Skokie senior pens gripping crime novel

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Phil DeNapoli of Skokie wrote a crime novel, "Preying on the Innocent," which uses Skokie and Evanston among other familiar settings as its backdrop. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

When Phil DeNapoli enrolled in the Skokie Police’s popular Citizen’s Police Academy a short time ago, he had reasons for doing so that were different from his classmates.

The program provides a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the Police Department and fosters a stronger relationship between the citizenry and the men and women in blue.

For DeNapoli, 69, it did one other thing, too: It provided valuable information that helped him make his first novel, “Preying on the Innocent,” more realistic.

Just recently published, the book is a gripping police procedural, a crime drama that uses familiar surroundings including Skokie and Evanston, Glenview and Wilmette as well as Rogers Park in Chicago.

A murder occurs in Evanston, the weapon is found in Skokie. A second murder occurs in Rogers Park.

Skokie’s SWAT team figures prominently in the novel, which also uses the village’s state-of-the-art police headquarters as one of its backdrops.

“I can tell you this,” DeNapoli said. “I didn’t want to have the murder occur in Skokie because I love Skokie too much. So I had it occur in Evanston and let Skokie clean up the mess.”

DeNapoli retired about four years ago. He was a speech writer and penned dialogue for sales representatives for major corporations during a long career that began in 1968 with IBM. His work helped prepare for writing a novel.

What really inspired this “second career” was a reunion that included DeNapoli’s eighth-grade nun; it was the first time he saw her in decades.

“She put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Phil, I either thought I’d see you playing Major League baseball or I’d see your name on the cover of a novel,” DeNapoli said.

He had already tried playing baseball — he was a minor league pitcher associated with the Washington Senators many years ago — and writing a novel was always a dream.

But it was Sister Mary Georgita (now Mary Griffin) who lit the spark again, he said. The book is dedicated to her as well as to the author’s mom.

DeNapoli has lived in Skokie for 19 years with one notable interruption. He rented a friend’s condominium on Michigan Avenue for a year so he could concentrate on writing the novel. Most of its 366 pages were written there, DeNapoli said.

Before he even started though, DeNapoli bought two books about how to write a novel. One of the exercises in the book — writing about a girl going to a psychiatrist’s office — was supposed to be sent in for grading. He received an A+++ on it and was told he should finish it.

That story — simply an exercise — became an early chapter in “Preying on the Innocent.”

The novel makes for a compelling read with the fun of having familiar settings and a twisty who-dun-it construction. It also provides an opening for a sequel — although the book definitively answers questions about the case in focus.

DeNapoli had choices about how to try to publish the book. Instead of submitting the novel to a publisher, where he would have to wait months for a response, he self-published with AuthorHouse. His son surprised him by helping to raise maximum funding, and the book is now available in hardcover, soft cover, through and in e-book formats.

Should the book gain enough interest, it will be stocked on big bookstore shelves although the novel right now can be ordered from Barnes and Noble. With enough of a buzz, it also could be picked up by a big name publisher.

A book signing in Skokie has been scheduled for June, and DeNapoli has had many followers and friends asking when his work will become available.

The answer is now.

There is a deadly crime in Evanston, Skokie Police are on the case and Phil DeNapoli’s literary career has just begun.