Television dramatist Stirling Silliphant famously wrote that â€œthere are eight million stories in the naked city.â€ Local author Burton Becker is out to prove that our city has a few million stories of its own, even if they are a bit more conservatively dressed. Becker has just published his fourth novel, Same Time Last Year, a detective story that takes place in a fictional city that local residents will find somewhat familiar. Becker has set each of his four published works in the urban milieu he understands best, a working class neighborhood not unlike the industrial district on the cityâ€™s south side. But you wonâ€™t find any references to existing local businesses, streets, or colorful characters in Beckerâ€™s literary world. He is careful to avoid mention of any actual landmarks or living persons. â€œI want people to recognize to what I am referring,â€ says Becker, â€œbut I donâ€™t want people in other cities or towns to feel that the story doesnâ€™t apply to their own neighborhood.â€ Thus Whittingers Park becomes â€œWhitmann Park,â€ Mabel Tripp Gardens is transformed to â€œFern Falls Arbor,â€ and the townâ€™s real estate tycoon is â€œHoward Marloweâ€ instead of local icon Hugo Chandler.
â€œItâ€™s a delicate balance,â€ says Becker. â€œMy editor called me three months ago asking who this new ‘Chandler’ character was on page 229. I had to tell him he was â€˜an honest mistake.â€™â€
Becker spends most of his time at the library, or in the public records section of the City Hall Annex. â€œI think history is very important,â€ says Becker, â€œand the history of our city is truly fascinating.â€
Thus careful readers will find cleverly veiled references to former mob boss Rory Sheehan, Livery District landmark The Legacy Diner and a criminalâ€™s alibi that crumbles based on his ignorance of The Spaghetti Giant, or as he is known in Beckerâ€™s second novel â€œThe Linguini Leviathan.â€
â€œSometimes I crack myself up,â€ acknowledges Becker, â€œand other times I change and re-change names until I find a pseudonym thatâ€™s just right.â€
Many things have turned out right for the local author since 1999. His first city-based novel, Something to Die For published in 1995, was only a modest success, but his second book, the 1999 mystery novel The Shoe-In that introduced detective Simon â€˜Spatsâ€™ Dugan, earned him a devoted cult following that helped push his third effort, Off the Beaten Track, to number 11 on the New York Times best-seller list. His current offering opens with â€˜Spatsâ€™ Dugan buried six feet deep under Woodlawn Park (Elmwood Memorial Cemetery). Fortunately for Burton Becker, the novel itself opens a bit higher â€“ on the best-seller list this week debuting at number 54.
And whatâ€™s next on this best-selling authorâ€™s plate? â€œWell, to be accurate, itâ€™s â€˜whatâ€™s in my mug,â€™â€ says Becker. â€œLately Iâ€™ve been spending a lot of time in Belgium Town, drinking beer and soaking up the local atmosphere.â€ And what has he learned in his time there that he can use? â€œOh, youâ€™ll have to read my next book,â€ he continues, â€œbut clearly thereâ€™s something rotten in the state ofâ€¦Denmark Town.â€
– D. Andrews