Private eye Nils Grevillius digs into real-life cases to create Pasadena-based gumshoe Luke Fitz
By Carl Kozlowski 05/21/2014
As the old adage goes, write what you know, and veteran Pasadena private investigator Nils Grevillius has done just that, creating a series of novels centering on fictional gumshoe Luke Fitz and his adventures in the Crown City.
Grevillius, who has been a licensed private investigator for the past 22 years, trained by the legendary Pinkerton Detective Agency, offers local readers an extra level of enjoyment by matching incidents and locales with the real city and people they live among in his trio of novellas, “A City of Devils,” “Sub Rosa” and “Skulldiggery.”
“The books are half fiction and half real, and I’ve fleshed the characters out with attributes of real men and women,” says Grevillius. “‘Skulldiggery’ is based on a real Pasadena case, but it’s fictionalized so I don’t impugn anyone. I wrote another while in Denmark waiting for two hookers to provide answers in a kidnapping that was supposed to have occurred in Hollywood. I was sent by a client to interview them, and they didn’t show up, but I eventually tracked one down in Poland.”
Grevillius, 51, was born in New York City, the son of a newsman who later led the family through Terre Haute, Ind., before settling in Pasadena in the 1970s. Grevillius attended John Muir High School. His mom was a criminal defense lawyer. However, conventional education didn’t suit the teenager and he dropped out of school and joined the army on his 17th birthday.
“I did seven years in the US Army as a scout in the infantry, patrolling the DMZ [demilitarized zone] in Korea,” explains Grevillius. “I then was in counterintelligence in the Republic of Korea, and was a night manager at a bar in Old Town [Pasadena] when I got recruited by the Pinkertons. I just kind of fell into it, and I’m active as a private eye still.”
While one might expect that a private investigator in a small city like Pasadena would mainly deal with spying on spouses to find out if they are cheating, Grevillius has instead focused on looking into white-collar crime and civil issues. He has had his share of tough crime cases, among them one in which he helped the San Marino police catch a rapist. He also invested three years into exploring the notorious and still unresolved 1981 Wonderland Murders (also known as the Four on the Floor Murders and the Laurel Canyon Murders], in which four people were bludgeoned to death.
“I do a lot that police don’t handle anymore,” says Grevillius. “The police will tell you to figure out who’s robbing you and call them back, and so I step in and figure it out for you. There are child-custody and elder-abuse cases, and I’ve traced stolen assets all over the world. There’s a little criminal defense work but not that much, because I’m not motivated when I believe my client to be guilty.”
Grevillius’ three books are quick, fun reads, with the longest one just over 100 pages. In “A City of Devils,” Fitz — described as Pasadena’s “only unindicted private eye” — explores the death of a shady man named Ritchey Renzullo and suddenly finds that the case is both personal and dangerous.
Meanwhile, in “Skulldiggery,” Fitz buys a human skull from a derelict and unleashes a chain of events beyond his control. And in “Sub Rosa,” a hung-over Fitz hazards a call from a vexatious, wealthy woman who thinks she’s missing a priceless possession — a claim that hides a darker story.
Just like his detective career, Grevillius stumbled into his sideline as a writer. The stories are so rooted in people and places he knows that his first book, “A City of Devils,” only took him six hours to write “while I had some time to fill,” he says. When asked why Pasadena is so inspiring to him, he describes the city as “a bright, shiny, beautiful object with a rotten underside.”
“Luke Fitz is cobbled together from a couple different characters,” says Grevillius. “It’s not me. I don’t operate like Luke Fitz. It’s also a different world than the real world that you and I live in. I’m sure there are people who would love to extrapolate that I operate like that. I can’t wait to be cross-examined on the witness stand someday. That’ll be entertaining.”
Nils Grevillius’ books may be purchased online at amazon.com. Call the Grevillius Detective Service at (626) 792-4338 for investigative services.