Late former Norwalk cop was author

Former Norwalk Police Department officer and author James E. Martin might not have captured the public eye, but he brought readers' attention to Private Eye Gil Disbro. Martin, who died Sunday in Tucson, Ariz. at the age of 72, wrote four books featuring the fictional Cleveland former officer-turned private eye.
Aaron Krause
Jul 25, 2010
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Former Norwalk Police Department officer and author James E. Martin might not have captured the public eye, but he brought readers' attention to Private Eye Gil Disbro.

Martin, who died Sunday in Tucson, Ariz. at the age of 72, wrote four books featuring the fictional Cleveland former officer-turned private eye.

Disbro was depicted in the novels "The Mercy Trap," "The Flip Side of Life," "A Fine and Private Place," as well as "And Then You Die."

"Mercy Trap," written in 1989, was the debut feature about Disbro. In the book, Disbro's clients have an adopted daughter, now a young woman, who needs a kidney transplant. They want Disbro to find the biological mother whose identity was kept a close secret the lawyer who arranged the adoption nearly 30 years before. Disbro's search disturbs many, including an ex-con to an underworld figure who threatens Disbro's life.

According to a book review from Publishers Weekly, "this mystery reveals rather more about Cleveland than some readers may wish to know, and its young hero speaks in a distinctly middle-aged voice. It is nevertheless well plotted and competently told. In the end, Disbro unearths some unexpected skeletons."

"The Flip Side of Life" followed in 1990. In this sequel to "The Mercy Trap," Disbro finds himself on a "twisted narrative path leading toward missing professor Alan Gault and his young son, Brandon." A custody battle is raging over the child, and Disbro must track down Brandon's kidnapper.

Martin wrote the last two Disbro books in 1992 and 1994. In the earlier novel, "And then You Die," wealthy Cleveland resident Boyd Lassiter hires Disbro to find his wife Renee, who is missing from the Nevada dude ranch where she about to live before filing for divorce. The private eye finds Renee leaving unwillingly with familiar mobsters.

In "A Fine and Private Place," someone is blackmailing former judge Lowell Amerine, whose nephew killed a woman and buried her on the judge's estate. Disbro is called to take on the case.

"Publishers Weekly" described the character as a "tough but good-hearted fighter for justice."

A brief biography of Martin similarly described Martin in real life.

He spent 17 years on Norwalk's police force, where he rose to the rank of captain "while investigating every crime on the books, from shoplifting to homicide."

In 1984, Martin became a special investigator for the state of Ohio, "chasing malefactors into all corners of Ohio, putting as much as a thousand miles per week on my odometer until his retirement at the end of 1986."

Norwalk Public Library Director Martin Haffey Haffey brought Martin to the library for an author series, and ran into him at a writers conference in Columbus.

Haffey said Martin was a good storyteller, had a great sense of humor and was perceptive.

"I think that's what made him a good investigator; he had an eye for detail," Haffey said. "He was an awesome guy, a lot of people liked Jim."

Monroeville Police Chief Mike Ruggles worked with Martin at the Norwalk Police Department. Ruggles said he hadn't seen Martin in 15 to 20 years.

"He was a very intelligent man," Ruggles said. "Most of the time he was a good guy to work with."

Comments

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I went through a period in my life where I enjoyed reading hard-nosed private investigator stories and Mr. Martin was on my reading lists several times.

Disbro was a good solid character. Mr. Martin always put in some nice plot twists to help keep my attention.

Few private eye novels that I ever found had Cleveland as a backdrop.

Los Angeles had its Marlowe, San Francisco had its Spade and for me, Cleveland had its Disbro.

His first work, which I didn’t see mentioned in the article, was ‘The 95 File.’

I am sorry to hear of his passing.