Monday, April 2, 2018

Another Chance To Die: Prohibition-Era Detroit Comes to Life

Writing involves decisions. In memoir writing, how much do I leave in and what should be left out. In fiction, how far do we develop the scene and how much detail causes the story to drag. In converting a story to film, how much is essential and how much can be extracted without losing the main aim of the story itself. There are always decisions to make and always limitations. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

This morning I am trying to decide whether to turn my interview with author Claudia Oltean into one blog post or two. Ms. Oltean is author of the book Another Chance to Die, historical crime fiction based in Prohibition-era Detroit and the first of several volumes in her upcoming Man in the Middle Series, which itself seems to be hitting all the right notes to become a new series in this third Golden Age of Television.

The story's appeal is in part due to its being something readers are familiar with (Prohibition-era crime a la Chicago, Eliot Ness and Al Capone)) combined with something we're totally unfamiliar with (1920s Detroit). The title of the first book effectively echoes McCartney's Band on the Run and a pair of Bond titles -- You Only Live Twice and Die Another Day.

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The author with her grandparents.
Claudia Oltean's grandfather was a crime reporter for The Detroit News during Prohibition. He was one of the original investigative reporters. Abe Bernstein, leader of The Purples, a murderous, top criminal gang, was his CI -- how that came about is a long story. Conversely, he was, conversely deputized by the Wayne County (Detroit) Sheriff's Office and the Michigan State Police. He carried both a badge and a gun, not your garden variety reporter. This larger than life figure knew everybody who was anybody.

The Purples were rivals and associates of Al Capone and Capone appears as a character in the book. Ms. Oltean had the great fortune of inheriting her grandfather's reporters notes as well as his physical articles in scrapbooks dating back to 1920.

Detroit and SE Michigan were known to be where 75% of all smuggled booze came in, due to its immediate proximity to Windsor and Canada, thereby acquiring the nickname the Windsor Funnel. The stories in her grandfather's materials and the vast amount of research she herself did are mind-blowing. When I inquired about the project, Ms. Oltean explained, "I used all this as a springboard to write a fictionalized account as a novel. The book is complete and I am working on some more revisions, the bane of a writer's life, as I'm sure you know."

If you'd like more background, you may visit her website at Her grandfather's obit is there, along with some of her background as a writer, and the first chapter of the novel.

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It appears that I've made up my mind. I am posting this bit of backstory today, and look forward to sharing our interview tomorrow. What follows is the storyline. Looks like a perfect follow up for anyone having grown up a fan of the Untouchables.

by Claudia N. Oltean


In the Prohibition-fueled Roaring 20’s, Detroit is a major hub for bootlegging and racketeering. The gangs are at war and so are the newspapers, spilling ink instead of blood. Allen Nieber, a young, tall, charismatic Detroit News crime reporter works both the cops and crooks to land front-page stories. Popular at every precinct and speakeasy in town, he’s enjoying grand adventure, female attentions and printed glory. Just as his conscience begins to niggle him about the integrity of his singular methods, his News colleague and best friend is killed. It happens on a late night rum run across the Detroit River. Nieber and his buddy are passengers in the super-charged motorboat of the notorious Purple Gang when a rival gang seems to come out of nowhere, automatic rifles on point. A chaotic shootout breaks out, with kills on both sides, including Nieber’s closest friend. As he himself had engineered this outing as part of a quid pro quo with the Purples, Nieber is wracked by grief and guilt. He also must face a hostile, suspicious chief of detectives and the displeasure of his bosses. His high-flying position and solid reputation are in jeopardy. So is his relationship with the one woman he thinks he can love. Trying to stay ahead of an official police investigation, Nieber works to unravel the confused circumstances of that tragic night. A murky picture emerges and it’s not pretty. He feels like a fool and questions what kind of man he is. Determined to somehow make things right, he strikes a deal with the chief of detectives. In a bold new direction, Nieber will continue to cover all the sensational Prohibition stories while secretly collaborating with law enforcement. Their mission will be to foul the ever more vicious and lethal operations of Detroit’s gangs, including the formidable Purples.

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When all is said and done, it seems that to not read this book would be criminal.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a book series I want on my shelf. How long until it's available?

Claudia Oltean said...

Book 1 in final revisions. If you email me at, I'll be happy to update you. Thanks for your interest!

HeartOfSteelBook said...

Amazing article. I'm definitely looking forward to reading such an intriguing story.