Apr 16, 2024, 06:27AM

Baltimore Writer Brings It Home

An interview with J. Paul Rieger.

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J. Paul Rieger is a hometown legend who’s lived through several careers. In the 1970s, he was involved in many recording sessions as a part of Sheffield Studios, located in Phoenix, Maryland. It was then a burgeoning recording studio with homegrown connections and commercial production in recording excellence. The compilation album Best of Baltimore Buried, released in 1979, is now a rare vinyl collector's item. Bands like Pooba, and Da Moronics are among the best music groups on this compilation nugget. Today, Sheffield is a school with a mobile recording booth and classes for film and audio production for recording and media engineering students. Rieger had a theremin back in the early studio days, which was used for a great sci-fi sound effect on Da Moronics recording of their song, Flying Saucers.

Rieger also has a long and illustrious career as a local attorney. Now retired, he spends his days writing detective stories in novels like Clonk! A tale of a Baltimore City detective in the vein of Sam Spade, Damon Runyon, or Raymond Chandler. The crime story’s a slice of Baltimore life through the eyes of a police detective and his old high school buddies. His new book, available April 24th, The Big Comb Over, takes place in and around Baltimore environs with his uncles, one who puts down Dundalk over the charms of Essex and the relationship with their nephews. Even Baltimore has a pecking order. A few of the Baltimore-centric locales revolve around a quirky family who loves steamed crabs and a little trip to England for a royal wedding.

Tom DiVenti: Tell me a little about Clonk!

J. Paul Rieger: It's centered around this Baltimore City Police detective; it’s a nonlinear plot, so it jumps through time, involving his old high school buddies and their wacky situations. Sometimes they help him out, but he’s also pulling them out of the problems they create for themselves. There are definitely some crimes getting solved, but it’s also a farce. There’s social satire, and it’s a crazy roller coaster ride that deals with crooked house flipping operations. It’s got some gruesome scenes and gore too.

TD: I read that you were a finalist in the Mark Twain book award. Have you considered doing a screenplay treatment for Clonk!?

JPR: No, but that’s a thought. I jumped right into the next book, published by Pearls Before Press, titled The Big Comb Over. It's a satirical comedy of manners where the two main storylines come together in a magical realism theme, a pseudo-Christian theme of looking to find God in everything. Sort of gnostic. Some people will love it, and others won’t.

TD: What got you started writing?

JPR: I always loved reading, and as an English major at Loyola College, we had a lot of writing to do. I really wanted to write stuff that I thought was interesting. But instead, I became a lawyer, and my writing was put on the back burner. So, I had to put the music and writing aside. I had this idea to write mysteries in the vein of Sherlock Holmes. The first story was called the Case Files of Roderick Misely, Consultant. I had to borrow Rod Misey’s name. (Local radio DJ legend.) In the story the character’s a loner who lives by himself. He sleeps on a cot and has too much crap in his apartment.

TD: Well, that’s a nice homage to the local musicologist, Rod Misey, I guess. He was always a good guy to me and the music community at large.

JPR: Ha! Well, the real Rod is definitely not a loner and one of the nicest, gregarious people you could meet. By the way, I’ve just finished a new novel called Sunscreen Shower, a sequel to Clonk! I’m not doing a series, but this picks up on the Clonk! characters, moving the protagonist along in new timelines. It’s probably easier to digest. Less of a bumpy ride, but many of the same characters, psychopaths, and murderers are in there and other comic elements. I take a lot of liberties with the stuff that I’m writing. There are references to reality, like the Baltimore Police and other references.

TD: How'd you get the title, The Big Comb Over?

JPR: Originally, I had other titles. I started out calling it The Man Who Saw Himself, but thought it was a little too serious. Then I thought of calling it Avuncular because it deals with the nephews and their uncles, which is a little too off-putting. So, The Big Comb Over, with the character Roland’s obsession problem with his hair or lack thereof and looking good in photos and in life, is an obvious cover-up. I’m not making light of people who are bald. I comb over, daily.

TD: You use Baltimore to set the stage with the characters who live in and around the backdrop of the city.

JPR: Pretty much. If you’re not from Baltimore, you’ll still get some good laughs from the story. Having grown up in Baltimore I met a lot of characters. You know, they’re beautiful and horrible, plus uniquely human.

TD: What’s your take on life, death, heaven and hell, the afterlife and reincarnation?

JPR: I believe that an all-loving God exists and lives within each of us, and that following physical death, each of us is fully reunited with or within God. (Obviously, I have flunked my Baltimore Catechism.)


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