By Bill Parry
A Queens-born novelist signed dozens of copies of his new book one night last month at the Astoria Bookshop.
More than 50 of E.J. Dionne’s fans bought autographed editions of his “Death Logs In,” a technical drama wrapped inside a traditional crime story, all set in Queens and based on characters he knew from growing up in the borough.
“I was born and raised in Queens Village and Flushing,” Dionne said. “Even this event in Astoria is something of a homecoming for me having been baptized just a couple of blocks away in St. Demetrios. In fact, my parents were married there. There were a lot of friendly ghosts in Astoria for me.”
His latest novel, released last month, is a sequel to last year’s “Death Never Sleeps.” The story follows two brothers, one a straight-arrow CEO named Michael Nicholas, and the other a Queens underworld figure, Alex, who spent millions in Artificial Intelligence technology right before his murder.
Michael inherits not just Alex’s business but the same enemies that assassinated him. By day he is the head of a Fortune 500 company, but by night, Michael runs one of the world’s largest illegal gambling operations.
Through technology, Alex is able to communicate with his brother in virtual form, and monitor information and people, in ways the National Security Agency would envy. It is Alex who discovers Michael’s life is in danger and he detects plots that reach every corner of Queens to the highest officials in the Vatican.
“My novel was heavily influenced by the ‘Godfather’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’” Dionne said. “The computer Hal in the movie was the impetus to the AI element of the book. The technology moves it past your traditional crime drama and it’s a series that can go on and on because the advances in technology are moving faster than my imagination.”
Dionne adds that he believes we are living in a world where there is no privacy, but he doesn’t stray in to the politics of eavesdropping.
“I’m not a technological type, but I’ve done a lot of research,” Dionne said. “When you look at eavesdropping and the NSA disclosures, it makes the stuff in my book look like child’s play.”
In the month since “Death Logs In” was released, Dionne said, “so far it seems to be doing very, very well. People seem excited about the book.”
He added that readers in Queens will recognize characters and places in the novel.
“Alex eats at Piccola Venezia in Astoria, we used to go there for family dinners,” Dionne said. “The character is based on a next door neighbor we had. He had a new car every year and the first to have an electric garage opener. Only later did I realize he was a bookie who needed to come and go quickly without being spotted on the street.”
Dionne settled in Connecticut after a successful career in real estate as the head of Douglas Elliman. Now retired, he has plenty of time for his writing and he plans to keep the series going with plenty of more material from his life in Queens.
“It’s an amazing place that shapes who you become you if you grew up there,” he said. “It’s in you gut and never leaves you, and that’s a good thing.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4538.