Les Roberts first visited Cleveland in 1987 to launch the Ohio Lottery's Cash Explosion television show. He wound up finding the inspiration for a series of 13 crime novels with titles such as "Pepper Pike," "Collision Bend" and "Deep Shaker." This month, Gray & Co. reissues the first nine books in the series, just in time for summer.
How did the Gray & Co. deal come together?
"We talked about doing a Cleveland memoir, which I am writing now. Then, we started chatting about some of the books. A lot of them have been out of print eight or nine years and I didn't know if people would remember them. I negotiated with my original publisher and they released the first nine to us."
Why do you use Cleveland as a backdrop for these stories?
"I came here in the middle of winter without much expectation of having a good time and I had a ball. ... Around that time, I went to New York to have lunch with my editor and he asked me to get another series going, but told me not to set it in Los Angeles —because I'd already done that — or New York or Chicago or Boston. ... I told him he'd named everywhere I'd ever been in my life except Cleveland and he got all excited."
What are the origins of Milan Jacovich?
"Flying back from New York, I was sitting next to a lady on a plane . . . We hit it off. I asked if she'd like to have lunch since I was new in town. When we did, I told her I'd decided on a Slovenian [main] character and she said, 'That's interesting, because my maiden name is Yacovich and I'm Serbian.' She told me about her brothers Bob and Milan. I said, 'Whoa, that's the most honest, strong ethnic name I've ever heard, do you think your brother would mind?' She said, 'I don't think so, but he's not a detective, he's a dentist in Parma.' "
How deeply do you research the locations used in the books?
"I just kind of go get a feel for it. It's hard to tell why a particular location will strike me. For instance, the first time I ever looked at the Old Arcade I thought, This is one of the most astonishing buildings I've ever seen and I have to do something here. I've got to pitch somebody off that top balcony."
Do you have plans to write another Milan Jacovich novel?
"I'm doing a couple of other things first. I'm doing the memoir, I've just finished a stand-alone thriller and then I'm very anxious to start on a murder mystery, believe it or not, set in a concentration camp during World War II. ... After that, and depending how well the reprints sell, I may just do another one."
For more information, visit www.grayco.com.