Frederick Lee Brooke '84 debuts as a novelist with a mystery-thriller which weaves the topical theme of defending the environment into a story with a colorful cast of Chicago characters. The novel is available exclusively as an e-book on Amazon.
Max Vinyl is a computer recycling entrepreneur whose company cuts corners in the most outrageous ways, almost as if a GPS could substitute for a moral compass. When his environmentalist girlfriend, Tris Berrymore, catches him dumping old computer junk ten miles out in Lake Michigan, Max gets a taste of her violent side. Max is used to being in control, and he is usually the one to turn up the heat on troublemakers himself, but now he finds himself under attack. For Tris, "doing Max Vinyl" is a mission whose logical end can only be her former lover's death.
Annie Ogden is an Iraq war vet who has serious issues to deal with after four years fighting overseas. When her sister Alison is gratuitously threatened by two of Max Vinyl's brawny enforcers, some instinct from Annie's army training is triggered. Going after the two thugs draws Annie into the world of Max Vinyl's recycling company as well. When we meet Annie she is ill and hardly able to function, still having difficulty re-integrating into civilian life. As she kicks into action, motivated by her single-minded devotion to her sister, her malaise and depression begin to fade away.
We also meet Alden Sterling, a tragic character who is fighting for custody of his only son. When Alden's laptop ends up in Max Vinyl's recycling pile, his life threatens to combust, for the laptop contains a secret that could destroy not only Alden's case in court, but also his way of life and all he has worked for. Alden sends his young business partner, Bob Olson, on a mission to recover the lost laptop from Max Vinyl. While Bob Olson and Annie Ogden join forces and become friends, Alden prepares one last desperate strategem to preserve his secret.
As the week goes on, the attacks on Max Vinyl from Tris Berrymore, Annie Ogden, Alden Sterling and others become more intense and more relentless. Questions of loyalty and betrayal in families, in marriage and in the workplace are weaved into a story that is by turns hilarious and tragic.
DOING MAX VINYL is on one level a plea for solidarity in recycling and in preserving the environment in an age where only 18% of electronic goods are recycled. On a deeper level the book plays with notions of how people make their own destiny with words and language, and how crucial the role of language can be when people have to make choices between loyalty and betrayal, between honesty and dishonesty. Max Vinyl's descent into a watery hell of his own making is as funny and deserved as is Annie Ogden's progression toward discovery of her true identity and the ability to find peace within herself.
Born and raised in Hinsdale, Illinois, outside Chicago, Frederick Lee Brooke graduated from Amherst College in 1984, where he majored in English and received the Harry Richmond Hunter Prize upon graduation. At Amherst he was a member of the DKE fraternity and a frequent patron of Amherst Chinese Food. After graduation he worked in Chicago for two years at a sales promotion agency, following which he studied creative writing at the University of Montana, Missoula, where he received his M.F.A. in 1989. At the University of Montana he studied with writers such as James Welch, William Kittredge and Rick DeMarinis and taught English composition as a Teaching Assistant in the English Department.
In 1989-1990 Fred worked as an English assistant at a lycée in Chaumont, France, on a program sponsored by the French embassy. In 1990 - 1991 he worked as an English teacher for the inlingua Language School in Konstanz, Germany. In 1991 he married his Swiss sweetheart and moved to Zurich, where he worked as an English teacher at the Zurich inlingua school until the end of 1992. He then moved to Basel, Switzerland, where he managed the inlingua branch from 1993 until early 2011.
In the eighteen years that he ran it, Fred's Swiss company went from 20 to about 75 employees. For nearly two decades he immersed himself in the world of small business, leading and motivating a team of employees, trying to succeed where success is measured in profit and loss, and always striving to improve quality. As a sophomore at Amherst he had started learning German, and was chosen as the exchange student for the Universität Göttingen in 1982-1983, where he cemented his knowledge of the language that has been his primary language of business for almost two decades.
Fred speaks French and Italian in addition to German, and with his wife, Maria Luisa, a Swiss whose native tongue is Italian, he has raised his three sons to speak English, German and Italian. For Fred, writing in English while living in Europe is a way of traveling in time and space, back to his boyhood years, back to places where only English is spoken, and to the interior spaces of his own experiences and memories.