Writing mysteries comes easily to me since most of my adult life has been spent unraveling true to life mysteries as an officer in a large metropolitan police force. Solving cases is really nothing more than methodical fact-finding and taking the time to follow-up on every tiny scrap of evidence you can find. Can three words a four-year-old lisps while you’re trying to talk to her mom break a case? Of course! Well, if she says, “Daddy did it.” that’s a no brainer. But what if the mother is telling you the mailman did it, and the child whispers to her pink elephant, “Thath not twru.” A good detective would hear her and make note of what she said. A great detective would ask the mother to excuse them a minute, get down on the floor and start playing with the girl to see if he could get her to talk.
The Alex Wolfe Mystery series has been fun to write because Alex is like a dog with a bone. She digs and digs and gnaws and chews until she begins to drive everyone around her absolutely crazy. She does and says things to her superiors that would get me or any other officer fired in a heartbeat. I’m the type of person who comes up with the perfect comeback about two hours after the fact when I’m driving down the road playing back the conversation in my head. Not Alex. Her comments to her bosses are witty, biting or just plain outrageous and they’re constantly a source of contention between her and her fellow officers. Her methods are definitely not found in the regulation police manual, but they work.
One of my favorite by-products of writing books is the chance I get to answer questions from other writers. I love to teach authors how to write realistic police scenes or dialogue. Most people are pretty well versed now on police procedures because of all the reality police TV shows. At a seminar in Arizona, I was asked how one officer could handle a particular call so differently from another. In other words, how can Alex be successful when she’s so definitely “not by the book”?
Within the confines of the law, there is no one “right” way to do police work. There are many, many different ways to handle the same situation. For example, a cop walks up to a local gang member on the street and asks for identification. The gang member takes off running down the street. If the cop has twenty years under his belt, he’ll probably watch the young man running away and think to himself “Tomorrow’s another day.” He knows he’ll run into the kid again.
Now take the same scenario, but make the cop a twenty-one year old rookie fresh out of the academy. Everyone knows, the chase is on. The rookie keys his mike while he’s running after the suspect, breathing heavily while giving his location and making sure everyone in his division know he’s chasing a bad guy. Alex on the other hand might run to her car, drive around the block and be leaning up against her car with her arms crossed waiting for the guy to run out of the alley. Three very different responses, all of them acceptable. “How can the grizzled old veteran’s response be acceptable?” you may ask. Actually, they did ask at the seminar, along with about a hundred other questions that turned into a fun discussion on how these fifty and sixty year old writers could best capture a fleeing suspect.
Anyway, I digress. If you go back to the original scenario, the cop simply walked up to a man who was dressed in gang clothes and hanging out on a street corner. The man ran. Nothing illegal in that. Suspicious? Yes. Illegal? No. The veteran has probably worked the same beat for fifty years. He knows who hangs out where, when, and why. If he didn’t know this particular gangster, he’ll know who he is by the end of the day, why he’s there and what drugs he specializes in. He’ll notify the undercover street narcotics squad who’ll set up several buys and get the man off the streets for good. It’s the difference between short-term and long-term thinking. Rookie versus Veteran.
To me, it’s these types of differences that make police procedurals interesting and I like to put all different types of officers into my stories. So like I always say—Pop some popcorn, curl up by the fire with Credo’s Hope and get ready to be entertained.