From an early age, Rob Lopresti knew he was going to be a librarian.
“I remember asking my father for a copy of the Dewey Decimal System so I could organize my book collection properly,” Lopresti said. “He wisely talked me out of it.”
Lopresti, 69, retired in August 2018 after 31 years as a librarian at Western Washington University, where he was the librarian for environmental sciences and environmental studies and for government information.
He was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey. It’s probably no coincidence that his 2015 comic crime novel, “Greenfellows,” is set in that state.
“By the fifth grade I had read everything that interested me in the children’s room of the library so I used to make sneaky raids into the adult section,” he said. “There I discovered mysteries and my fate was sealed.”
Lopresti admits he loves writing because he loves reading. When someone contacts him to say how much they liked one of his stories, he said it keeps him “afloat for days.”
The feeling of being appreciated was similar when he was a librarian, perhaps because what he enjoyed most about being a librarian was helping people find and use information.
He recalls once being at Mallard Ice Cream with his family and the clerk behind the counter paid for their ice cream because the term paper Lopresti had helped him research not only got an A, but was done so well the professor kept it to use as an example.
“The super-chocolate tasted particularly sweet that evening,” he said.
Lopresti doesn’t usually write traditional mysteries (i.e. whodunits) so he doesn’t see much connection between when he was answering reference questions and the fiction he writes.
On the other hand, when he saw a reference book at Western’s library, “The Encyclopedia of American Race Riots,” he was inspired to write about the 1907 riots in Bellingham, and he sold that story to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
He’s written more than 100 short stories that have been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand, and numerous anthologies. They have won the Derringer (three times) and Black Orchid Novella Awards, and been nominated for the Anthony Awards.
On his website, he has two blogs, Sleuth Sayers, which he updates every other Wednesday; and Little Big Crimes, where he reviews mystery stories every Sunday.
Lopresti received national acclaim in 2008 in the Smithsonian Magazine, when he led a year-long search that resulted in the conviction of a man who had robbed more than 100 libraries.
Bellingham musician Flip Breskin points out that Lopresti’s 2017 nonfiction book, “When Women Didn’t Count: The Chronic Mismeasure and Marginalization of American Women in Federal Statistics,” is “engaging, readable, and quirky — not facts and figures, but a look particularly at the footnotes of old census reports and other government research documents, because the footnotes are where you can see what was deliberately left out or distorted.”
She said he handles the twisting of history with humor while making it clear what shouldn’t be trusted and why.
Breskin knows Lopresti mainly through Bellingham’s music community.
Lopresti plays the autoharp because he wanted an instrument to accompany himself when he sang songs he wrote.
“I don’t have a lot of musical talent,” he said, “and the autoharp is easy to play at a basic level.”
However, Lopresti’s songwriting skills are something else. Full of puns and wit, Breskin remembers the first song she heard of his, “Roll Over Chuck Berry.” It’s about Beethoven. She said for his first recording, he taped a microphone to the handle of an upright vacuum cleaner as a mic stand for the tune “Back to the Vacuum.”
Breskin’s husband, Zeke Hoskin, also a musician, said “These days, I see Rob most as the self-appointed Rhyme Police in the songwriting group we’ve both been in for decades.”
“Besides having a keen ear for rhyme, he combines a sharp wit with the deep empathy and understanding that many sharp wits never achieve,” Hoskin added.
For more about Rob Lopresti, go to roblopresti.com.