Three Strikes You’re Dead” is a mystery novel that combines some irresistible elements: the murder of a civic crusader; the whirling atmosphere of 1938 Chicago and, of course, Cubs baseball. For local residents, it features scenes set in a leafy suburb called Oak Park and in wealthy section of Chicago’s South Side called Beverly Hills.
Author Bob Goldsborough will be coming to Centuries & Sleuths on May 28th, at 2:00 p.m., to sign copies of a book he hopes will turn into a series. The book cover contains testimony from “Road to Purgatory” author Max Allan Collins, who describes Goldsborough as a “master storyteller” and Goldsborough hopes readers will be hungry for more adventures involving his “Chicago Tribune” crime reporter, Steve Malek.
Goldsbourough bears more than a passing resemblance to his protagonist. Both have Bohemian blood as well as ink flowing through their veins. Goldsborough was an editor and feature writer for the “Tribune” from 1960 to 1981. During that time he had a six-year stint editing the Sunday magazine. Although he did little crime-reporting per se, Goldsborough became well acquainted with the chaotic workings of a big city newsroom.
After leaving the “Tribune,” Goldsborough continued to be paid money for his words, working for 22 years at “Advertising Age.”
During his busy journalism career, Goldsborough found time to write seven novels in the Nero Wolfe series. Goldsborough received permission from the estate of Wolfe’s creator, Rex Stout, to continue the series.
As much as he enjoyed writing about the New York detective through the eyes of his sidekick, Archie Goodwin, Goldsborough longed to create his own detective-hero.
He still remembers the day the Stout books instilled his love of mysteries.
“I got hooked on Stout when I was 13, living in Elmhurst. I told my mother I had nothing to do and she gave me a Nero Wolfe to read.” He said.
Goldsborough ended up devouring the series that showcased “America’s Sherlock Holmes.”
What he liked best about the books were the elements Stout left out.
“There was no gore or profanity and the murders happened mostly off stage,” he recalled.
This put the focus on the solution of the crime, more than on the mayhem itself.
Goldsborough continued this “family friendly” style in his follow-ups to the Stout books, as well as in “Three Strikes You’re Dead.”
Not that his hero, Malek, is free from some disturbing character traits.
The intrepid reporter is a divorced father and a recovering alcoholic, who often uses subterfuge to get his stories.
In the book, Goldsborough expertly evokes Depression-era Chicago, complete with real public figures and events.
“I like mixing real and fictional people,” Goldsborough said.
Indeed, how many mysteries contain a bibliography of sources for the historic figures it brings to life?
The book is populated by legendary characters like Al Capone, Hall of Fame hurler Dizzy Dean and a young, obscure state senator named Richard J. Daley.
“I spent forty hours going through all five Chicago newspapers from the 1930’s to get the facts straight,” Goldsborough said.
His meticulous research allowed him to not only reconstruct events but also dialogue between some of the iconic characters.
As for the book’s setting, “I picked 1938, because that was the first year of my life,” he said.
Placing the action sixty years ago presented its own problems.
“It’s challenging to write a book set so long ago, because language”particularly slang”has changed so much,” Goldsborough said.
Thanks to his research of the period, the manuscript became part-mystery, part-history.
Then Goldsborough’s book acquired its own “checkered history.”
“I finished it 8-9 years ago and my agent shopped it around,” the author recalled, “One of the editors liked it but the business side of the publishing company didn’t think it had enough sales potential.”
So, Goldsborough launched it as an E-book entitled “The Year Diz Came To Town.”
Sales on the Internet were modest at best. Fortunately, his bookseller friend, Augy Aleksy, introduced Goldsborough to a potential publisher.
“Augie was instrumental in getting the book published,” Goldsborough said. “He put me in touch with Echelon Press in Memphis.”
It turned out the editor had been impressed by Goldsborough’s Nero Wolfe knockoffs and also enjoyed his Steve Malek manuscript.
“The publishing company changed the title to “Three Strikes You’re Dead” because they were afraid people wouldn’t remember who Dizzy Dean was,” Goldsborough said.
The book is written in Goldsborough’s favorite style”1930’s noir. Many of his favorite authors, like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, employed this technique.
The book enabled Goldsborough to draw upon his experiences at the City News Bureau and pressroom at the Chicago Police Headquarters. His journalist background was also helpful in completing the manuscript.
“I was used to working on deadline,” he said. “I can accomplish a lot of writing in a short time.”
Goldsborough makes a cameo appearance in the book, ala Hitchcock, as a bouncing baby Malek sees from a passing streamliner.
“In 1938, we lived at 40th and Lake Michigan, right by the Illinois Central right-of-way. I used to look down on the tracks from my playpen and watch the Green Diamond run twice a day,” he recalled.
The green streamliner, with the big diamond on the engine, made daily runs from Chicago to Springfield.
“My mother told me that as a one year old I got all excited when it went past,” he added.
For the reader, riding the Green Diamond is still thrilling, especially since Malek is taking it to a meeting with Dick Daley.
There are also many scenes featuring Malek taking “El” trains and streetcars with his son.
They visit attractions like Riverview Park, the Field Museum and, of course, Wrigley Field. These scenes are drawn from Goldsborough’s pleasant excursions with his own father.
Malek may be a hard-bitten reporter with a few personal demons but he certainly is a good father.
After Goldsborough spent that year watching the trains go by from his playpen, his family moved to a small town of 14,000 people called Elmhurst, Illinois.
There were no new subdivisions at the time. In fact, the town was so quiet that, thirteen years later, Goldsborough was asking his mother for reading material.
Now that Goldsborough has one of his own mystery books out on the shelves and he’s hoping to write another Malek mystery.
“I’m thinking about a new book set a few years ahead of the last one,” he said. “His son will be a teenager by then. I wonder how they’ll get along.”