Almost three years ago, I published a book called Silent Warriors: Submarine Warfare in the South Pacific for a first-time author named Gene Masters. Subsequently, Gene visited me at my former residence in Hendersonville, and the two of us spent a day fly fishing. In the ensuing two-plus years, Gene and I have become friends, and he has written, and I have published, three more of his books: The Laconia Incident; Operation Exodus; and The Wounds of Jonas Clark. Silent Warriors and The Laconia Incident are historical fiction involving submarines and World War II. Operation Exodus is a political thriller, and “Wounds” involves one man’s mysterious experience with religion.
I’ve just published a fifth Gene Masters’ novel, entitled The Dry Cleaner: A Rich Vitelli Mystery, about a kind of “fixer,” a combination hitman come body disposal expert. This is the first in what I hope will be a long string of Rich Vitelli mysteries, featuring a detective who works a precinct that appears to be in “the Windy City.” The book kind of reminds me of a movie called Prizzi’s Honor (based upon the John Condon novel by the same name) featuring Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Huston, and Kathleen Turner. If I had to classify The Dry Cleaner, I would say it was black humor.
Joe—Gene, this book marks a distinct departure from the other type of writing you’ve done so far. So, the obvious question is: Why write a mystery?
Gene—I’m not really sure, but I think it was the urge to write a detective novel where the primary character, Detective Rich Vitelli, is an Italian-American, who, for once, is one of the good guys and not a mobster (although The Dry Cleaner also has some Italian-American mobsters in it!). The other thing that motivated me was the question: what if somebody came up with a foolproof method of eliminating a corpse so that it disappeared completely? No flesh, no bones, no teeth, no artificial body parts, and, most of all, no DNA. As an engineer, the idea intrigued me, and I definitely think that the Dry Cleaner character came up with just such a method!
Joe—Well, without giving anything away, I would certainly agree. So, in my infinite wisdom, I have classified The Dry Cleaner as a mystery with a bit of black humor. Would you agree with that assessment, and if not, how would you describe it?
Gene—Black humor? Hmmm . . . it’s interesting that you got that impression, but as long as the book kept you entertained and turning the pages, I’ll take it! However, I would be more inclined to describe the book as an introduction to the Rich Vitelli character. I’m hoping to invest the reader in discovering why a 40-something widower would stay focused on just solving missing persons cases, while working in a city where cops are on the take, the politicians are corrupt, and where the mob quietly, but effectively, pulls most of the strings.
Joe—Good point. And that’s why I guess I felt the book was set in Chicago. Is that the city you had in mind? If not, where exactly do you envision the story taking place?
Gene—I really never had an actual city in mind, but I can see how you might think that. Certainly “the city by the lake” where Vitelli lives and works has some Chicago-like characteristics, but there are, as far as I know, no mountains close by to Chicago. The setting also has some of the characteristics of Knoxville, the city where I live. But then Knoxville doesn’t have a large, deep lake nearby either. The only thing I was sure about was that the city was in the USA, and probably somewhere in the Midwest.
Joe—That works for me. Another aspect of the book I found Interesting is how you tell the story from two perspectives: the Dry Cleaner’s story is told in first person, past tense; and you used third person, past tense for Detective Vitelli. Why did you do that?
Gene—I really couldn’t come up with a better way to tell the story. Telling the Dry Cleaner’s story in the first person let’s the reader in on the character’s thinking and motivation through the simple device of putting you directly into his shoes. Vitelli, on the other hand, while wrestling with some of his own demons, is tasked with discovering the Dry Cleaner’s motives and methods, and here the reader follows along as he evaluates the clues and connects the dots to solve the case . . . but . . . I don’t want to give away the ending.
Joe—Yes, about that ending. I’m not so sure I liked it very much. I mean, I like that at least some of the bad guys are brought to justice, but—
Gene—Now Joe, don’t go spoiling the mystery! But think about this. The way the story ends is the way most stories end in real life—except that some of the loose ends are nicely tied together to form neat little bundles. Unfortunately, in real life, there are always some other loose strings left over in the end. Wouldn’t you agree?
Joe—I would. Okay, so now that you have launched this Rich Vitelli character, when can we expect to see more of him?
Gene—Pretty soon actually, I think. I’m already well into the next Rich Vitelli mystery.
Joe—Good! Tell me more.
Gene—In this one Vitelli tackles a series of disappearances of well-educated, physically-gifted men and women in their twenties. I won’t say much more, except that FBI Special Agent Eric Maddox reappears, as do Vitelli’s other colleagues at Metro Police’s Missing Persons Department.
Joe—And when do you expect to have it finished?
Gene—Probably as early as Spring of 2022.
Joe—So you’ll be staying busy, that’s for sure. But what about some free time? Surely you can’t be at your computer all the time! Are you getting any fly fishing in?
Gene—I wish. But, like you, I think I’m just getting too rickety to fly fish, Joe! There are certainly plenty of good spots around where I live, but I just haven’t had the opportunity to get out and explore them. But I have been spending some time with my grown grandson, Thomas—but not fishing in any of the nearby streams. Rather, it’s been in my woodworking shop (such as it is in my tiny garage). Thomas is getting married soon, and I’ve been helping him build tables, desks, and the occasional floor lamp. I’m enjoying working with him while I can, because I seriously doubt I’ll see much of him after he marries!
Joe—Sounds a bit familiar, and as Sam Elliott’s character said in The Big Lebowski, “Well, that about does ‘er, wraps ‘er all up.” And just like “the Dude,” Gene Masters abides . . . I hope you enjoyed this interview. And I hope you’ll pick up a copy of The Dry Cleaner. It’s a pretty darn good story.