Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dimora-esque character propels Les Roberts book

Every morning while Les Roberts was writing his latest Cleveland private-eye novel, he’d check the news for inspiration: the latest in the local political corruption scandal.

“I’d find something else out and [think], I’ve got to put that in the book,” he said at the Happy Dog last night. “You won’t physically recognize the people I’m writing about, but you have to be pretty damn dumb not to know who you’re reading about.”

In Whiskey Island, Roberts’ detective novel out this week, Cleveland city councilman Berton K. Loftus hires private eye Milan Jacovich to figure out who’s trying to kill him. Possible suspects include everyone implicated in the 31 federal corruption charges Loftus is fighting.

Loftus doesn’t look like Jimmy Dimora — he’s got “short, gunmetal-gray hair” and wears Hugo Boss suits “and a huge selection of out-of-date bow ties.” But Loftus' M.O. is strongly reminiscent of the Big D's. The feds have accused Loftus of taking bribes in the form of home remodeling work, free dinners, plane tickets and hotel rooms. “Does that include the Las Vegas hookers?” Jacovich’s assistant asks. And even though he fears for his life, Loftus asks Jacovich for a discount. “Everyone gives me a break,” he insists.

During the Q and A at Roberts’ talk (part of Ohio City Writers’ Write to Assemble series), I asked which Cleveland politicians had inspired him and how.

“A couple of elected officials,” he said coyly. “A couple of judges.” (Judge Lawrence McTeague, a sort of mash-up of Bridget McCafferty and Steven Terry, gets a bunch of calls from Loftus, who asks him to treat some of his gift-giving friends kindly. McTeague lies to the FBI about it.)

“A couple county people. A couple of city people.” (There’s some intrigue involving powerful county prosecutor Jim Hundley, one of the few local politicians not in trouble with the feds.)

“I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, he’s writing about Jimmy Dimora,’” Roberts said. “I’m not writing about Jimmy Dimora. I’m writing about Berton K. Loftus.”

Then again, Roberts added, he once created a character based on a journalist he knew. They’d dated the same woman, and the journalist started making remarks about him in his column, Roberts recalled. So he gave the character the same profession, same initials, and same appearance, plus some actual quotes from the guy.

When people asked about the resemblance, he shrugged it off: “It’s whoever you want it to be.”

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