Hubbard native’s mystery novel reflects the Valley

Thursday, July 6, 2017

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

Michael Prelee drew on his own life experience when creating the characters and storylines for his new novel, “Murder in the Heart of It All.”

The crime-mystery is set in the fictional Northeast Ohio city of Hogan, which bears many parallels to Hubbard, where Prelee lives. The people, places and problems also have a familiar ring.

In the novel, dozens of residents of Hogan are getting nasty anonymous letters. A reporter for the local weekly newspaper is assigned the story, and he attempts to track down the sender.

Prelee’s plot touches on plant closings, the opioid crisis and the gossipy nature of small-town life. The Youngstown State University graduate grew up in Brookfield, and also spent time in other Valley communities, including Cortland and Warren. He works for a software firm in West Middlesex, Pa., and writes novels in his spare time.

“Murder” is Prelee’s first crime novel, but his second overall. He published “Milky Way Repo” in 2015, and will publish a sequel, “Bad Rock Beat Down,” this month. Both are what he calls “blue-collar science fiction,” and follow a group of insterstellar repo agents.

True to the crime-suspense genre, “Murder in the Heart of It All” has a tight procedural plot that leaves no loose ends and reads like a page-turner.

Prelee explained his motives in writing it in a recent interview.

“I wanted to write a crime fiction novel,” he said. “I lived in this area all my life, so I have a good perspective of small-town life and city life, and I wanted to write about what I knew – the experience of growing up here with plants closing and the effect it has on the people who lose their job.”

The characters who populate his novel are amalgamations of people he has met.

“Once I started to think about the setting, it was easy to create characters who would live within that setting,” said Prelee. “My first job out of college was as a security guard at Delphi in Warren, and I drew from that experience ... plants closing, and the way the workers were treated.”

The angry character at the center of “Murder in the Heart of It All” is a product of that world. “I wanted him to be fully fleshed out,” said Prelee. “He could be your neighbor.”

North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minn., published the novel after Prelee submitted it. The small publishing house also released his sci-fi novels.

Prelee said the got the premise for “Murder” from an episode of television reality series “Unsolved Mysteries,” in which a resident in Circleville, Ohio, sent hundreds of anonymous letters to people in his town. “I thought it would make a good story,” said Prelee.

The author will be at the All-AmeriCon comics convention this weekend at Covelli Centre, selling and signing copies of his books.

He also has a book signing on July 22 from noon to 4 p.m. at Books-a-Million in Eastwood Mall; and Oct. 7 from noon to 3 p.m. at Leana’s Books and More in Shenango Valley Mall.

“Murder in the Heart of It All” can be purchased as an ebook and in print at Amazon, Books-a-Million, Target, Barnes and Noble, Leana’s Books and More, and Liberty Comics.