Saturday, June 6, 2009

PEPPER PIKE - Les Roberts

Milan Jacovich is a rather eccentric private investigator in Cleveland, Ohio, and he receives a strange call one night from Richard Amber, a big wig in the advertising business. Amber wants to hire Milan as a body guard for twelve hours. The pay is good; Milan has nothing better to do; so off he goes to meet Amber at his house in ritzy Pepper Pike. If the call wasn't strange enough, when Milan arrives, Amber is no where to be found.

The next morning, Milan receives yet another call. This time the call is from Amber's wife, Judith. She's also calling to hire Milan. Judith Amber wants Milan to find Richard Amber; he's missing. Richard Amber's disappearance may turn out to be more than your basic "missing person" case for Milan.

PEPPER PIKE is the first book in the popular Milan Jacovich series, originally published in 1988. Being from the Cleveland area, it's about time I got around to reading Cleveland's favorite P.I. If you've never been to the Cleveland area, believe me when I say that Les Roberts is not only true to the flavor and feel of this part of Ohio, but his love of the region radiates from the pages. I shivered actually feeling the wet and cold when Milan was trekking through some residential back yards:

"When I got where I wanted to go my pants legs were soaked from the soft, wet snow, my shoes squished when I walked, and I had left a set of footprints from the Ambers' house across four other backyards that even Stevie Wonder could follow."
In addition to the physical geography, Roberts does a stellar job illustrating class distinction and the sharp contrast that can exist in the Cleveland region. One needn't drive far to see the struggling working class and then the obscenely wealthy: from a bar where everyone is hanging their hopes on the night's lottery numbers to homes costing in the range of the mid six figures (remember it's the 80s). Even organized crime has a face in the urban sprawl of Cleveland.

The realism doesn't stop at the setting. Roberts is also a master crafter when it comes to his characters. Milan exhibits many of the traits of the traditional P.I. He's witty, a loner and has a knack for finding trouble even when he isn't looking for it. But he also has some traits unique to the P.I. character. As a female reader, the one I most admire is his respect for women, which is probably a reflection of his creator because the female characters in the novel are also worthy of respect. PEPPER PIKE is not full of beautiful women with empty heads, nor damsels in distress who are saved through sex. Roberts' emphasizes Milan's intelligence, thoughtfulness and vulnerability, not brute strength. Milan is also principled, encouraging the reader to develop a strong faith in Milan, cheering him on when the odds are against him.

PEPPER PIKE was an enjoyable read, and I'm glad I finally managed to remove it from the "to be read" pile and check it off the "read" list. I will also be adding the remainder of the series to my must read list. The biggest benefit of discovering a series late? Not having to wait for the next book to be published! Les Roberts published the fourteenth Milan Jacovich novel last year, so I'll have plenty of Milan to keep me reading for awhile.

PEPPER PIKE was originally published by St. Martin's Press in 1988 and was reissued by Gray & Company in 2005. ISBN: 1-59851-001-0.


Bonnie June 6, 2009 at 3:04 PM  

I'm from the Cleveland area as well! It's nice to see a fellow blogger from Ohio, there doesn't seem to be many of us.

I read most of this series when they came out but lost interest. I enjoyed them and should look back and see which ones that I missed reading. It is fun to read a book that describes areas that you are familiar with.

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