Amazon names St. John man's debut novel as quarterfinalist in contest


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ST. THOMAS - St. John resident Jeffery McCord's first novel, a thriller that takes place in the Virgin Islands, is a quarterfinalist in Amazon's 2014 Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.

McCord's debut novel stood out among the 10,000 contest entries, making it to the top 500. On June 13, the top 25 semifinalists will be revealed, and the top five will be announced July 8.

After that, Amazon customers will vote for the final winners with the final awards announced July 21.

His novel, "Undocumented Visitors in a Pirate Sea: An Investigation of Certain Caribbean Phenomena by Dr. Thayer Harris," is a genre-bending read that incorporates UFOs, military intrigue and Virgin Islands history, all wrapped up in a murder mystery plot.

McCord and his wife, Martha Toomey, moved to St. John in 2010 after vacationing in the territory for years. A writer by trade, he has been a freelance journalist and public relations consultant for 30 years. This is his first time writing fiction, however.

"I've been very inspired by the islands," he said.

He bought a Downeast 32-foot sailboat built in the 1970s and has been restoring it and immersing himself in the boat culture of Coral Bay.

"Some of the characters in the book are based on real characters out there," he said.

The cover of McCord's book is a photo of the USS John F. Kennedy, an enormous aircraft carrier that visited St. Thomas in the 1970s and plays a role in the novel.

The book is told from the perspective of a maritime history professor - Dr. Thayer Harris - who works at a "thinly disguised UVI," according to McCord.

When a retired Marine's body, covered in curious tattoos, washes up in the Virgin Islands, it leads to U.S. naval intelligence officers knocking on Harris' door for help in the investigation.

"In researching the book, I became aware of a continuing mystery of UFOs and USOs being sighted by reputable sources," McCord said.

A UFO is an unidentified flying object, and a USO is an unidentified submersible object.

McCord said his research found that 75 percent of UFO sightings take place in, near or above water, which made setting his story in the islands a good choice.

"Fifty to 60 percent of material in the book is actually fact or based on fact, maybe more than that," McCord said.

He also uses footnotes in the novel to show just how much of the content is based on actual reports of UFOs in the Caribbean - many reports coming from government and military personnel.

"I'm not crazy. This is actually reported to have happened to these people," he said.

Even Laurence Rockefeller, known locally for donating the land that is now the V.I. National Park on St. John, was fascinated with UFOs, McCord said.

Rockefeller financed research on the subject, and presented a report to the Clinton administration, McCord said.

"The Caribbean has long been a hot spot, a hot bed of UFO activity," McCord said. "It wasn't until I started researching this book that I discovered this. Since I published this book, I have had several people on St. John and one on St. Thomas tell me that in their 20 or 30 years of living here they had seen UFOs in these waters."

While the book takes place in the Virgin Islands, it is written to appeal to a wide audience, he said.

"This is one reason I think that although the book is tied to and takes place in the Virgin Islands, mostly, U.S. and BVI, I cover a much broader phenomena and broader historical events," he said. "I think that's why it's getting attention."

The book touches on a range of Virgin Islands history and culture, from Carnival to colonialism and even the territory's pirate history.

In addition to the success in the Amazon contest, McCord's self-published novel is getting good reviews on Good Reads, an online social network for bookworms.

The paperback book can be purchased on Amazon - where a Kindle version also is available - and at four stores on St. John - Tall Ship Trading, St. John Spice Company and Chelsea Drug Store and Papaya Cafe in the Marketplace in Cruz Bay. It also is available at Serendipity Books on Tortola.

McCord said he hopes to write a sequel and turn it into a mystery series with Dr. Thayer Harris as his protagonist.

If he wins the contest, he will get a book deal and a $50,000 advance to write the next book.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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