On Michael A. Ferro’s ‘TITLE 13’

Melissa Grunow
The Coil
Published in
3 min readJan 29, 2018


Ferro’s novel is rich in dialogue and description with a delicate balance of foreboding and satirical humor.

Michael A. Ferro
Literary Fiction | Suspense
398 pages
5” x 8”
Perfectbound Trade Paperback
Review Format: Paperback
ISBN 978–1941861462
First Edition
Harvard Square Editions
Hollywood, CA
Available HERE

Heald Brown has a secret. A Chicago transplant from Detroit working for the Chicago Regional Census Center in a struggling economy, Heald has struggles of his own. While, on the outside, it appears that his difficulties lie with tensions within his office, particularly the 37 pages that have gone missing from TITLE 13, highly classified government documents.

The missing pages are only vaguely described in TITLE 13, though their disappearance maintains a grip on his colleagues who are quick to absolve themselves of blame and point the finger at others:

“Thirty-seven whole pages of enticing and quantified knowledge spending its time out there in the great foreboding dark. It’s possibly growing even more powerful in each moment that it is out of my grasp.”

(p. 130).

While Heald feigns concern for the lost documents, he is distracted by the midday shakiness in his hands, bouts of sweat, and fixation on the bottle of vodka in the freezer of his tiny studio apartment, all symptomatic of his worsening alcoholism.

Is Heald responsible for the missing documents? Did he misplace them in a distracted or hallucinatory state or did he squander them away as a symbolic turn of events that foreshadows his own demise?

“Heald had often thought about death and dying. From times when he was a child lying in bed in sheets soaked through with his own sweat, shaking and crippled with fear, to days when he could think only of the fast-approaching night and restless dread. He had been petrified by the thought of dying — slipping noiselessly into a thinning nonexistence.”

(p. 245)

When Heald receives a phone call from his mother that his beloved grandmother is dying, he skips out early on a Friday to take a bus back to Detroit to visit her. The return to his childhood home reads like a love letter to the city that is both the epicenter of the recession and a reminder of an innocence lost:

“Tired of the so-called ‘ruin porn,’ America tapped Motown as a land of renaissance — a place ready to be reborn, ready to rise from the ashes, as was foretold by the city’s longstanding motto: Speramus Meliora; resurget cineribus (We Hope for Better Things; It Shall Rise from the Ashes).”

(p. 216).

Heald’s physical craving for alcohol doesn’t allow him to stay in Detroit for very long. With the hopes of an office romance becoming less and less likely, he returns to Chicago without prospects for hope of any kind. What was once a man who appeared overly confident and socially functional is now someone who may be past the point of no return in admittance and recovery. The novel’s focus drifts further away from the lost TITLE 13 documents and instead focuses on Heald’s loss of self, a broken man living in a broken world at the hands of a broken government.

Rich in dialogue and description with a delicate balance of foreboding and satirical humor, TITLE 13 serves to caution all of us in the trust of our hearts, our memories, and the supposed security guaranteed by government and technology in the hands of fallible citizens.



Melissa Grunow
The Coil

Author of REALIZING RIVER CITY: A MEMOIR (2016) and I DON’T BELONG HERE: ESSAYS (2018), book reviewer, word nerd. www.melissagrunow.com #amwriting