Michigan-based ‘Renovated to Death’ author draws inspiration from love of old homes for his first cozy crime novel

“In all my previous books, including ‘Lost in the ’90s’ and ‘Drama Queers!’, I set the stories in real cities, like Hazel Park and Ferndale, and made a point of mentioning real places readers would love to recognize, like Country Boy Restaurant, Pronto! and Gigi’s,” Polito told Pride Source.

But the cozy mysteries are about typical small towns that feature typical small town things, like quaint little town centers with cute little shops. Something Polito’s hometown doesn’t have.

“If I had set the story in Pleasant Ridge and I had a character who owns an antique store, a reader would no doubt have called me.”

The lines of fact and fiction continue to blur throughout “Renovated.” Polito, a Michigan native who lived in New York for 18 years, moved home with his partner Craig Bentley in 2013. Polito and Bentley actually found their home while appearing on the HGTV series “House Hunters.” They now live in a 1924 Craftsman Colonial that they lovingly revived.

In “Renovated,” Polito himself clearly inspired the lead character of writer Peter “PJ” Penwell, who along with his partner, JP Broadway, stars in their own HGTV series “Domestic Partners.” Polito, in real life, loves watching HGTV.

“My partner and I are definitely fans of HGTV, especially ‘Rehab Addict’ with Nicole Curtis because we love seeing Detroit and all of its beautiful historic homes on TV. Funny thing the original title of that book was ‘Rehabbed to Death”, but my editor thought it sounded too much like a drug addiction story, so we changed it.

No drug addiction here, just a good old fashioned murder when a corpse is found in a house that Penwell and Broadway have to renovate for their show. Although “Renovated” is Polito’s first cozy mystery, he does it like an expert, explaining what makes it a good one.

“There are certain tropes to adhere to, because readers have certain expectations for a comfortable mystery story,” he said. “For example, the stories are usually highly PG rated, the murder takes place off-screen, and the protagonist is always a real person and not a trained detective or private investigator.”

HGTV and home renovation are both big right now, especially since the pandemic has forced people to spend more time at home than usual. In the case of Polito and Bentley’s home renovation, they didn’t work as closely together as their fictional counterparts.

“Craig’s old job as an automotive product specialist took him out of town for a bit, so I worked on projects whenever he was away,” Polito said. “That way I could make a big mess and he wouldn’t have to watch it.”

Still, some of the work they did together, like painting the second floor.

“We get along great when we end up working together,” he said. “We’ve been a couple since we were in college, so we know how to give and take and compromise when it comes to getting the job done.”

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