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Former narcotics captain turned novelist to bring crime fiction to Corinth
by Stacy Jones
Nov 12, 2015 | 210 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Some people pursue an adrenaline-filled career in criminology. Others dream about writing novels and selling them to vast audiences. Tupelo native Merle Temple has combined both of those endeavors into one.

Temple, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Ole Miss, served as the first Captain in the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics in the 1970s and graduated from the DEA Academy in Washington during President Nixon’s drug wars. He later worked as the Mississippi Criminal Justice Chair during Ronald Reagan’s time in office.

Temple’s last case while employed in the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics took place in Corinth in 1979. On Friday, September 14, Officer Lane Caldwell, 25, who had been with the Bureau for a little over two years, was gunned down while backing up local officers during a kidnapping incident. He was attempting to pull the abducted girl to safety. The kidnapper drew a weapon on Caldwell’s partner. Caldwell tried to intervene but was fatally shot.

Drawing from his experiences in the world of crime, Temple crafts fiction that reveals the mettle of heroes such as Michael Parker, a 1970s Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics officer who is the protagonist of his first novel, A Ghostly Shade of Pale, published in 2013. Along the way, the landscape is plagued by sinister characters, drug deals gone awry, and plenty of suspense.

Regarding his first novel, Temple said, “I write fiction, but I write from life experiences. When I wrote the first draft of Ghostly, I didn’t like it.” Temple added that after some time, he received divine inspiration, which led him to add more descriptors to the novel to make the characters “come alive and breathe,” he said.

The result? Temple’s wife, Judy, who accompanies him across the country for book signings, says that “when Michael (the main character of the novel) is driving down the dirt roads in Mississippi, you can taste the dirt.”

Temple’s next novel, A Rented World, was published in 2014. The second book in the trilogy immerses Temple’s character Michael Parker in a tangled world of political crime. Temple is now finishing the third and final book in the trilogy, The Redeemed, which has been sent to his editor.

The popularity of the author has spread quickly. “Word of mouth has carried us,” Temple said. “People read the books, get on social media, and tell their friends. That's how we got into the first school, Winston Academy in Louisville.” His Ghostly Shade of Pale is now being used for reading in English classes in several states. At Itawamba Community College in Fulton and Tupelo, Mississippi, it is required reading for students.

Temple acknowledges that the book is challenging for middle school students but underscores its lack of potentially offensive content. He said that an editor in the book industry had wanted him to add some “neon,” which amounted, he explained, to profanity and graphic sexual descriptions, but he refused. Another wanted him to add vampires, a fictional novelty at the time, but he didn’t see that addition as feasible. Temple said he wanted to write a book that was well-written but one that his mother, his English teachers, and public school students could read.

He recently garnered the attention of writer/producer Jim Clemente, who is considering Temple’s work for the television show Criminal Minds. Not long ago, Temple also enjoyed dinner with Morgan Freeman at Ground Zero in Clarksdale, affording an opportunity to discuss his writing and also sing songs with the well-known native Mississippian and actor.

Hosted by the local Confederacy of Dunces Book Club, on Saturday, November 21, Temple will visit Corinth for a public discussion of A Ghostly Shade of Pale at 9 a.m. in the coffee bar at Pizza Grocery. The discussion will be followed by an introduction to the sequel, A Rented World, and Temple will remain to sign books that day until 2 p.m.

In referencing his return to the Crossroads area, Temple recounted his experiences with Officer Caldwell and the tragic incident that occurred in 1979. “I was his captain. Everybody loved him; he always had a smile on his face. It crushed us all. Some of his family plan to come to the book-signing,” he said. “And it is special to us to come back to Corinth,” Temple added.

(Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and UT Martin and has served on the board of directors at Corinth Theatre-Arts. She enjoys being a downtown Corinth resident.)
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