Welcome to this week’s Character Column! Today we are joined by serial novelist KM Rockwood and her favourite character of multiple books, Jesse Damon. At first glance, Jesse may not seem the most likely ‘favourite’, but his author shows us why he holds a special place in her esteem.
Jesse Damon can’t catch a break.
He’s been paroled after twenty years in prison on a murder conviction. And he has almost as much backup time.
This will be his only chance at any semblance of life most people take for granted. If his parole is violated or he picks up a new conviction, he knows he’ll spend years more in prison. He’s determined to make it, despite the odds.
His conviction, at age sixteen, was the result of misguided venture with his older brothers in a drug deal, where he stood lookout. The drug dealer was shot, and Jesse caught the charge. He knows he’s technically guilty, since he was involved in a felony that resulted in a death, and is philosophical about his long sentence.
He’s got a good job on the midnight shift of a steel fabrication factory which takes advantage of a program giving tax breaks for hiring paroled convicts. He’s rented a basement apartment within walking distance. He’s just barely able to meet the supervision and monitoring costs of parole in addition to basic living expenses. Kelly, a woman who drives a forklift on the same shift he does, is kind to him. He tries not to read too much into that, but when she lets him come over to her house and spend time with her and her two young children, he feels like a regular person, not a paroled convict. And she introduces him to sex.
Life is good, by his definition, until he has words with Mitch, another forklift driver on the shift. When Mitch is found murdered in the warehouse, the detective in charge of the investigation is sure he needs to look no further than Jesse for his perpetrator, and he’s not fussy about the means he uses to build a case.
If he’s not going to go down for this charge, Jesse will have to figure out who killed Mitch and why.
Aaron, a paid police informant, is trying to set him up. A manager at work is threatening to fire him. His parole officer is out sick right now, but will not be happy with this turn of events when he gets back. A woman he’s met wants to hire him to kill her husband. He realizes Kelly has an alcohol problem. And when he tries to find out about what in Mitch’s past might have led someone to murder him, he encounters a deathly ill woman lying unconscious in an isolate house with four worried young children who are trying to fend for themselves.
Steeled for Murder introduces Jesse soon after his release, when he’s on home detention with a black monitor box strapped to his ankle.
In Fostering Death, Jesse goes to pay his last respects to the woman who was his foster mother for several years, only to discover that she was murdered and he is the prime suspect.
When Kelly’s father, Old Buckles, is released from prison, he uses Kelly’s house as his residence for parole, and allows his biker buddies to hang out there in Buried Biker. Jesse isn’t supposed to associate with known felons, so he reluctantly stays away. One of the bikers rapes Kelly, and Jesse is picked up on suspicion of the crime. She exonerates him with the police, but will the bikers believe that he had nothing to do with it? And when the real attacker is found dead, of course Jesse is once again the logical suspect.
People who live on the fringes of society like Jesse often show up in fiction, but usually not as the protagonist, trying with integrity and what dignity he can muster to survive. It’s an unforgiving world which casually places obstacles in the path of parolees who are trying to turn their lives around. In my writing, I like to give a voice to some of these people.
Thanks so much for dropping by, KM and Jesse. Keep hanging on to your integrity, Jesse…you’re a hero.
Sendoff for a Snitch, the fourth in the series, will be released in late spring. Brothers in Crime, the fifth, is due in the fall of 2013.