Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Ashtabula Hat Trick by Les Roberts

If I was author Les Roberts, I wouldn't be heading to Ashtabula County, Ohio in the near future. His latest Milan Jacovich mystery,The Ashtabula Hat Trick, describes the people and county in not-so-favorable terms. And, I've never read about a community and had more sympathy for the killer than the other citizens. Admittedly, Milan and his cohorts have the same problem, sympathy for the killer.

Milan Jacovich, a private investigator in Cleveland, is really along to help out on a case if needed. His significant other, Homicide Detective Sergeant Tobe Blaine, is sent to Queenstown in Ashtabula County, a town of 3,000, because the small-town police chief can't handle a murder investigation. There have been two murders in sixteen days, and, soon after Milan and Tobe arrive, there's a third murder. What do two men and a woman, all killed in different ways, have in common? They are all members of a local conservative church, one that spews forth a message of hatred for gays and blacks. But, the racism is not unusual in the town where Milan and Tobe, a mixed-race couple, are made to feel unwelcome everyplace they go. When Milan's assistant, K.O., joins them, he notices the atmosphere there as well. "Something's going on in this town, and we're not getting it."

The Ashtabula Hat Trick is a timely, issue-oriented story. Roberts has captured the desperate nature of an area defined as Appalachia by the federal government. It's an area defined by poor-paying jobs at McDonald's and Lowe's, no industry, but there is a privatized prison. In an economically deprived area, it's easy for people to turn to hatred, drugs, drinking, and the church. If it's a church with a racist message, there's even more hatred. All of these issues are elements in this disturbing mystery.

Over the course of the series, Milan has suffered losses and dealt with the changes in Cleveland and the world, including the changes in the types of crime he deals with. When he went from cop to private eye, he thought he'd deal with security issues, so he called his firm Milan Security. Instead, he deals with personal problems, kidnappings, murder, theft. In this case, he and his friends deal with murder, racism and bigotry.

I've always read the Milan Jacovich mysteries because Roberts brings the Cleveland area to life, with its beauty and its dark side. The books always have a strong sense of place. This one is particularly thought-provoking and sobering. But, Ashtabula isn't unique. We just think of hatred and bigotry in big cities. But, "Bizarre crime happens not only on the mean streets of metropolitan cities, but in peaceful towns and villages, too." Milan Jacovich; a detective who walks the mean streets of Cleveland and the supposedly quiet streets in Ashtabula County, Ohio in Les Roberts' compelling mystery, The Ashtabula Hat Trick.

Les Roberts' website is

The Ashtabula Hat Trick by Les Roberts. Gray & Company. 2015. ISBN 9781938441714 (hardcover), 243p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Glen Davis said...

I just won this in a goodreads drawing, but haven't got it in the mail yet.

Lesa said...

Terrific book, Glen, but really makes you think.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Just an amusing aside which appears to be a little inside joke: As mentioned I read the new Margaret Maron book, LONG UPON THE LAND, yesterday (excellent). At one point the police are interviewing people and one character is identified as "L. Roberts" who sounds more like he came from Cleveland than North Carolina. He helps the police get a suspect ("This is Les.") and ends by saying, "My girlfriend keeps telling me I ought to be a writer, all the stories I make up."

I got a kick out of that.

Jeff M.

Lesa said...

Definitely an inside joke, Jeff! Thanks for sharing it. I always enjoy those kind of crossovers in books.

Anonymous said...

Getting ready for Chapter Nine. Loving the story, keep googling names of bridges and restaurants :)
My serious question, are these attitudes based on fact in Ashtabula? Actually kind of scary as I read about the hatred :(

Lesa said...

Good question. I don't know, although someone did comment that the story is set in rural Ashtabula County. The attitudes could very well be true in rust-belt America where jobs have been lost. Look at some of the hatred we've seen in recent years in this country. I don't know.