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Friday 19 February 2021

✉ Symphony Road: Shane Cleary Mysteries [2] - Gabriel Valjan

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author who talks to us about 'Fires and Ash: a walk down Symphony Road'.

Symphony Road (, Level Best Books, 271 pages), a Noir Procedural Historical Crime Fiction, book two in the Shane Cleary Mysteries series, is Gabriel's latest release.

"Ostracized former cop turned PI Shane Cleary navigates the mean streets of Boston's seedy underbelly in Symphony Road. A brilliant follow up to Dirty Old Town, Valjan's literary flair and dark humor are on full display." -- Bruce Robert Coffin, award-winning author of the Detective Byron Mysteries.

"A private eye mystery steeped in atmosphere and attitude."-- Richie Narvaez, author of Noiryorican.

|| Synopsis || Teaser: KCR Preview || The Series || Author Guest Post || About the Author || Tour Stops ||

Fires and Ash: a walk down Symphony Road

by Gabriel Valjan

Symphony Road today is a quaint street, a mix of apartments and luxury condos.  The standout on the street is a green space.  On closer examination, you will find a community garden, and etched in stone, a memorial to Jesse Oliver, 1972-1976.  He died on what was my eighth birthday, September 12.  The fire in which he perished was one of thirty that had blazed through Symphony Road, between 1976-1977, earning the street the sinister name of Cinder Road and the city of Boston the notorious nickname of arson capital of the United States.

Photo credit: GettyImages/Boston Globe
In the second Shane Cleary mystery, Symphony Road, I take readers to that street and weave a story that uses the deadly ‘heat wave’ as a backdrop to my PI Shane Cleary, who is working three cases for odd clients.  If anything, I overlook the level of brutal insensitivity and callous indifference that the city showed the residents of Symphony Road, but I do shine a light on the crippling, systemic corruption of that era.

A child died.  The city didn’t care.

People lost their homes.  The city didn’t care.

Thirty fires had razed buildings.  A city official blamed the residents and used language in the papers and on television that I cannot repeat here.  He took “Blame the Victim” into unchartered territory, even by today’s standards.  To riff on Faulkner’s quote, the Shane Cleary series reminds readers that the past is never truly past.  In a karmic twist, that offensive Boston city official would later plead guilty and be convicted for his role in an arson for-profit ring that made the popular conspiracy-theory movies of the Seventies seem…quaint.

And there you have it: arson for-profit.

Symphony Road Fire, September 12, 1976.
70 Symphony Road, Back Bay, 5 Alarms, Box 1598, 0116 Hours.
Source: Boston Fire Historical Society
When community activists researched the deeds and the blizzard of property-title transfers—which included one of Boston’s wiring inspectors among the owners of buildings on Symphony Road—they discovered the money trail and convinced the state’s Attorney General to investigate the curious anomaly: that the more fires there were on Symphony Road, the more buildings that went down or were destroyed, the more the properties on Symphony Road increased in value.  These activists documented their findings on window shades, which they hung up in the conference room for the AG to see the connections for himself.

And what connections they were—landlords; lawyers; real estate agents; city inspectors; insurance adjusters; and most devastating of all: the State Police.

There were challenges, however.  Arson in the Seventies, like the S&L fiasco of the late 80s, was considered a victimless crime.  Hard to believe, I know.  The perception then was that arsonists were juvenile delinquents or mentally ill individuals.  Nobody could imagine that an individual would develop the technical skills for total property damage.  The science is simple but lethal.

There were more than 30 convictions.  Legislation was written and legal precedents set, but there was no justice for Jesse Oliver.  The AG needed the torch, the professional arsonist, to make the case and so a plea deal was struck.

When you walk the streets of 1970’s Boston with Shane Cleary, you’ll understand why his sense of humor is as dark as his mistrust of cops, politicians, or The System.
Trouble comes in threes for Shane Cleary, a former police officer and now, a PI.

Arson. A Missing Person. A cold case.

Symphony Road
Available NOW!

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CMash said...

Great post. Looking forward to reading this book.

Gabriel Valjan said...

Thank you for having me. All the best, GV

BooksChatter said...

Thank you for popping by, Gabriel, and apologies for the delay in adding some media!
What an interesting story. I had never heard of this history of Boston.

We hope you are having a great tour!