Local author Joseph LeValley’s third novel, “The Third Side of Murder,” may be his best. Like his first two, the book revolves around Tony Harrington, a small-town Iowa newspaper reporter whose sharp instincts can create problems.

 

LeValley’s first book, “Burying the Lede,” published in 2018, was a political murder mystery that ended at Terrace Hill, Iowa’s governor’s mansion. In it, Tony’s nose for news proved fatal for a girlfriend who tried to help him unravel the story behind the violent deaths of a rural couple.


When I wrote about that book a couple of years ago, I explained that during the 1970s and ’80s LeValley was a reporter at newspapers in Boone and Mason City. He wrote six chapters about Tony Harrington before switching careers and becoming a public relations specialist for Mercy Medical Center. 


After retiring, he resumed work on the book. With advice from Des Moines-born author John Shors and others, LeValley fleshed out the story, which takes place in the fictional Raccoon River valley town of Orney. 


To make the story more realistic, LeValley gave Tony a father who was a famous writer and a trust fund that insulated him from the very real concern of making a living in small-town Iowa while working as a poorly paid local news reporter. 


Tony’s family and friends were more fully developed in LeValley’s second book, “Cry From an Unknown Grave,” in which Tony, a co-worker and his artist sister are captured while trying to expose human sex trafficking. The book is an all-too-real look at a rarely discussed aspect of modern life. 


“The Third Side of Murder” is more nuanced than the first two books, although the action is, if possible, more heart-pounding. 


This latest story begins with an introductory quote from real-life Mafia boss Joe Massino, who is  identified in Wikipedia as “the first boss of one of the Five Families in New York City to turn state’s evidence.”


Massino’s quote is: “There are three sides to every story. Mine, yours, and the truth.”


That’s something to keep in mind as multiple plots unfold and truth becomes fungible. 


The story, or I should say stories, begin with the suspicious death of Tony’s Italian cousin Naomi, a beautiful 26-year-old who either was pushed or fell from a two-foot-wide sea wall in the Italian coastal town of Amalfi. 


Naomi was a skilled gymnast and sometimes danced atop the wall with little fear of falling, despite the long drop to waves crashing on boulders below. 


A model and interpreter, she traveled extensively and was widely admired. The day she died, she was unaware that a serial killer who had seen her in New York – the man was also a mobster – had followed her across the ocean and was secretly watching her wall dance. 


Tony travels with his mother to the funeral in Italy. When he learns a mobster witnessed Naomi’s death, he does what Tony does: He asks questions, which leads him to the doorsteps of organized crime figures in Italy and New York. 


Meanwhile, back in Iowa, two parallel forces – the economic decline of small towns and the disappearance of local journalism – are remaking Orney and its newspaper, much to the discomfort of Tony and the paper’s editor/owner. 


Tony’s earlier reporting has made him famous beyond Iowa, and when he is offered a job interview with the New York Times, he makes a trip to the Big Apple, where he finds romance and danger aplenty while still chasing Naomi’s suspicious wall watcher. 


I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that once you’ve finished the book, Joe Massino’s opening quote will make perfect sense.


“The Third Side of Murder,” along with LeValley’s other books, is available at metro-area bookstores or online at JosephLeValley.com for $24.95.