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In Character with Doc Macomber

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Its not too hard to see where Doc Macomber got the inspiration for his latest mystery novel, 'River City.' Living on the Columbia has provided Macomber with all sorts of stories he can put into his stories.Doc Macomber was thrilled when Multnomah County River Patrol officers visited his Jantzen Beach houseboat investigating a marina murder. What great material for a mystery writer. Macomber has worked as a photographer, bouncer, bartender, hazardous materials cleanup specialist and in special operations for the U.S. Air Force — plenty of material there.

Portland Tribune: Which one of your jobs provided the most material?

Doc Macomber: Bartender. My third novel was based on a character who was a blind blues musician who would come into the Virginia Cafe every Monday night. One night I asked him if he wanted to ride my bicycle. I put him on, it's 2 a.m. downtown, there's nobody around, I gave him a little push and he starts going down Park Avenue swerving back and forth.

The cops come around the corner, flip on their lights and pull up next to him. They know him. They said, “Willie, what the hell are you doing?”

Tribune: Why did they stop him? He wasn't doing anything wrong.

Macomber: He was blind.

Tribune: Oh, right. I thought he was swerving because he was drunk.

Macomber: He was swerving because he was drunk.

Tribune: Wait a minute. You put a blind man on a bike in the middle of a downtown street. What did you think was going to happen?

Macomber: I was just curious.

Tribune: Get any good material from your time with special ops?

Macomber: One of my books involves a Vietnamese investigator who is a Buddhist. The Air Force assigned him to hunt down a former special ops guy whose fingerprints turned up at a murder scene. I wrote this book, and on the cover I put the coin of the special ops. The book got published and within a month I got offered a position fixing the toys for this special ops unit.

Tribune: So writing a book about special ops got you the job with special ops. Cool. How did you get started writing mysteries?

Macomber: I was down in Arizona, and I took a part-time job as a private investigator. I was following people and doing strange things. My first assignment was to go to the Tucson airport, sit in the lounge, and wait for a private plane to land. Once it landed I was to dial a number. I didn't know anything else about it.

Tribune: You didn't ask?

Macomber: Sure I did, but the man who owned the agency was very tight-lipped.

Tribune: Did it occur to you that possibly you were being used as an accessory to a drug deal, or worse?

Macomber: I was young. It concerned me, which probably led to my early retirement from private investigating. I never knew the facts. I had this curiosity of wanting to know the full story. I started using photographs to tell a mystery story. I would pose models on the ground like they'd been shot, put a little fake blood on them.

I moved back to Portland, ended up getting a degree in philosophy because they didn’t have a writing program at PSU. My professors were great. They allowed me to turn in short stories and plays for my term papers.

Tribune: For a philosophy class?

Macomber: It was a short story about some seagulls that flew inside a library and started having a philosophical discussion. Early work.

Tribune: And now you live on the river and write. Weirdest thing you've seen there?

Macomber: People who live on the rivers are substantially different. You hear splashes in the middle of the night. I watched a guy let a water spaniel on a leash tow him around the river in a dingy. He put a little rope around the dog's neck and the dog would jump out and tow him.

Tribune: He couldn't have been pulling very fast. What horsepower?

Macomber: A couple dog power.