A Broward Whodunit

Jack Nease was getting old, and he was pretty happy about it. He'd written thousands of column inches for the Sun-Sentinel's business section, diligently untangling tales of wealth, corporate mergers, and stock fraud for the reading public. In August of 1995, Nease penned a column called "Going Strong at 62, Better Than Ever." He wanted to work until he was 70, he crowed, and didn't mind turning down a Social Security check to do so.

"I plan to wear out," he wrote. "Not rust out."

The newspaper, however, had other plans. Eighteen months later, after almost a decade of service, the Sentinel offered Nease a sort of back-handed "promotion" — scaling back his column to once (instead of thrice) weekly, plus requiring him to put together news briefs and editing wire stories.

"The itty-bitty stuff. Routine work nobody else wanted to do," Nease remarks today. "But they contended what they were doing was promoting me to assistant business editor."

Disgusted, Nease resigned, complaining bitterly that he'd been shunted aside because of his age. He filed suit, asking for his old job and back wages. In November 1998, a judge dismissed the case. After another year and half of wrangling, he lost again on appeal.

Now, at 73, Nease has a favor to ask the paper: Would it be so kind as to review his first novel?

"No guarantees," states Chauncey Mabe, the Sentinel's book critic for the past quarter decade. "But no special barriers either. Jack will go through the same process as everyone else."

Mabe hasn't had much time to check out Day & Night Forever — he just received a copy two weeks ago — but recalls that he and Nease worked together at the Palm Beach Post in the early '80s and maintained a "long acquaintance" at the Sentinel.

"I like Chauncey," Nease adds. "I've known him for years. He's a good guy."

Nease earned a master's degree at FIU the same week the suit was dismissed, his thesis consisting of an early version of Day & Night Forever, a murder mystery set amid the yachts, sailboats, and royal palms of Las Olas Boulevard. He taught journalism and creative writing at FAU, then found time for a bit of globetrotting, finally ending up in the bucolic village of Anacortes, Washington. He bought a house and spends four months out of the year there. "Boats all around, just like Fort Lauderdale," he says, "except it's cooler in summertime."

Four or five drafts (and nine years) later, Day & Night Forever is finally available for sale from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. "I thought it would have been much easier," Nease chuckles. "But the market got tighter and tighter; the bar was raised higher and higher for an unknown to publish a novel."

So Nease racked up a nice, fat, phone-book-thick stack of rejection slips from agents and publishers. "They only want to publish blockbusters," he sighs. "It makes it very hard for new people to get in."

Abandoning that approach, Nease registered a fictitious name (Pompano Press) to issue the book himself and entered into business with booklocker.com, a print-on-demand publisher that cranks out one book at a time, as it's ordered.

"I don't expect to make any money," Nease says humbly. "But I did want to get it out there."

He's also hoping that the book's release may eventually trigger the solution to a real-life mystery. In 1985, Nease says, "Karl, my youngest son, vanished from the face of the Earth."

Just after graduating from UCLA, Karl Nease and his longtime girlfriend had a falling out. "He told her she was never going to see him again," Nease says quietly. "And none of us has ever seen him again."

Day & Night Forever bears the inscription "For my son Karl, wherever you are."

In mid-September, Nease's book was ranked number 1,701,194 on Amazon.com's sales scorecard. The reader's reviews that have trickled in are uniformly glowing, though one finds that Day & Night Forever "follows the standard genre formula."

Nease admits as much. "It's a traditional murder mystery with a surprise revelation at the end," he says. With locations like Isle of Venice street, the Floridian, Café de Paris, and the police station on Broward Boulevard, regional readers will easily navigate the familiar landmarks. And with a protagonist couple named Mo and Go, a deft handling of Wall Street mechanics, and short, fast-paced chapters, Day & Night Forever moves quickly enough to captivate mystery fans.

The murder in Day & Night Forever is that of Grace Pettigrew, ex-wife of shady billionaire Roland Pettigrew, and she gets it rather early on — page 11, to be exact. Nease has taken "considerable pains" to distance Pettigrew's persona from a real-life Broward power broker Wayne Huizenga.

"Well, I have Pettigrew living in a penthouse in an apartment building on the beach, and Huizenga lives in a huge mansion on the river. And I tried to make his business tactics different — Huizenga's approach is to get a business going, then grow it and get rid of it. Pettigrew's approach was to shrink the business, sending jobs overseas, cutting costs, and selling assets. Just the opposite of what Wayne does."

But the portrait of a philanthropic financier — a Midas Man with the Midas touch — can't help but have something in common with South Florida's best-known garbageman. Huizenga was a frequent topic for Nease's columns over the years, and more than once, the King Midas reference made it into his copy.

Deciphering the intricacies of high finance and the alphabet-soup morass of stock-market documents was Nease's forte at the Sentinel, and that knowledge gives Day & Night Forever most of its heft.

While his boilerplate Broward-based novel is unlikely to ignite mystery-book bestseller lists, Nease still holds onto the hope that it could trigger the solution to a real-life whodunit. "This may sound corny, but I figured there was one chance in a million or 10 million that maybe someone would read this book, recognize the name [of my son], and say, 'Hey, I know where this guy is. Or something like that. '"

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton