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If some of the names in Eric Dezenhall’s latest mystery seem eerily familiar, there’s good reason.
“So many folks have joked about being characters in my books,” Dezenhall says. “I said, ‘I’m happy to do it, but you realize I have to criminalize you.’”
So for his fourth installment of the Jonah Eastman series, “Turnpike Flameout” (due out next month), Dezenhall has obliged, turning many of his high-profile Washington, D.C., buddies into the colorful, New Jersey characters who have become the calling card of his “pollster as action hero” books. (Though for the record, not all of his fictional cast is crooked.)
In the novel, Eastman, a damage control denizen with a penchant for Saul Bellow novels, must untangle the web of obfuscation and insanity spun by his latest client, washed-up former child star and rocker Turnpike Bobby Chin. Chin survives a plane crash only to find himself under suspicion after the sculptor employed to memorialize him in bronze mysteriously disappears, and the police suspect foul play. Eastman is brought in to develop a “plausible alternative scenario” for the sculptor’s death.
The sculptor in question is Christian Josi, who in real life toils as a senior vice president at Dezenhall Resources, the author’s eponymous crisis management firm.
Josi says he gave the initial greenlight to name the sculptor in Dezenhall’s previous release “Shakedown Beach” after himself under one condition. “I said, ‘I want him brutally murdered.’ [Dezenhall] said, ‘It’s too late in this book.’ He’s kept his promise in a big way. I didn’t think he’d write a whole book about it. I was thinking a drive by.”
Josi’s tickled to be immortalized in such a manner. As a joke he even added the tagline “R.I.P.” to his name on his personal Web site along with a link to “Turnpike Flameout.” (Josi, who’s released two CDs, sometimes moonlights as a jazz singer.) “One of the music fans didn’t get the joke and started calling and e-mailing other people asking what I died of,” Josi recalls.
Hot on the trail of Josi’s killer is Rich Galen, a GOP strategist and former flak for Newt Gingrich and Dan Quayle, who appears in the book as a hard-nosed New Jersey detective. Galen, who said he’d completely forgotten his name was in the book until contacted for this story, concedes that his life to date has exhibited few similarities to that of his literary doppelganger “other than when I was shooting people up in Iraq.”
Well, actually “that’s a lie,” he says. In reality, Galen spent a stint in 2003-2004 as a Department of Defense civilian employee working “to get non-combatant news from Iraq back to the United States,” though “I did have a gun,” he says.
But on second thought, maybe his background is a little more rough-and-tumble than it appears, Galen asserts.
“If you were Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich’s press secretary you are damn right you are hard-bitten,” he laughs.