Andrew Welsh-Huggins leads a walking tour through German Village just south of Downtown Columbus on June 1. A series of stops along the tour included places mentioned in his newest book, "Fourth Down and Out," published by Ohio University Press.
Photographer: Gretchen Gregory
Jun 2, 2014
By Gretchen Gregory
The first in a series of private investigator crime novels written by investigative journalist Andrew Welsh-Huggins has been published by Ohio University Press, and a walking tour of German Village in Columbus on June 1 included several familiar places mentioned throughout the book.
“Fourth Down and Out” is a book about Andy Hayes, a former Ohio State football player who was disgraced in scandals and now lives in Columbus as a private investigator. His latest case, which includes a compromising video, missing laptop, and extortion, unravels a mystery that eludes even the most experienced detectives and agents, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Aided in part by a series of unusual circumstances that includes adultery, breaking and entering, kidnapping, and even a climactic murder inside a cabin in the Hocking Hills, Hayes solves the crime in traditional private-investigator fashion by knowing his resources, calling in favors, making demands, and helping and harming people along the way, yet always redeeming himself later.
Several of Hayes’ problem-solving tactics, including knowing valuable public resources, were learned by Welsh-Huggins himself when investigating stories for The Associated Press in Columbus, he noted.
“A lot of what Andy does with public records is stuff I’ve learned with my day job, and flowed naturally from the narrative as Andy found himself in different situations,” Welsh-Huggins said. Although parts of the books were plotted out carefully and deliberately, other parts developed on their own volition, he noted.
Sprinkled throughout the book are bits of humor and witty moments Welsh-Huggins intertwines in fanciful crime-novel tradition, which make the mystery more accessible. A pair of goons is dropped off wearing nothing but Michigan gear along a highway 30 miles outside Columbus, where Buckeye fever reigns, for example. And a prostitute seeks redemption, yet can’t stop asking for money by soliciting others.
“Andy is part of a pretty long tradition of private investigators with snappy dialogue and they’re a little too smart-alecky for their own good,” Welsh-Huggins explained. “I wanted to keep the tradition of a wise-guy-private-eye.”
Welsh-Huggins, who grew up near Rochester, N.Y., went to Kenyon College in Knox County, Ohio and traveled throughout the country with his wife until he moved back to Ohio in 1996 and took a job working for the Youngstown Vindicator. He moved to Columbus in 1998 to work for the Associated Press.
“I knew Columbus was a city I wanted to write about,” he explained. “I like it here a lot. It just took probably 15 years of living here until I felt I had the knowledge to set a detective series here.”
Welsh-Huggins’ first goal is to write good mysteries that appeal to anyone in any location, he noted, and also to create a sense of place for Columbus. “It’s a city that I think is really coming of age and is underappreciated. There’s great settings and great places here,” he said.
The walking tour in German Village on June 1 started at the Cup O Joe located in historic German Village just south of Downtown Columbus, and included a series of stops, including Schiller Park and Schmidts.
“I just feel Columbus is such a great place to set a mystery series and I feel privileged OU Press is publishing this,” he said. “It’s way overdue for something like this. My wife has this great expression. She says we’re the edge of the middle, and I think it really captures where Columbus is. We’re the only city growing in Ohio, and there’s so much good food, art and culture.”
Welsh-Huggins said his second book in the series will be called “Slow Burn,” and will be published in Spring 2015. “Andy is hired by someone who’s been convicted of triple-arson-murder, and it’s a tough case to crack because even the person convicted of arson thinks he’s guilty,” he said. “As part of this story, Andy has to reconnect with an old girlfriend who he did not part good ways with. In addition to arson fires, the book has a fracking subtheme.”
Writing crime stories is a combination of picking things he’s covered as a journalist, and keeping an eye on trends. “I keep a notebook, jot things down, and think about characters I’d like to see in the book,” he said.
For more information about the book, visit www.ohioswallow.com/book/Fourth+Down+and+Out. “Fourth Down and Out” can be purchased at local booksellers or online.