Invoking the rich, cultural history of South Philly is at the heart of a local author’s newest detective novel.
Mason’s Philly: Discreet Denial, written by South Philly native Kevin Sommerer, delves into the exploits of the book’s main subject, detective Mason Hall, while also paying homage to the South Philly neighborhoods Sommerer calls home to this day.
So far, that combination has proven to be a successful one. Since its release on Oct. 12, Mason’s Philly has sold over 300 copies, with readers more than pleased with Sommerer’s reminiscing of notable South Philly landmarks.
“I want them to have those same pleasant memories of reading it and that’s why I think people are enjoying it so much so far,” Sommerer said.
The journey Sommerer actually took to finally getting the novel published was far from a conventional one. Born and raised in South Philly, Sommerer moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s to pursue a career in screenwriting. Upon returning to Philly in the early 2000s, he began taking classes at Temple University, becoming a full-time student while turning his attention toward writing novels.
“I really enjoy novel writing,” Sommerer said. “I feel like a novel is an easier way for me to tell a story.”
It was around that time that Sommerer first conceived of the idea of Mason’s Philly. A longtime fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, Sommerer began writing it in 2001. He eventually hired an agent in New York City, and she began shopping it to different publishers in the city.
However, the Sept. 11 attacks upended those plans. New York’s publishing industry shut down, his agent became ill shortly after, and she left the industry altogether. Sommerer then took up a job as a mailman in South Philly, a position he still holds today. “The book just went on the back burner,” Sommerer said.
Yet, nearly two decades later, Sommerer became inspired to revisit the novel following the Eagles’ victory in Super Bowl LII. With the increased spotlight on the city at that time, he felt it was the perfect time to finish what he started.
“Philadelphia’s hot,” Sommerer recalled thinking at the time. “Real estate’s hot. The restaurant scene seems hot. I got to take this book out.”
Sommerer wanted to not only tell a vivid tale about the central character in Mason’s Philly, but highlight everything he loves about his neighborhood and its history. The novel is filled with references to South Philly and Philly-area landmarks, from the Garden State Park Racetrack, to Ralph’s Restaurant, the oldest Italian restaurant in the city, to Marra’s Restaurant.
“The idea was just pump it up with South Philly history,” Sommerer said. “How the neighborhood’s changed, and honestly track a lot of the things that we remember growing up here.”
Those memories are seen through the eyes of Mason Hall, the book’s principal figure. He is a detective in 1998 Philadelphia, navigating the city’s criminal underworld while also maintaining his marriage to his wife and investigative partner, Stevie. While piecing together the disappearance of an old friend, Mason must make a choice between his career and the woman he loves.
Sommerer cited the personal struggles of a close friend who tragically passed away as well as those in his own personal life as influences for Mason’s difficulties in the story.
Above all, Sommerer wants to give readers, especially those from South Philly, an opportunity to reminisce on simpler times in the neighborhood’s history while also providing suspense through Mason Hall’s exploits.
“All the things that we remember growing up here and the traditions we had,” Sommerer said. “This is what people are going to enjoy.”
Mason’s Philly is available for purchase on Amazon. Sommerer can be followed on both Instagram (@masonsphilly) and Facebook (@Kevin Sommerer).