Wrentham Man Writes Historical Mystery

Grace Allen
Wrentham lawyer Richard Rook, author of Tiernan’s Wake.
Issue Date: 
June, 2018
Article Body: 

A promise made long ago has culminated in a novel for a Wrentham lawyer and part-time genealogist.
In 1964, Richard Rook’s high school English teacher invited a friend to talk to the class about writing. The friend turned out to be Edwin O’Connor, the Pulitzer-prize winning novelist. O’Connor spent two days talking to the class about his craft.
It was, said Rook, the highlight of his entire educational career.
“At the end of the two days, O’Connor said to us, ‘I want you to promise me that at some point in your life you will sit down and try to write something, preferably a novel,’” shared Rook. “I thought about that on and off for 53 years, and in 2015 I thought I must be the only person in that class who didn’t keep the promise. I better get going on this. And so I sat down and started to write seriously.”
Rook wrote a few short stories (“Just to warm up the pen”), and discovered he was pretty good at it. His stories garnered some awards, and so he was encouraged to finally write that novel.
Tiernan’s Wake, which was published in January, is set in the present time, and is about the search for the portrait, papers, and missing treasure of the Irish pirate Grace O’Malley. O’Malley was a real-life pirate who was born in 1530 and died in 1603. She was also an educated noblewoman, and according to legend, an icon of Irish feminism and perhaps a spy. Well-versed in political maneuverings, O’Malley may even have changed the course of history. The book is fictional but historically accurate.
Several themes are interwoven throughout the book. The search for Grace O’Malley’s artifacts is prominent, but the characters also wrestle with their own mortality while listening to and learning from the voices of the past.
While writing the book, Rook took Mark Twain’s advice to heart: Write what you know. The novel’s protagonist, Michael Tiernan, is a lawyer and part-time genealogist in the Boston area, like Rook. Tiernan’s wife is an artist, like Rook’s wife Dyan. And Tiernan’s search for his Irish relatives mirrors Rook’s own searches, both for his relatives and those of his wife.
It was while Rook was researching Dyan’s family tree that he discovered she was a direct descendent of another pirate, Jeanne de Clisson, the Lioness of Brittany (1300-1359). In fact, Rook originally thought he would write about Jeanne de Clisson for his novel until a trip to Ireland in 2016 to meet his newly-found relatives changed his mind. He and his wife stayed in a cottage belonging to a Wrentham friend, and next to the cottage were the ruins of Grace O’Malley’s castle.
“I didn’t know anything about this Grace O’Malley,” recounted Rook. “I think most people outside of Ireland don’t know anything about her, but in Ireland she is revered. They know about her like we know about Paul Revere. She’s a symbol of Irish independence. I had to break the news to my wife: I found a more interesting female pirate than your ancestor to write about.”
Rook, who has lived in Wrentham for 39 years, took eight months to write the first draft of the book. He relied heavily on his newly-found Irish cousins to read the manuscript and authenticate the dialogue, bonding with them during the process.
“We were becoming a family while I was doing this,” he said. “That’s the great serendipity about this whole thing.”
He also discovered he may be a lateral descendant of Grace O’Malley. Fate, it seems, had always destined him to write this book.
Rook developed a facility in genealogy through his work as a lawyer, and also while researching his own Irish ancestors. What was a part-time hobby soon developed into a part-time job.
“People are getting older and they want to put their lives in some sort of context,” said Rook. “This is a way to do it.”
Rook studied biology at Georgetown University before continuing onto Boston University School of Law. He has never taken a writing course in his life. He honed his writing skills as a lawyer, writing legal briefs for a specialized audience.
“I’m definitely transitioning over to being a writer,” Rook said. “I like writing. I get up and look forward to writing. A lot of days you don’t get up and look forward to being a lawyer.”
Tiernan’s Wake has already received positive early reviews, and was a finalist for the 2017 Chaucer Award in historical fiction. Rook is already at work on a sequel, set primarily in Wrentham. He hopes the new book will be available by the end of the year.
“I can’t take 53 years to write this one,” he said.
Rook, who speaks to book groups, will appear at the next Local Author’s Panel at An Unlikely Story Bookstore and Café in late summer. He can be contacted at [email protected].
Tiernan’s Wake is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, www.hulu.com and other online retailers, as well as at some bookstores and at the author’s website, www.richardrook.com.