Q. Do you think THE SUBVERSIVE DETECTIVE story could have occurred somewhere other than Atlantic City?
A. The geographical struts of the story are important. The location of the murder that launches the investigation is a key to understanding the crime. The sabotage plot behind the murder targets a vital wartime asset that can be nowhere else. The where of the tale is what makes it plausible.
Atlantic City was an Army Air Force training center in World War Two. The murder victim was an Army recruit. So that gave me a way to explore the American homefront – to see and listen to people whose lives were altered by war. And I happily confess to vivid Atlantic City memories. I spent my childhood summers there when it was promoted as “The Queen of Resorts” and “America’s Playground”. It’s fun for me to describe a place I saw with a child’s eyes. As America’s Sin City when Las Vegas was a desert gas station, 1940s Atlantic City provides a splendid canvas on which to paint a disappearing culture.
Q. Was it important for your detective to be “subversive”?
“Subversive” was a nasty slur to which Levitan took great exception. He bumps right into the FBI early in the murder investigation. The bureau’s director was the powerful J, Edgar Hoover, who considered people with Levitan’s experience to be subverting the American Way of Life. The Director gets personally involved in Levitan’s case, presenting a different set of challenges for him to meet and overcome. So, yes, being labeled subversive, justly or otherwise, was a powerful current of his life at the time.
Q. Why did you decide to write books set in the 1940s; and how did you research the period?
A. I’ve always had a great interest in the 1940s as a decade when change was sudden and profound. In terms of research, most of it has been with government archives and other internet sources. Because I was born in 1943, I carry childhood impressions of the period that color and enliven the cold facts on which the stories are based. All of us, writers in particular, spend a lifetime trying to understand how vague childhood memories inform our understanding of the present day.
Because of the Second World War, the United States was “united” in an unprecedented way. Internationally, America was becoming the planet’s dominant cultural and military power. Massive government expenditures spawned domestic prosperity and the development of new technologies that are still being refined. Most significantly, the development of atomic weaponry marked the 1940s as the before-and-after that I am compelled to explore.
Q. Why did you decide to write a book from the perspective of a Jewish American veteran of the Spanish Civil War?
A. I invented Dave Levitan as the embodiment of confusion. He is meant to react to the threats against a people with whom he shares the “Jew” label but has little understanding of what it means to be a Jew. In the first half of the 20th Century, the global diaspora of twenty million Jewish people, out of necessity, paid attention to the political winds. Levitan, as an idealistic teenager in 1937 Philadelphia, enlisted to soldier in a war against fascist anti-Semites in the mountains of Spain, where he was wounded, an injury that left him with a limp. Back in America, he falls in love with the daughter of an influential man, gets a job with the Atlantic City police, and investigates a 1944 murder that leads him to discover a Nazi sabotage plan. If successful, the plan would alter the course of the Second World War. As the story begins, he is tormented by guilt for not serving. He’s thirty-two years old, a willing and able battlefield veteran but ineligible to wear an American uniform because he can’t pass induction physicals.
Q. Were there any personal influences from the 1940s that informed the book?
A. Yes. Some of the characters are drawn from my immigrant grandparents. I was a teenager when they all passed away, and I vividly remember their quintessentially American ways – flavored with strudel and matzo balls.
Q. Could you talk about the role of a police detective in the book?
A. Detectives make great protagonists because they are compelled to discover hidden truth. Levitan’s beat, 1944 Atlantic City, is both dark and brilliantly lit, a resort town that caters to families in the summer daylight. At night, year-round, villains roam in the shadows of the boardwalk’s neon lights.
Cops are like everybody else, with unreasonable bosses who are better at politics than we poor schlubs who have to figure out how to do our jobs. I started writing full time after years working for other people. I am fascinated by our relationships to our bosses, by