LES ROBERTS – The Cleveland Local.

St. Martin’s; paperback reprint, December 1998. Hardcover first edition: St. Martin’s, November 1997. Trade paperback: Gray & Company Publishers, June 2005.

   I’ll begin, not at the beginning, or not really, with a list of all the mystery fiction that Les Roberts has written. This I put together from what I found in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, plus the bibliography that Mr. Roberts provides on his own website:

         The Saxon Series:     [A Los Angeles actor turned private eye.]

ROBERTS An Infinite Number of Monkeys

• An Infinite Number of Monkeys (St. Martin’s Press, 1987)
• Not Enough Horses (St. Martin’s Press, 1988)
• A Carrot for the Donkey (St. Martin’s Press, 1989)
• Snake Oil (St. Martin’s Press, 1990)
• Seeing the Elephant (St. Martin’s Press, 1992)
• The Lemon Chicken Jones (St. Martin’s Press, 1994)

         The Milan Jacovich Series:      [A private eye of Slovenian heritage based in Cleveland OH.]

ROBERTS Pepper Pike

• Pepper Pike (St. Martin’s Press, 1988)
• Full Cleveland (St. Martin’s Press, 1989)
• Deep Shaker (St. Martin’s Press, 1991)
• The Cleveland Connection (St. Martin’s Press, 1993)
• The Lake Effect (St. Martin’s Press, 1994)
• The Duke of Cleveland (St. Martin’s Press, 1995)
• Collision Bend (St. Martin’s Press, 1996)
• The Cleveland Local (St. Martin’s Press, 1997)
• A Shoot in Cleveland (St. Martin’s Press, 1998)
• The Best-Kept Secret (St. Martin’s Press, 1999)
• The Indian Sign (St. Martin’s Press, 2000)
• The Dutch (St. Martin’s Press, 2001)
• The Irish Sports Pages (St. Martin’s Press, 2002)

         Stand Alones:

• The Chinese Fire Drill (Five Star, 2001)
• The Scent of Spiced Oranges (Five Star, 2002)

   Here’s the real beginning, the first sentence of The Cleveland Local: “It was a black-and-white-movie morning when I opened my office, looked out the window down the Cuyahoga River, and saw the angry thunderheads hunkered over Lake Erie.”

ROBERTS The Cleveland Local'

   And here’s how the man pronounces his name: MY-lan YOCK-o-vitch, which he proudly makes sure the reader knows by page 3. Milan is an ex-football player and pretty much of a blue-collar kind of PI. He knows his way around every section of Cleveland, though, from the ethnic neighborhoods where he grew up to the ritzier parts of downtown and areas where the richer people live.

   In The Cleveland Local he’s hired to tackle a rather cold case, that of the shotgun murder of a young professional lawyer on the Caribbean island of San Carlos ten weeks earlier. Obviously there’s no way the Cleveland cops can get involved, so the case is steered Milan’s way. The dead man’s sister, also an attorney, is picking up the tab.

   What Milan can’t understand is why the dead man’s father, a noted well-to-do labor attorney, wants nothing to do with the investigation, making him wonder if the sister might be right, and that there’s a local connection, not just another botched robbery attempt in a foreign country and international resort area.

   And of course there is. That’s almost not the point. What Roberts is equally interested in, besides the mystery, is to illustrate why and how he loves the city of Cleveland, the ins and outs, the people who run it, mostly behind the scenes, in a fictional paean to the town, with a hint of melancholy for the older days. There’s also some introspective father-son stuff involved as well, without being overly blatant about it, plus a generous hint of a budding romance. (Milan is divorced from his two boys’ mother.)

ROBERTS A Shoot in Cleveland.

   Milan’s technique consists of asking good common sense questions, persistence, a tough guy attitude (which at over 40 he can still back up) and persistence. An excellent combination, marred by the fact – and I dislike having to bring it up – by the relative weakness of the mystery. The motive for the murder seems too slight, the method too complicated, and people in retrospect don’t seem to have behaved in appropriate fashion to it.

   Can I say that and still say that I enjoyed the book? I can, and if you didn’t notice, I just did. I should also point out, as many of the reviewers on Amazon also do, that the ending is one that will have readers immediately reaching for the next book in the series, which – thanks to the bibliography above – would have been A Shoot in Cleveland. It looks like a must read to me.