It's been 23 years since I lived in Ohio, so Les Roberts' Milan Jacovich mysteries always take me back. It's been six years since the last book in the series, and even Milan seems to be looking back in King of the Holly Hop. It's a sad book. For Milan, and me, there's no going back to the past.
Milan tries. He attends the 40th reunion of his graduating class for St. Clair High School on the East Side of Cleveland. He sees old friends, his ex-wife and the man she left him for, and misses his best friend who is no longer alive. And, he witnesses an argument between a successful playwright who flings a drink in the face of Dr. Phil Kohn. That makes Tommy Wiggins, the playwright, the primary suspect when Kohn is shot dead in the hotel parking lot.
Tommy's lawyer hires Milan to find another suspect. He finds that the entire class is a suspect. No one liked Kohn. And, worst of all, he finds his classmates have secrets he's forced to uncover. There are the drug addicts, the gay classmate, the fights between the blacks and whites, the women who cheated. Milan finds himself investigating people he considered friends, and destroying the friendships, and his memories, in the process. He discovers everyone is "nursing old wounds." The 40th class reunion, the murder, and its aftermath forces everyone to "reconnect with the ghosts of childhood."
King of the Holly Hop is a sad book. Milan has aged, lost friendships, and watched the Cleveland he knew disappear. It's a nostalgic look back for him, and for me. I've always recognized Jacovich's Cleveland. He graduated from Kent State University, as I did. The character is about seven years older than me, so I share his memories of places, some that disappeared, such as Cleveland Municipal Stadium and Higbees Department Store. I recognize Terminal Tower, the Taverne of Richfield, even the radio celebrities such as John Lanigan. The Cleveland Browns and The Plain Dealer are part of life in northern Ohio.
Milan's investigation, however, proves to him that people and places change, but still resemble their previous incarnations. And, as much as you'd like to hang on to memories, there comes a time when it's best to move on. Les Roberts' King of the Holly Hop is a mystery. Who killed Dr. Phil Kohn? But, it's also a transition book. Milan Jacovich can't hold on to his old friends, and old memories. There's a time to close the books on the past, make new friends, and move on with life. No matter how much Milan, and I, would like to believe in our memories, they're probably colored by our nostalgia.
King of the Holly Hop is a fine conclusion to the series, if that's what Les Roberts chooses. However, it also provides the opportunity for a fresh viewpoint in the continued series. What more could a reader, a fan, a person from northern Ohio, really want?