Author: Cliff Protzman

Publisher: Mill City Press

Published: October 2017

ISBN: 978-1545607145


Back in 1978, I heard a radio playing Donna Summer’s disco version of “MacArthur Park.” When it was over, a very jovial DJ announced, “I can’t help it—every time I hear that song, I have an irresistible urge to go to the bathroom!”

I cracked up laughing, knowing that only a fellow DJ would understand that joke. You see, in those days jocks kept 45” singles of very long songs handy by our turntables to put on in case we had to hit the can. The 1968 Richard Harris seven-minute version of “MacArthur Park” was one of our early favorites. 

I thought of that moment while reading the very first paragraph of Dead Air when Cliff Protzman painted a scene when a bar audience heard dead air after the 17 minute “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” ended and nothing followed. That song not long enough,  narrator and Blue Water security company owner Glenn Beckert mused, to do your business and return? In short order, he learns the jock, Beckert’s high school best friend, was shot in the head while on the air.

Very quickly,  Protzman takes us on a roller-coaster of a murder mystery ride that’s fast-paced and constantly engaging. In large part, that’s because the story keeps expanding from an investigation into the potential sale of a radio station to the many brief extra-marital romances the victim and his wife both shared to the possibility the victim was involved with a money laundering scheme. Along the way, “Beck” is warned by A former college teammate, police Lieutenant Paglironi, to back off. A beating in a parking lot also lets “Beck” know powerful forces don’t want specific questions asked.         

Into this mix, stir in an old college flame, Irene Schade, who can not only break the encrypted code on the victims laptop that even the police can’t crack, she can arouse Beck’s long dormant romantic interest.  This simmering love affair is but one plot device that humanizes Beck, as with his long suffering recovery from his beating. Most fictional heroes don’t go through this sort of lingering pain after a physical assault. I can think of a few exceptions, as in John MacDonald’s Travis McGee.

One aspect of the book well worth discussing is Protzman’s descriptive eye and his ability to share the flavor of the city he so clearly loves, Pittsburgh, Penssylvania.   Here’s one passage where he demonstrates just how attentive to his setting he can be:

HEADING TO MARKET SQUARE, I noticed that the spring sunshine was now penetrating the city skyline, warming the late March air. Revitalization had transformed the Square into a modern inner city oasis. The vegetation in the planters was several weeks from blooming into a splendor of color. There were small curbside cafés and restaurants encircling the Square, catering to the lunchtime crowd.

The air was pungent with the conflicting food aromas from the numerous eateries in the Square.”

Dead Air is a murder mystery that isn’t as dark as some reviewers have implied but it is one of those proverbial page-turners that’s hard to put down.  Cliff Protzman is able to tap into a venerable literary style and breathe some fresh air into the formulas.   He can keep throwing out the twists and turns without getting off course.

I must admit, the character’s name worried me for a spell. A man named Glen nick-named “Beck” with connections to a radio station might have been a signal the author wanted to appeal to a conservative readership. But I saw no clues or hints this was in Protzman’s creative stew. So that was a red herring perhaps only this reviewer noticed.  So, any reader who loves a good mystery should meet a new detective you’ll want to spend more time with.