Artist profile: Robert Lopresti leaks Mafia mystery

Robert Lopresti shares his latest mystery, “Greenfellas,” at 7 p.m. Sept. 3 at Village Books.
Robert Lopresti shares his latest mystery, “Greenfellas,” at 7 p.m. Sept. 3 at Village Books. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Robert Lopresti is not only the librarian for environmental sciences and environmental studies and for government information at Western Washington University, he was born in New Jersey.

What better combination could result in a mystery thriller set in New Jersey in which the head of a mobster “family,” after the birth of his granddaughter, decides to save the environment and create a better world?

Lopresti has written more than 50 published short stories and won numerous awards for his writing. He also composes, sings, and plays autoharp.

He shares his new book, “Greenfellas,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at Village Books.

More on him: robertlopresti.blogspot.com.

Question: How does your New Jersey upbringing inform how you view the world, and how do you translate that to your fiction, specifically this novel?

Answer: When I grew up New Jersey there were no television stations. People in the north half got their news from New York; in the south from Philadelphia. Pilots flying into Newark still sometimes welcome their passengers to New York. This sense of being underestimated, misunderstood, and generally bewildered shapes my humorous fiction.

When I decided to write a comic Mafia novel, I knew I had to set it there. Bellingham is sadly lacking in Italian mobsters. It was great fun setting scenes in places I knew so well. One suspenseful meeting takes place in one of my favorite parks on a beautiful sunny day. And something nasty happens in the house we used to rent back in the ’80s.

Q: What’s your main character like?

A: Sal Caetano is an antihero, not a nice guy at all, but in the course of the book he grows a conscience, a painful procedure. Sure, it’s an odd Sal-shaped conscience, but it changes his view of the world.

Q: As a librarian at WWU, you had numerous sources at your disposal. How did you incorporate your research in your writing?

A: Well, the premise of the book is this: a top mobster decides to save the environment for his brand-new granddaughter, so he asks a college professor what problems most need fixing. To research that, I went to three professors at Huxley College at Western and asked them to put themselves in my fictional professor’s shoes. My ecologist’s views combine their expert opinions with my less-informed ones.

My Mafia-lore came from WWU library books and some from other schools — hooray for interlibrary loan! I was shocked at how deeply the mob is involved in our environmental problems. So my mobster-hero was shocked as well.

Q: What have been some of your successes as a writer?

A: I won the Derringer Award for short mysteries twice, and the Black Orchid Novella Award once.

Q: What other projects are in the works?

A: I have stories in three anthologies this year. “Nachshon” in “Jewish Noir” (search Jewish Noir) was inspired by the same legend that led to my most popular song. I have a contract for a non-fiction book that involves my government information work. So I manage to keep busy.

Q: What do you enjoy about being a librarian?

A: I love helping students sort out reliable sources, and the light bulb that comes on when they realize they just learned a skill that will save them tons of time in the future.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com. Read her columns at bellinghamherald.com/behind-the-scenes.

Robert Lopresti shares his new book, “Greenfellas.”

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3

Where: Village Books, 1200 11th St.

Details: 360-671-2626, villagebooks.com.