By Michael Aushenker
In “Casebook: A Novel,” author Mona Simpson’s latest book, young boy Miles Adler-Rich, with the able assistance of his buddy Hector, eavesdrops on his parents, who are going through a separation.
The intrigue builds as their amateur detective work unravels cobwebs of mystery regarding a stranger from Washington, D.C., in Miles’ mother’s life who threatens the cohesion of his family. Soon, Miles and Hector humorously scheme to deliver payback on the perceived villains they have discovered.
“It’s from a point of view of a young man and it’s partly a love story, partly a mystery,” said Simpson, describing her first book since 2010’s “My Hollywood.”
Simpson enjoys exploring her narratives from a sideways angle. Parts of “My Hollywood” were told from the point of view of Lola, the main character’s Filipino babysitter.
With “Casebook,” “I wanted to write a love story, but I wanted it to be embedded in the context of a family and among people. I sort of got the angle of the kid watching. I wanted to write a love story and this seemed like a way in that was not subject to as many conventions,” Simpson said.
As for whether she favored the romance element or the central mystery, “I’m concerned with both,” Simpson said. “I interviewed some Los Angeles private detectives. I love that it’s in the L.A. tradition of great detective stories.”
Simpson — whose name ex-husband Richard Appel, a writer on “The Simpsons,” borrowed for the character of Homer’s mother — has gone to great lengths to research her novels. For “My Hollywood,” she flew to the Philippines to get her facts and color right.
“It’s the fun part of being a writer,” said Simpson, who also wrote the critically acclaimed “Anywhere But Here,” her first novel. “Being a novelist is one of the last two ways of being a journalist.”
Prior to becoming a novelist, Simpson did just that — penning long investigative pieces for the San Francisco Examiner as a freelancer.
“I spent more in gas money than I would get paid, but they were very interesting and I really loved it,” she said. “I did a long piece about a San Francisco hospital where I lived for a couple weeks. I did a piece about incest treatment in San Jose. I eventually wrote some fiction based on the research I did back then.”
Simpson said the familial themes of this particular book do not derive inspiration from her remarkable real-life family story in which she learned, as an adult, that her biological, separated-after-birth sibling was Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs.
Although Jobs has almost single-handedly influenced the way entertainment — including novels — are being distributed, Simpson declined to discuss her late brother, whom she felt was not pertinent to a conversation about “Casebook.”
Simpson remains very private about her family, which includes a 20-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, and her life in Santa Monica, where she has lived for more than 20 years.
In the short term, Simpson is headed to San Francisco, Iowa and Arkansas to begin promoting “Casebook.” In the long term, she continues to enjoy life in her “walkable town,” and utilizes the Santa Monica Main Library to research her novels.
Ultimately, Simpson wants “Casebook: A Novel” to entertain readers.
“I hope they get pleasure,” she said. But, “There are some ideas I’d like them to think about: What is love and what kinds of love are there? What does it mean? What can you trust?”
“Casebook: A Novel” hits shelves Tuesday.