Michigan-Based 'Renovated to Death' Author Draws on Love of Old Houses for First Cozy Mystery Novel

Frank Anthony Polito and husband found their own fixer-upper home on 'House Hunters'

Jason A. Michael
Lambda Literary Award-winning author and Pleasant Ridge resident Frank Anthony Polito has a new book out this month. “Renovated to Death,” billed as the first in a new series, will be released May 31 ( Kensington Publishing Group ). The book is Polito’s first cozy mystery and is set in the fictitious Metro Detroit suburb of Pleasant Woods, which is located smack dab between Fernridge and Royal Heights.“In all of my past books, including ‘Lost in the ‘90s’ and ‘Drama Queers!,’ I set the stories in real cities, like Hazel Park and Ferndale, and I made it a point to mention real places that readers would recognize, like Country Boy restaurant, Pronto! and Gigi’s,” Polito told Pride Source.

But cozy mysteries are all about typical small towns that feature typical small town things, like quaint little downtowns with cute little shops. Something Polito’s hometown doesn’t have.

“If I would’ve set the story in Pleasant Ridge and had a character who owns an antique store, some reader would no doubt call me out.”

The lines of reality and fiction continue to be blurred throughout “Renovated.” Polito, a Michigan native who lived in New York for 18 years, moved back home with his partner Craig Bentley in 2013. Polito and Bentley actually found their home while appearing on the HGTV series “House Hunters.” They now live in a 1924 Craftsman Colonial that they’ve lovingly brought back to full life.

In “Renovated,” Polito, himself, clearly inspired the main character of writer Peter “PJ” Penwell, who with his partner, JP Broadway, star in their own HGTV series “Domestic Partners.” Polito, in real life, loves to watch HGTV.

“My partner and I are definitely HGTV fans, particularly ‘Rehab Addict’ with Nicole Curtis because we love seeing Detroit and all its beautiful historic houses on TV. Funny thing, the original title for this book was ‘Rehabbed to Death,’ but my publisher thought it sounded too much like a story about drug addiction, so we changed it.”

No drug addiction here, just good, plain ol’ fashioned murder when a dead body is found in a house Penwell and Broadway are to renovate for their show. Though “Renovated” is Polito’s first cozy mystery, he speaks like an expert on them as he explains what makes a good one.

“There are certain tropes that should be adhered to, since readers go in with certain expectations for a cozy mystery story,” he said. “For example, the stories are usually very PG-rated, the murder takes place off-screen and the protagonist is always a real person and not a trained detective or private investigator.”

HGTV and home reno are both big at the moment, especially as the pandemic forced people to spend larger amounts of time than usual in their homes. In the case of Polito and Bentley’s home renovation, they didn’t work as closely together as their fictional counterparts.

“Craig's former job as an automotive product specialist took him out of town quite a bit, so I would work on projects whenever he was gone,” said Polito. “This way, I could create a big mess and he wouldn't have to look at it.”

Still, some of the work they did do together, such as painting the second floor.

“We get along well when we do end up working together,” he said. “We've been a couple since we were in college, so we know how to give and take and compromise when it comes to getting the job done.”


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