In his career as an investigative journalist, James Renner looked into political misdeeds and environmental issues, but he’s probably best known for his deep involvement in two tragic criminal cases.

Renner’s 2006 book Amy: My Search for Her Killer details his investigation into the 1989 disappearance of 10-year-old Bay Village girl Amy Mihaljevic. In The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: And 12 Other True Stories of Cleveland’s Most Intriguing Unsolved Crimes, Renner posed the hypothesis that it was Robert Buell’s nephew, not Buell, who was guilty of the rape and murder of 12-year-old Tina Harmon of Creston. Buell, who was executed in 2002 for the death of another girl, was linked by DNA to Harmon’s death in 2010.

With a creepy story that crosses genres and generations, Renner’s debut novel The Man From Primrose Lane is a twisted version of Renner’s own life, with touches of Hitchcock, Raymond Chandler and H.G. Wells.

On the good side, David Neff, Renner’s alter ego, has had a huge best-seller in The Serial Killer’s Protégé; on the bad, David’s wife, Elizabeth, committed suicide four years before, and David has lived as a recluse until his publisher proposes an intriguing idea for a new book: An Akron man was murdered at the same time as Elizabeth’s death, leaving a stolen identity, no suspects, an estate of almost $4 million and about a thousand of the mittens he always wore.

With his fine investigatory skills, David should be able to solve the mystery, but Renner adds on layers of complications, touching on the Mihaljevic story in the abduction of young red-haired women like Elizabeth’s twin sister. A regular detective book would continue with David’s inquiry, but Renner shifts from a linear narrative into a Möbius strip of identity shifting and time jumping.

One character says to David, “Your life has become so convoluted, you can’t tell what it was meant to be anymore.” There’s a nightmarish vision of vacated Cleveland, with collapsed bridges and a baseball stadium “strangled by ivy.”

The Man From Primrose Lane (384 pages, hardcover) costs $26 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Renner will sign his book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Noble, 198 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake, and at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mac’s Backs, 1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights.

Park Synagogue architect

The Einstein Tower, a 1921 stucco-covered brick building designed by German architect Eric Mendelsohn for an observatory in Potsdam, looks like a spaceship launching from an ocean liner.

Some 25 years later, when the congregation of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights was looking for someone to design its new building on land it had acquired from John D. Rockefeller, it made a “daring move” in selecting Mendelsohn. The design procedure, and a history of the congregation, are covered in Eric Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue: Architecture & Community by Walter C. Leedy Jr.

Leedy, a professor at Cleveland State University, did most of the research for the book before he died in 2006, and it was completed by Sara Jane Pearman, a retired librarian from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Leedy explains the requirements of synagogue design and the desire of the selection committee to commission “a landmark building.”

Mendelsohn’s relationship with the leaders was uncomfortable and tried the patience of Rabbi Armond Cohen. When Mendelsohn came to Cleveland, arrangements had been made for him at a fine hotel, but he refused to stay there, instead announcing that he would move in with the rabbi — who was temporarily living with his father-in-law. Upon his arrival, Mendelsohn immediately set about rearranging the furniture.

Eric Mendelsohn’s Park Synagogue (128 pages, hardcover) costs $45 from Kent State University Press.

Events

Hudson Library & Historical Society (96 Library St.) — Andrew Thomas signs Soft Landing: Airline Industry Strategy, Service, and Safety, 7 p.m. Monday.

Cuyahoga Community College (Western Campus Theatre, 11000 Pleasant Valley Road, Parma) — Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, which received the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award, speaks at noon Tuesday.

Learned Owl Book Shop (204 N. Main St., Hudson) — Kris Murray talks about the business of child care and signs The Ultimate Child Care Marketing Guide, 7 p.m. Tuesday; author and illustrator Lindsay Ward reads from and signs her storybook When Blue Met Egg, 11 a.m. Saturday.

Cuyahoga Community College (Metropolitan Campus Theatre, 2900 Community College Ave., Cleveland) — Isabel Wilkerson speaks at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Carpe Diem Coffee Shop (215 Market Ave. N., Canton) — Christopher Rudy and George Davis sign The Last Victim, 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, as part of First Friday.

Cleveland Public Library (525 Superior Ave.) — Rick Moody (Garden State, The Ice Storm) appears in the 2011-2012 Writers and Readers Series, 2 p.m. Saturday.

Blake’s Cafe & Cupcakery (1840 Town Park Blvd., Uniontown) — Akron resident Sally Nitz signs A Work in Progress: Triumphing Over Mental Illness, 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

— Barbara McIntyre

Special to the Beacon Journal

Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or lsherwin@thebeaconjournal.com.