There’s more going on in Chasing Dietrich than in the average debut mystery. With training in psychology and a career in law, author Michael Mears understands better than most how the criminal mind operates. Since retiring from a career as a trial attorney and completing a course on advanced novel writing, he’s now poised to make a name for himself as an author. He’s off to a good start: “[I]t’s all here,” the starred Kirkus review said, “covered in a thick patina of cigarette smoke, set to a soundtrack of swing bands and clinking beer steins.”

Shortly before World War II breaks out, smooth-talking Pinkerton detective Michael Temple travels to Berlin on assignment to retrieve Sara Potter, an American actress who came to Germany hoping to star in Nazi-produced movies. Cut from the same cloth as Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade, Temple at first reads like so many other hard-boiled detectives, yet as the novel progresses, his boozy nihilism gives way to a surprisingly layered, conflicted persona. But those analytical tendencies don’t dull his razor-sharp wit or willingness to throw a punch.

Meanwhile, serpentine Potter—perhaps Mears’ greatest accomplishment—is more complicated than she seems. She’s not merely a Dietrich in distress: In one chapter, she’s a sweet girl in over her head; in the next, she’s a cunning, possibly violent woman with disturbingly effective skills of manipulation. Her true motives remain shrouded until deep into the novel, but guided by Mears’ masterful touch, readers will eagerly take up the case.

Nazis make good bad-guy fodder, and Mears knows it. “Being a history buff, the writing process started with what I thought was an interesting time and place and a ready-made set of villains,” he says. But the novel, set largely in Berlin’s film industry during the early 1930s, isn’t your average Nazi thriller. Mears manages to avoid cartoonishly characterizing the Nazis, even when he takes the bold step of putting words directly into the Führer’s mouth. Kirkus loved the result: “A solid, page-turning throwback to the golden age of detective novels.”

After Temple’s arrival, an actress is violently murdered, and unrest in Berlin spreads like fire. Though framed as a detective thriller, the story morphs into a satisfying character study that introduces a charming new detective to fretful Berliners who smell smoke. By focusing on the Nazi’s early rise to power, Mears shines a light on the creeping, sometimes-imperceptible menace that’s beginning to seep into every aspect of German life.

Mears made the decision to publish on his own after becoming frustrated by the politics of mainstream publishing. “Finding an agent, much less a publisher, is a crapshoot at best for new writers,” Mears says. Eventually, he “decided life was too short and self-publishing was too easy.”

Readers have taken notice of Mears and his charmingly rumpled detective: Chasing Dietrich was a top 10 Kindle mystery and was chosen as Book of the Day by Ereader News Today.

Lost Among the Dead and Dying, another novel featuring Temple, this one set in 1920s Paris, has already been completed, signaling the start of an exciting new mystery series. Readers who’ve grown tired of the long-running offerings churned out elsewhere should grab their passports and join Temple for a smoke and a beer before the war really gets going.

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