He’s tall, dark and handsome. He knows
his way around some of Brooklyn’s more unsavory neighborhoods
as well as he does the food mecca that is Smith Street. And the
ladies love him.
Ex-cop Blades Overstreet is one cool, if at times hotheaded, cat.
He’s also a figment of author Glenville Lovell’s imagination.
The leading man of Lovell’s hard-boiled mystery series, Blades Overstreet pounds the pavement in Brooklyn once again, this time in search of the killer of a friend’s son, in the new novel "Love and Death in Brooklyn" (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $23.95).
They say you should write about what you know, so this macho, urban noir prominently features the borough that Lovell, 48, has called home for the last 18 years. The Barbados transplant, now a resident of East Flatbush, has also woven a Caribbean thread throughout "Love and Death." He explores Brooklyn’s immigrant enclaves - especially their foods.
"The incredible thing about Brooklyn and all of New York that makes me excited about writing this series and working with this character is that it gives me a chance to explore the vibrant communities of New York, especially the vibrant immigrant communities," Lovell told GO Brooklyn in a telephone interview this week. "Where Blades’ record shop is, you can live in that community and get anything Caribbean you want that you were used to back home. I don’t get homesick anymore - except for the weather, beaches and sun - but in terms of the food, you walk down Nostrand Avenue and the food is always there. You can smell the roti and the jerk chicken being cooked and smell the different kinds of pastries."
"Love and Death in Brooklyn" is Lovell’s fourth novel, following the novels "Fire in the Canes" (1995) and "Song of Night" (1998) and the first Blades Overstreet mystery, "Too Beautiful to Die" (2003).
Although Overstreet has sex appeal and courage, he certainly has been crafted with a few chinks in his armor.
"He’s streetwise and at the same time a very vulnerable character. He can be funny, but a brooding kind of guy," explained Lovell. "He’s got that testosterone Americans are famous for in sports and in daily activities. Every man in America wants to be this superhero. It’s what young boys strive for ... It’s not easy for a normal person to be a super human. In this culture you can get lost in that fantasy. We need to see [Blades’] weakness. He thinks he can handle more than he can. He’s a fairly complex character - it’s the only reason I can keep working with him."
Overstreet can be bumbling and fallible. He gets drunk and beat up. He’s consumed by jealousy of his wife Anais’ ex-lover - making scenes in offices and restaurants when he loses control. He struggles to keep his rage on a short leash.
"The hardboiled genre that I’m working in - there’s a certain element of it that attempts to do some kind of social commentary on the political or social atmosphere of the time in which it is set," explained Lovell. "It also attempts to depict the language and the people in a very realistic way. That’s why it tends to be tough and gritty. Because it’s about real people speaking a real language. You tend to not want to short-change the characters by trying to soften things. You want to give them the rawness of life."
In "Love and Death in Brooklyn" Overstreet is in search of the killer of Ronan Peltier, a charismatic, black city councilman. The book jacket trumpets that this is "a story ripped from today’s headlines." When asked to confirm, the author said that the book was written more than a year before the July 2003 assassination of Fort Greene Councilman James Davis.
"The book jacket is really an attempt to draw some attention to the novel," said Lovell. "The truth is this book was written a year before that event happened. This book was handed over to my editor in July of last year, so it was kind of odd this incident turned up. I think the publisher just decided to use it. It is ripped from the headlines, but it was written before the headlines It’s more of a prophecy."
Although that aspect of "Love and Death" wasn’t directly inspired by the news, Lovell said his writing generally is.
"I cruise the headlines all the time," he said. "I’m absolutely inspired by New York stories and not just the sensational issue. To me, New York stories are very small and contained, like watching the interaction between a cab driver and a passenger and how the language barrier can create conflict It’s a city of stories.
"I try to depict Brooklyn in an honest way. There is a Brooklyn you can love and a Brooklyn you can hate. There is love and death in Brooklyn."
In the book, Overstreet isn’t able to track down Peltier’s killer alone. He enlists the help of a memorable cast of characters including the sexy nightclub manager River Paris and the 300-pound transvestite Toni Monday.
"Every now and then you come up with a character and all of a sudden the character overwhelms you and demands you tell his story - this is where Toni Monday is in my head," said Lovell, who thinks he may bring Monday back in the next Overstreet mystery. "I’m really thinking about exploring that character. There is a paradox brewing inside of him as well. He also has a violent history and a violent past that I’m trying to exhume as I’m trying to exhume Blades’ violent past Hopefully I’ll get to write those stories."
Among the lesser evils Overstreet must battle is his actress-wife’s employer, the libidinous producer Pryce Merkins. Although Lovell began his writing career as a playwright and producer in Barbados, and later had a play staged at Theater for the New City in Manhattan, he said the smarmy Merkins isn’t based on anyone he knew in the theater world.
"I didn’t get to deal with producers of that high caliber, that high finance ability," Lovell said with a laugh. "The producers I dealt with were living out of their cars and basements and trying to get things together. Except in Barbados - the producers there were fairly wealthy people. No one from Theater for the New City was as rapacious as Mr. Merkins. That character came, perhaps, from watching too many movies of people working in Hollywood."
Lovell has already started work on the next hard-boiled Overstreet mystery and this time hopes to weave elements of the Latino community into its pages. Until then, the author will be on the reading and book signing circuit, drawing attention to his crime-solving, swaggering hero.
"I hope to appeal to all kinds of readers: black, white, Asian, women and men. Everybody. Who am I to say?" said Lovell. "New Yorkers will love the story because I think it will resonate - from the social angle to the political to racial to sexual for people who like sensuality. It’s got a lot of things people will enjoy."
"Love and Death in Brooklyn"
by Glenville Lovell (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $23.95) is available
in local bookstores.
The author will read from his book and sign copies at the Barnes & Noble (106 Court St. at State Street) in Brooklyn Heights on Sept. 2 at 7 pm. For more information, call (718) 246-4996.