It's not a stretch to see the young idealistic Michael Parker, an undercover narcotics agent, as the silver-haired mystery writer Merle Temple, a former Mississippi Bureau of captain, whose hair-raising tales make for captivating reading in his book "A Ghostly Shade of Pale," which takes its title from the lyrics of a popular late-60s song.
With 60s music as a soundtrack and a cast of characters as sinister and brutal as any real-life counterpart, Temple may have encountered during his law enforcement career, Temple's tome rings true with the pure peal of authenticity.
"Most of the people who might object to the characters are no longer with us," Temple said with a glint in his eye, revisiting the DeSoto County Courthouse Square after many years.
DeSoto County, when it was once a wild frontier of bootleggers, back-room drug deals and massage parlors, was the proving ground for Temple who was the target of contract killers in a set-up near Horn Lake.
"DeSoto County was a rough place back then," Temple recalled. "There was a loose syndicate. They had political protection. The Bureau days were tough. You would often have officers in uniforms setting up dice tables. The people who wore badges weren't always the good guys back then."
Drug traffickers were rampant and a narcotics officer often had a price on his head.
During one tense situation, he was held hostage for hours with a pistol to his stomach.
He survived and it's good that he did for his story is too good to have been silenced.
With skillful and elegiac prose more reminiscent of writer Thomas Wolfe than gritty crime noir often found in supermarket book aisles, this crime drama could literally be lifted from the drug and homicide files of Memphis police detectives and the grease-stained manilla file folders of small town Mississippi detectives.
In this case, Parker's assassins were based on real-life assassins of Temple during a set up that he vividly recalled near Horn Lake.
According to Temple, the crime syndicate was "pooling money" to kill him. An informant tried to set up a kill and through luck and cunning, he was able to escape.
Temple served in the Bureau of Narcotics from 1972-78, in Tupelo and Oxford. As the Bureau's first captain, he covered the top half of the state.
The disturbing death of a young woman named Dixie Lee Carter is a thread that is intertwined with the corpses of druggies and backwoods muscle men.
It's Temple's astonishing detail and stark memories of his life as an agent that informs and imbues this novel.
That Temple came to writing novels late in life is of little consequence. It's as if this tale had been the moonshine-fueled fiction of a former hard-boiled police detective rather than from the pen of a man of faith who takes pains to omit obscenities and lurid sex in his work, all the while crediting his Creator as his main source of inspiration.
Rather than being drawn into the dark side, Temple set one foot on the abyss and stepped back.
He also credits his grandmother Pearl Patterson Temple as a positive role model, who dispensed peppermint sticks as readily as she did advice.
"There are consequences when you look back at the destruction of our culture," Temple said. "As a kid, I saw the Lone Ranger on television and how he always did the right thing. I loved Elliot Ness and the Untouchables."
The book has allowed Temple to share his real-life stories, remained as fiction, and gain perspective on his past.
"This book tour has reunited me with a lot of people from my past and has given me a chance to either say, 'I'm sorry," or 'Thank you.' "
But it's the writing that has given the book universal appeal.
His thoroughly engrossing writing style has impressed the likes of Jim Clemente, a writer for "Criminal Minds," and even film and television legend Morgan Freeman.
Temple shares an experience of going out to Hollywood and hobnobbing with Clemente on the set of "Criminal Minds."
"What a fairy tale it was to a couple from their mid-60s," said Temple, who was accompanied by wife Judy.
Temple plans on writing a trilogy, which also includes "A Rented World," and "Redemption."
His next book, "A Rented World," is slated to come out in October.
"It picks up where 'Ghostly Shade of Pale,' leaves off. "It follows Michael through many trials and tribulations. The book takes Michael from the Bureau into the corporate world and the world of politics."
For Temple, his next book is as philosophical as the first.
"It means it's just a rented world for all of us who are just passing through," Temple said.
Temple is slated to appear at Books-A-Million, 135 Towne Square Blvd. in Southaven, on Aug. 16 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. For more information call (662) 536-1888.
Robert Lee Long: email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252