Roberts’ upcoming novel about Youngstown should be released in 2009.
By ANGIE SCHMITT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — Even if you’re not a mystery novel reader, you’re probably familiar with the writing of Clevelander Les Roberts.
Before adopting Cleveland as his home in 1990, Roberts was a Los Angeles writer and producer who contributed to television classics like “I Love Lucy” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”
But it’s mystery novels that Roberts loves best, specifically mystery novels set in Cleveland — he’s written 13. And the city he says he “fell in love with” while producing the Ohio Lottery’s “Cash Explosion” television show loves him for it. He was voted “Cleveland’s Favorite Author” by Cleveland.com and won the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature in 1992.
Now the Cleveland Heights resident has set his sights slightly southeast.
Roberts has been speaking with Youngstown-area law enforcement officers and combing the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County’s local history collection for his next novel. He plans to call his latest work, already 100 pages long, “The Youngstown Tune-up,” he said.
“I feel very comfortable writing about Youngstown,” he said. “I thought it was an interesting place to set a mystery that has a slightly different feel than Cleveland.”
Roberts’ upcoming novel will feature a Youngstown family with Mafia ties, the fabric of which includes a priest and a police officer. The setting is Youngstown circa 1985.
Roberts’ protagonist, a younger family member who has moved to Chicago, will face a moral dilemma after returning to his home town for a funeral.
Roberts said organized crime is a consistent theme in his stories as are law enforcement officials. He was sharing lunch and stories in Youngstown with a friend who’s native to the area, when the conversation “kicked off that notch in my head that said, ‘This could be a book,’” he said.
In the late 20th century, Youngstown “was what you’d call an ‘open city’ in terms of the mob,” Roberts said.
Back to Cleveland
Despite Youngstown’s drama-inspiring history, Roberts said he isn’t about to abandon his hometown. He also is currently working on another novel set in Cleveland, he said.
Cleveland is home to Roberts’ best-known protagonist, a Stroh’s beer-drinking, Slovenian-American private detective named Milan Jacovich. Jacovich has played a starring role in 13 of Roberts’ novels, which are peppered with references to Cleveland’s landmarks, neighborhoods and sports teams.
“I like the spirit of Cleveland. I like the architecture, the old architecture,” he said. “I love the diversity. I love the ethnic neighborhoods.”
Roberts expects “The Youngstown Tune-Up” to hit the shelves in 2009, he said. He will share details about the novel and answer questions about his writing career during the library’s third annual literary society event Friday. Tickets are $50 and are available through the library’s development director, Deborah Liptak, at (330) 744-8636, Ext. 118.
Proceeds will benefit the library and its literary society, said Janet Loew, a library spokeswoman.