Hazel Park native releases next novel in ‘cozy mystery’ series

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published June 2, 2023

 Hazel Park native and author/playwright Frank Anthony Polito, seen here at his Pleasant Ridge home with his dogs, Jack and Clyde, has just released “Rehearsed to Death.” The dogs also feature in the story.

Hazel Park native and author/playwright Frank Anthony Polito, seen here at his Pleasant Ridge home with his dogs, Jack and Clyde, has just released “Rehearsed to Death.” The dogs also feature in the story.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


HAZEL PARK — An award-winning author/playwright who grew up in Hazel Park has released the second book in his “cozy mystery” series about a gay millennial couple who solve crimes.

Frank Anthony Polito’s latest work, “Rehearsed to Death,” is the sequel to last year’s “Renovated to Death,” and features the same leads, Peter and JP.

The couple host a hit reality show where they renovate homes around metro Detroit. They live in the fictional suburb of Pleasant Woods, located between Royal Heights and Fernridge, and nearby Madison Park. As the names suggest, the towns are inspired by actual places, with “Madison Park” featuring elements of both Madison Heights and Hazel Park.   

Their latest adventure is set during the summer, while their TV show is on hiatus. JP is set to star in a community theater production at the Royal Heights Playhouse — a parody of Stagecrafters in Royal Oak. Peter wrote the play, “Blue Tuesday,” about two couples — one gay, one straight — living in New York City before the events of 9/11.

But then the two men find themselves investigating the murder of Xander Sherwood Deva — the play’s arrogant and over-controlling director, who was found strangled to death by the same imported cashmere scarf he wore like a boa.

The egomaniacal director was loathed by many people, so there is no shortage of suspects. Now, as the opening night of the play draws near, Peter and JP must figure out the identity of the killer.

The “To Death” series is written in the style of the cozy mystery genre, which features elements such as charming small towns with colorful casts of characters, and a tasteful avoidance of gore, sex and swearing. Even the murders tend to happen off-screen. Polito said it’s appropriate for teens and adults alike, and is meant to be warm and inviting, despite the dark crimes at each mystery’s core.

“I always describe it as fun — they’re meant to be fun,” Polito said. “So many of the cozies I’ve read are definitely what you could call comedy. I’m not saying they’re not serious, or that they shouldn’t be respected, but they do have humor — they’re all humorous. The writers intentionally look for the humor in the situation.

“It’s a genre that works for me because even in my most serious works, where a young teen is dealing with accepting his sexual identity, I still infused it with humor,” Polito said. “It’s just who I am — it’s just my personality. I always try to keep it light — maybe it’s a defense mechanism of trying to get people to like me by getting them to laugh. I don’t ever want to be taken too seriously. So I feel like this genre, apart from a few things, could be enjoyed by both a 12-year-old and someone who’s 102. These are books for people of all ages.”

Some of his other works, prior to “Rehearsed” and “Renovated,” include “Band Fags!” (2008), “Drama Queers!” (2009) and “The Spirit of Detroit” (2013), which together form a trilogy, focusing on a group who attended Hazel Park High during the mid-to-late ’80s, inspired by Polito himself and his closest friends. “Drama Queers!” won a Lambda Literary Award.

“Band Fags!” is the first book in the trilogy and follows the adventures of Jack Paterno, who is based on Polito himself, from the ages of 14-18 in Hazel Park, circa the mid-to-late ’80s. Jack has known he’s gay all his life, but he spends much of the story trying to deny his sexuality. When his best friend since seventh grade, Bradley Dayton, comes out to him, Jack begins to entertain the idea of accepting that he is also gay.

“Drama Queers!” is the second book, set in the same world, focusing on Bradley in 1987 and 1988 when he and Jack are seniors. Bradley is involved with the Hazel Park High School Drama Club, and when the lead role in the school play goes to an attractive freshman boy, Bradley doesn’t mind having the opportunity to spend time with him every day after school during rehearsals. He soon finds himself forming feelings for him, but then an older boy warns Bradley against coming out, telling him it will risk his dreams of becoming an actor.

The trilogy then concludes with “The Spirit of Detroit,” set in 1991 and 1992. Bradley is once again the protagonist, and Jack makes cameo appearances. Bradley has decided to return to college and enroll in the theater program at Wayne State University. The story pays homage to Polito’s favorite novel, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Michael Chabon, with a similar plot, but from the perspective of a gay man.

“By the time I finish a story, I’ve been living with it so long that when it actually goes on sale, I have to remind myself that no one has read it. But yeah, there’s a feeling of accomplishment telling a complete story. It feels good, and when I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing over the last year or two, I remind myself I’ve written three books, since I just finished the third one,” Polito said.

That third installment, “Haunted to Death,” is set to release this Halloween. A young woman acquires a lavish mansion and discovers she’s the long-lost daughter of the previous owner who died falling off the balcony 25 years ago. When Peter and JP begin renovations on the home, they witness ghostly phenomenon and discover secret passages.

“Much like a ‘Scooby-Doo’ episode, there’s a double mystery: Who killed the woman, and is the house really haunted — and if not, who is making us think that it is,” Polito said. “It was a lot of fun for me to write because it’s even more fantastical, taking the knowledge of all the haunted house movies I watched growing up, and again, the ‘Scooby-Doo’ cartoon. There’s even a portrait of a woman where the eyes move watching them, and a mysterious fog rolls in out of nowhere — all of the haunted house tropes. I’m hoping people find it as fun to read as it was to write.”

Alissa Sullivan, a member of the Hazel Park City Council, said she appreciates Polito’s love for his hometown and the metro Detroit area, and how it’s reflected in his works.

“He came and did a presentation here, during one of our pride events in the past, with his book ‘Band Fags!’ set right here in Hazel Park, including a reading and meet-and-greet in a private room at our library,” Sullivan said. “He’s great, and always shouts out to his hometown of Hazel Park. It’s nice that he’s achieved such success, and still remembers his ‘Friendly City.’”

“Renovated to Death” is available at major online outlets where books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Target. It was released May 23.