'Cold Dark Lies'

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

When author Donald Levin created his protagonist Martin Preuss, he wanted to make sure his character was the antithesis of the archetypal hardboiled detective that’s so prevalent in crime fiction.

“I didn’t start out the series with any intentions in mind for him, other than being a realistic workaday police detective who’s excellent at what he does, who adores his profoundly handicapped son Toby, and who nonetheless struggles with some demons. Preuss was actually my answer to what I call the ‘super detectives’ of mystery fiction – those hard-drinking, hard-fighting, womanizing, wise-cracking, anti-authoritarian characters we’ve all seen a million times,” explained Levin, of Ferndale, professor emeritus of English at Marygrove College in Detroit, where he taught from 1996 to 2015.

A widower, Preuss, who debuted in 2012’s “Crimes of Love,” was a detective for the Ferndale Police Department. He resigned from the police force at the end of “Guilt in Hiding,” the third novel. He joins a private detective agency at the end of “The Forgotten Child,” the fourth novel.

“So the events of his life took the kinds of turns that his development as a character dictated as I wrote and learned more about him; character generates action, and action reveals character,” said Levin. “I came to realize that the narrative arc of the series will ultimately be toward a thawing of ‘the ice packed tight around his heart,’ as I say in the new book. A big part of that will be due to the influence of his dear Toby.”

The author will sign “Cold Dark Lies” (Poison Toe Press $16) – the sixth Preuss novel – at his book launch party at the Color & Ink Studio, located at 20919 John R. Road in Hazel Park, on Saturday, May 11, from 2-4 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

In “Cold Dark Lies,” Carrie Morrison hires Preuss to find out how her younger brother ended up overdosing on drugs and clinging to life in a suburban Detroit motel. Preuss believes the story will be a familiar one: A young man takes a walk on the wild side and pays a terrible price. But the deeper Preuss digs into her brother’s past, the more he realizes that nothing is as it seems in this man’s world of secrets and lies. Levin addresses the current opioid crisis in “Cold Dark Lies.” It isn’t just an abstract public policy term.

“Rather, we see what it means quite literally on the ground – how drug abuse impacts everyone it touches, from the users and their families whose lives it ruins all the way up to the distributors whom it enriches,” said Levin.

According to Levin, Carrie went through numerous changes during the course of writing “Cold Dark Lies.” She was originally the wife of the man she hires Preuss to look for and not the sister.

“As always, I created the character from the outside in; once I decided what she looked like, I began to build her character the way an actor does, with a backstory, unique gestures and circumstances, and so on,” he said.

Levin explained the inspiration behind “Cold Dark Lies.” Many years ago, he read a newspaper article about an auto executive who was found dead under suspicious circumstances at one of the local “unsavory motels.”

“I kept that in the back of my mind for a long time, and that was the grain of sand that became the pearl of ‘Cold Dark Lies,’” he said.

Originally, the plot of  “Cold Dark Lies” was supposed to occur in the fifth book, “An Uncertain Accomplice.”

“I intended a double plot for the fifth book, but after I finished the draft I realized there was too much going on and I needed to separate the storylines. So ‘An Uncertain Accomplice’ became a short novel that I published first, and ‘Cold Dark Lies’ became the longer work that’s just come out,” explained Levin. “With the Preuss series, because I’ve already made many of the decisions about who the main characters are, it takes about 3-4 months to finish the first draft, another five months for rewrites, and another couple of months to move it toward production.”

One of the challenges of writing his Preuss novels is working within the conventions and expectations of the genre, while at the same pushing back on them to avoid cliched characters and situations.
“I always assume each of my characters is the main character in her or his own story,” said Levin.

His next book will not be a Preuss novel, but a post-apocalyptic thriller. However, his fans shouldn’t worry: Levin plans on writing a seventh Preuss novel, if not more.

“I love revisiting my old friends Martin and Toby. And from what I’ve heard from my readers, they look forward to spending time with them, too, in each new book,” said Levin. “Though, honestly, I love everything about writing, from the sheer pleasure of the neuromuscular act of forming words on paper or a computer screen, through the crafting and recrafting as the book unfolds itself to me, to holding it in my hand as a physical object when it’s published. So, in that sense, every part is the best part.”

For more information about Levin’s book signing at the Color & Ink Studio, call (248) 398-6119.

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