that whilst answering calls to various crime scenes large and small. In the first book THE LONG COUNT, John Q deals with a tragic family situation and its grisly repercussions, whereas in THE CONTRACT he's out of state and perhaps a little out of his depth, in the murky world of 1960’s New Orleans.
I’ve spent a lot of time in The Big Easy, more so than in Texas actually, so far, and always found myself in difficult and often dangerous situations. The people I know down there are largely either cops or criminals. There’s a whole sub-culture surrounding the French Quarter that regular tourists never get to see. I’m lucky enough to have been out and about with the FBI and the Department of Corrections, as well as a private detective who doubled as a rock n roll singer.
Back in the late 1960’s a real-life Ranger called Joachin Jackson was in New Orleans investigating a link to a crime at a country club in Texas. He had no jurisdiction down there, but when you kill a man in Texas (as John Q says) you have to pay. I knew about Jackson and used his experience as the original inspiration for this book, though the plot couldn’t be any more different. Recently I watched a Robert Duval movie called “Wild Horses” where Jackson had a cameo as himself, he died in 2016.
There’s something about Rangers that just appeals, their no nonsense, “The law is the law” approach has gotten under my skin. Although John Q is fictional, I gave him a veracity that John “DELIVERANCE” Boorman recognised, by making him godson to the most famous Texas Ranger of them all. Brought out of retirement to take down Bonnie & Clyde, Captain Frank Hamer wrote King George VI at the beginning of World War II. Long since retired but still tough as old boots, Hamer offered the king a personal bodyguard of retired Texas Rangers in case the Nazi’s rolled into London. Some people might think that was a bit naff, but I’ve always found it cool. A personal letter from John Q’s godfather to the King of England, he meant every word and - would have been as good as it - if he’d been called.
Now I think about it, perhaps that’s the reason an Englishman is writing about a Texas Ranger!
The Contract by JM Gulvin is published by Faber & Faber in April (£12.99)