Meet Tony DePaul, Chestnut Hill's premier crime novelist

Posted 6/8/20

Tony DePaul, of Chestnut Hill, has written seven novels, including the just-released “Ro Ro Morse” about “a cement-tough female cop.” His stories all take place in Chestnut Hill and nearby …

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Meet Tony DePaul, Chestnut Hill's premier crime novelist

Tony DePaul, of Chestnut Hill, has written seven novels, including the just-released “Ro Ro Morse” about “a cement-tough female cop.” His stories all take place in Chestnut Hill and nearby neighborhoods. (Photo by Len Lear)

by Len Lear

The late Elmore Leonard, who might be America's finest crime novelist (some would lobby for Raymond Chandler), with a canon that included 40 novels, countless short stories and screenplays, had a spare Hemingway-esque style — short sentences, not many dependent clauses or multi-syllable words, lots of action verbs, tough guy dialogue, etc. He once wrote, “Whatever you know readers will just skip over, like long descriptions and exposition, take out. If you would not read it yourself, don't expect anyone else to.” His books, effortless to read, flow smoothly like a cinematic river.

I mention this because I see those characteristics in the books of Tony DePaul, a mid-70s dynamo who

was born in Chestnut Hill Hospital and still lives in Chestnut Hill today. Now retired from a career as a salesman, Tony won awards and set records whenever a company gave him something to sell, despite the fact that he never took a business course in his life.
DePaul, who was on the CHCA board in the late 1990s, is short in stature but big in personality. He went to work for the Burroughs Corporation selling business machines in 1968 and before too long became the number five salesman out of 250. “Eighty percent of selling is people skills,” he said. After three years with Burroughs, Tony was recruited by Automatic Data Processing (ADP), where he was the number one salesman every year.

But Tony has proven that he can also sell a story. His latest book, “Ro Ro Morse,” just released by Summerfield Publishing, about a cement-tough female cop, is chockablock with references to Mt. Airy, Germantown and Chestnut Hill. For example, “Germantown John lived in a 100-year-old, two-story stone home on West Gravers Lane in Chestnut Hill, a short ride up the trolley tracks and cobblestoned Germantown Avenue. 

“The 'Hill' is a town within the city. A vigilant Community Association scrutinizes all new store openings, renovations and building projects. The Hill's newspaper prints weekly and reports on all things Chestnut Hill. Ro Ro wondered how a low-life Germantown hood like G-town John was allowed to join the civilized gentry of the Hill ...

“The West Mt. Airy Italians settled in a neighborhood along Mt. Pleasant Avenue called Goat Hollow. The immigrants from Southern Italy raised goats to feed their infants on goat milk, which made them strong and hard-headed.” One story, “Murder in Tranquility,” is about a teenage boy who is killed right in front of Valley Green Inn by a shot fired from across the creek.

I'm a sucker for figurative language, especially metaphors, and DePaul, like Elmore Leonard, has them on display like battle ribbons on a military uniform. For example: “Now in his mid-50s, Joey had patriotic eyes, blue eyeballs over the white space, surrounded by a bright red rim, compliments of daily shots of Jameson and John Powers Irish whiskey … Now you are asking me to chime the bell on a cop … I've got an allergy to bullets … If G-town finds out I mentioned his business, I will be eating soft pretzels with Al (Al had just been murdered) … I will chop you down like a dead tree … Malcolm's eyes narrowed like a cobra ready to strike … Lies make me Irish angry. Even my freckles fume … He crumpled like a busted balloon.”

Despite his success in sales, Tony's first love was always writing, and he longed to get away from the protective scaffolding of corporate life. “I always squeezed in writing whenever I could. I could write a book just about growing up on Gorgas Lane for 15 years,” said Tony, who graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School, where he won a National Merit Scholarship to La Salle College.

He later earned a teaching assistantship to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He taught two classes there while earning a master's degree in English Literature. In 1967 he came home to Philly because his wife, Angela, was homesick. She was from Germantown, one of six children in the family, who also went to Cardinal Dougherty. “I came back home with a used Chevy, one wife, one child on the way and $25 in my pocket,” said Tony, who later was divorced after 42 years of marriage. (There was a second marriage that ended after seven years.)

Tony, who speaks fluent Italian, retired at 59 and since then has done lots of writing, consulting and traveling. He has written seven novels, including “Ro Ro Morse,” whose title character lives in Mt. Airy, a play and many poems. (Rowena is the name of a character in “Ivanhoe,” a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott).

Tony's books can be purchased through Len Lear can be reached at

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