Author turns detective in his 'Crimes of Love'

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 By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News
 
When writing his mystery-thriller novel “Crimes of Love”—which is set in Ferndale and features the debut of Det. Martin Preuss—Donald Levin knew he didn’t want to make it about police corruption.
 
“A lot of detective novels, a lot of police procedural stories usually center around corruption in the police force—and I knew I didn’t want to go in that direction,” Levin said. “The law enforcement people that I know are people: They have families, they have children, they have mortgages, they’re dedicated to their communities, so I knew I wanted to have that layer of realism in the book.” 
 
Currently, Levin is a professor and chair of the English department at Marygrove College in Detroit. A resident of Ferndale, the 62-year-old Levin earned his undergraduate degree and graduate degree—both of them in English—from Oakland University and what is now the University of Detroit Mercy, respectively. He received his doctorate in English education from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. Two weeks after defending his dissertation in 1996, he joined the English faculty at Marygrove, where he’s been ever since.
 
He continued: “(Ferndale is) a smallish community. There’s a great tradition of Detroit crime fiction with Elmore Leonard and Loren Estleman, so I wanted to have someone who’s not a big city cop, but whose cases and his job take him into (Detroit) and the surrounding metropolitan area. Having it in Ferndale gave me the advantage to write about an area I was very familiar with and has a police department that’s pretty dedicated to its community.”
 
Levin began “Crimes of Love” four years ago. It took him “a long summer” to pen the first draft. From there, he continually revised it. 
 
“I was driving down a deserted stretch of highway in Buffalo one night, and there was a house in the distance and a road sign that said ‘deer crossing.’ I noticed there was a bullet hole in (the sign) because you know how people shoot at these things,” recalled Levin, whose wife, Suzanne Allen, is a retired English professor. “Then the thought came: What would happen if somebody shot at that ‘deer crossing’ sign, missed it, and there had been somebody standing in the window of that house off in the distance? It would be totally accidental. It would be a complete ‘whodunit?’ because you would never be able to find out what happened. That was the inciting incident for me to think about the kernel of the plot, so to speak.”
 
Levin is a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction—particularly Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender and Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck.
 
“I knew I was going to write a mystery novel and I forecasted it as a series because that’s what I like to read. In part, I’d like to think (Martin) is based on Kurt Wallender, but he really isn’t—he’s really a character in his own right… I knew he was going to be a lonely, dedicated man. That’s certainly not an unusual type of character in detective fiction, but as I started to think about it, I think of it as the way an actor develops a part. You get the physical characteristics and then once you do, you move inside and see how you can make this character come alive. I think a writer does that in essentially the same way an actor does. At a certain point, he became who he is. He took over and winds up being the person that he is in the novel,” explained Levin.
 
When trying to name his character, Levin named him Martin as an homage to Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck. In one of Mankell’s novels, Wallender used the alias Martin Preuss. 
 
“I thought, ‘Aha! I have my detective’s name!’” he recalled.
 
As he was developing the story, Levin knew there would be a handicapped child involved. Enter Toby, the son of the protagonist, whom Levin based on his and his wife’s grandson Jamie, who died last September. According to Levin, Jamie was born with profound multiple handicaps and spent the majority of his final year in a coma.
 
“Toby is based on Jamie in every way: how he looks, how he acts, how he talks, his entire situation is Jamie. The relationship between Martin and Toby is what I see as the heart of the novel,” said Levin.
 
When submitting to editors and agents, Levin was told while his writing was good, the story needed to move along faster. 
 
“In reworking it and reworking it, I tried to make the story move as fast as possible. One of the things that people are telling me now is that they just race through it. Once they start it, they found it hard to put down because it propels them along. I really take that as a compliment,” he said. 
 
“Crimes of Love” is his second novel (his first novel was 1992’s “House of Grins”). He is currently revising the untitled manuscript for his second Preuss novel, which is tentatively scheduled for a mid-2013 release.
 
“The response that I’ve gotten from people who have read it is that they’ve enjoyed it very much,” said Levin. 
 
“They find it a very fast, compelling read. I think people who read this especially come away commenting on the relationship between Martin and Toby. They also comment on the character development, which is unusual for a genre book like this. A lot of times the characters tend to be one-dimensional cardboard figures and all the emphasis seems to be on the story or the puzzle. In this case, the emphasis is on character development. Mankell said when somebody asked him why he writes crime fiction, he said he doesn’t feel he writes crime fiction; he writes literature about society through the lens of crime. That’s how I think with this book.”