BTB: Neil Plakcy’s Have Body, Will Guard: The Noblest Vengeance

For me, any book grows out of multiple inspirations. In the case of The Noblest Vengeance, the first of those was a comment from a reader. She noted that family is very important to the hero of my Mahu gay mystery series, Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka. He has a close relationship with his parents, his two older brothers and their families, and a large extended group of relatives. Aidan Greene and Liam McCullough, the heroes of my Have Body, Will Guard series, on the other hand, live largely apart from their families, and she wondered about that difference.

I hadn’t created the books that way; it arose organically from the situation of the series. Aidan was an instructor of English as a Second Language (ESL) in Philadelphia, in a ten-year relationship with a lawyer, when his partner, Blake, kicked him to the curb. He wanted to put as much distance between him and Blake as possible, so he accepted, sight unseen, a teaching job in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.

Once in Tunis, he met Liam McCullough, a former US Navy SEAL working as a bodyguard. Aidan and Liam fall in love and work together in the first book, Three Wrong Turns in the Desert. Since they were expats, and I was focused on their developing romance, I never considered their family backgrounds.

As I got to know them, through four more books, I learned bits and pieces about their families. But it wasn’t until I got that fan’s question that I began to consider their attitudes toward family, and how that might affect their relationship.

I grew up in a family of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. One of my aunts, however, came from a Sephardic background, and I was always fascinated by the differences in food and language between the two cultures. I also have a good friend and colleague who is Sephardic as well, and we often share details, particularly around Jewish holidays. At some point she mentioned that she had distant cousins who still lived in the suburbs of Istanbul, Turkey.

The story began to come together in my head. What if Aidan had an aunt like mine, who had relatives who remained in Turkey? The news reports of protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park sparked an idea that these relatives might be in danger, and need a bodyguard’s protection.

Because in the first book I wanted Aidan to have few resources to fall back on other than his own ingenuity, I made him the only child of deceased parents. As an only child myself, I knew that he’d have close relationships with his cousins, and his sense of duty and responsibility would make him want to answer his cousin’s call for help.

Liam, however, would be resistant. He had tried, briefly, to live at home again after his discharge from the Navy, and been unable to. I took that to mean he was estranged from his family, and wouldn’t have the same sense of connection that Aidan had. And thus I had the romantic conflict – how will their differing attitudes toward family test their relationship?

The rest of the story evolved out of my research. I gave Liam my own partner’s disdain for social media and lack of interest in keeping up with family connections. I delved into Turkish history and Sephardic language and culture to come up with details and plot twists. I hope the novel brings together the adventure that Aidan and Liam go through as well as the tests to their love.


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