James Goldberg, Nancy Marmer and Rob Goldberg
James Goldberg, Nancy Marmer and Rob Goldberg

Jersey City, already known for the arts, has some pretty solid literary talent as well. The latest example might be local resident, author, and former Wall Street Journal TV critic Rob Goldberg, who with his mother and son, recently penned “The Hanged Man’s Tale,” a book due out by Doubleday Dec. 7, the latest in a series inspired by the gruesome murder of four Dutch tourists in France in 1999.

But the book’s genesis isn’t the only unusual aspect of the “The Hanged Man’s Tale.” The family wrote the book jointly after Goldberg’s father, author and former UCLA writing professor Gerald Goldberg (pen name Gerald Jay), suffered a stroke in 2017 and couldn’t finish the work on his own.

Sadly, Jay died last year. But the fictional character he created — Inspector Mazarelle — is highly relevant in 2021.

Mazarelle champions the cause of the unjustly accused suspect from a minority community not getting a fair shake, according to Goldberg. (Indeed, we first meet Mazelle doing likewise in “The Paris Directive,” the prequel to “The Hanged Man’s Tale” that Jay published to wide acclaim in 2012).

In the French murder case that spurred Jay to write both books, the defendant was an immigrant from Tunisia. Coincidentally, Goldberg had experience writing about the travails of immigrant groups as well. In the 1980s, he covered the “Dotbuster” attacks, a series of assaults on Jersey City’s Indian community from 1975 to 1993.

Rob Goldberg described his father’s painstaking efforts to finish “The Hanged Man’s Tale” while severely impaired:

“He was eager to keep working, but he had the initial loss of vocabulary and difficulty keeping an entire storyline in mind … he could focus on one scene at a time and still have great ideas … but he couldn’t remember the whole story at once.”

“Over time,” Rob said, “his memory started coming back. He still had his vivid sense of scenes and characters, and surprising flashes of language with images that surprise you.”

Language such as: “A palm to the small of her back sent her screaming down the elevator shaft, her shrieks trailing after her like a torn parachute.”

“That’s what inspired us,” said Rob, referring to his mother, Nancy Marmer, former managing editor of Art in America magazine, and his son, filmmaker James Goldberg.

Drawing from his experience as a cinematographer, James said, “We did what filmmakers do: We broke down the entire story on cards. Then we started moving the cards around on this giant table to get the best story flow.”

Rob, Nancy and James each took a hand writing different story chapters which, in turn, were read by Gerald.

“Before my dad passed away, we actually sat with him in the hospital and discussed details of characters and plotting [and] we were lucky enough to have mapped out an outline for the next book with him, a great road map for the story to come. He handed us this amazing creation. And now, because of the way the whole family came together as a writing team, we’re ready. Mazarelle is in our hands now. We look forward to helping him shine,” he said.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...