Disorder in the Court

I normally use this MurderBooks space to write about a Trial-of-the-Month. I enjoy the opportunity to learn a little about a historical trial and to share it. This month, however, I’d like to review the past year. The pandemic brought our world to a halt. I’d like to focus our attention on the virus’ effects on the criminal courts. As citizens we need to be aware of the impacts. Any writer attempting to describe a courthouse these days needs to adjust their description to get the details right.  

            As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a criminal magistrate in Tarrant County, Texas. I meet defendants recently charged with criminal offenses. I’m the judicial officer who starts them in the justice system.

            Let me acknowledge upfront those who have died, and the people infected. Locally, we have lost law enforcement personnel, attorneys, court staff and, undoubtedly witnesses, victims and defendants. Strictly from the perspective of the criminal courts, we have cases that cannot be resolved satisfactorily because key players, necessary for a just resolution are no longer alive.  

            The courtrooms of 2019 seem a distant memory: people rubbing shoulders in the hallways; courtrooms full of defendants, family, and spectators; lawyers negotiating in backrooms, and defense attorneys bustling between courts as they juggled multiple defendants.  Walking the halls, one found it hard to find a quiet space. Conversations bubbled everywhere—random talk among strangers called as jurors, defense attorneys discussing plea offers with clients in stairwells. Walking those stairs, one would catch the smell of an illicit cigarette as someone hid for a stress smoke. Everywhere, arms sprouted cellphones as people made excuses to someone on the other end of the line. Now, silence pervades the halls. Our sardine approach to docket management has largely been replaced by individually scheduled teleconferences. People are still in the courthouse, just shuttered in offices. The process has been slowed.

            Some of the accommodations have been comical. A few weeks back, a Texas attorney went viral when he didn’t turn the “cat filter” off his teleconference. His error taught me that “cat filters” were a thing. In the broader sense, however, it reminded us that we just don’t gather together anymore.

            The internet meeting has become a fact for all of us both personally and professionally. Other businesses, however, do not have a constitutionally protected right to confrontation. In my county, we have 20 courts to hear criminal cases. A series of administrative approvals are required to ensure that trials are conducted safely for all participants, especially the jurors. My county, like others, has experienced COVID-19 spikes and other setbacks. Since the start of the pandemic, those 20 courts have completed 2 criminal jury trials.

            The Texas Supreme Court’s chief justice predicts that statewide, it will take 3 years to clear the pandemic backlog of cases. Another estimate pegs 102,000 hours of additional judicial work will be required to erase the logjam of cases brought by the virus. Visiting judges could help but government must find the money. The economic slump has hurt tax revenues.

            Delay is an enemy to justice. Memories fade and closure is denied. Victims cannot move forward and neither can defendants. Imagine an innocent defendant accused of some heinous crime like child abuse. Arrested and charged, he remains in custody needing a trial to exonerate him. He cannot plead, the consequences and stigma are too high. Outside, his life passes by the jail’s barred windows. The child’s emotional recovery is impeded by the pandemic roadblock. Everyone is stuck.

            According to recent statistics, three quarters of the inmates occupying my local jail are pretrial. They have been charged but not convicted. They await their day in court. Each under our system of laws is clothed with the presumption of innocence. For most of those cases, there is a victim whose life is also impacted by the delay.

            My courtroom looks like a tornado shelter tucked into the basement of the jail. On my workdays, I beam over there via closed-circuit television. I used to walk to the jail. A personal relationship with the jail staff, I believed, benefited both the sheriff’s office and the courts. The virus eliminated that practice. Like everyone else, I’ve gone virtual. Now, through the monitor, I meet defendants, talk to them about their rights and set their bail. A detention officer shuttles the inmates in and out. In addition to the regular security concerns of the jail, the officer now segregates the inmates into COVID-19 positive, COVID-19 exposed, and regular inmates.

            The crimes which come before me have changed throughout the pandemic. They have ebbed and flowed in response to the illness. During the height of the quarantine, my driving while intoxicated cases declined. The family violence assaults, however, increased. People still drank, they just got intoxicated at home. Without a bar to fight in, more of them directed their anger and frustration toward loved ones.

            On a positive note, mask acceptance seems to be growing. Face coverings are required in the jail. In the early days of the pandemic, many inmates wore their masks like chin straps. Defendants would slide them off and slide them on, challenging the rules. Trustees swept up piles of discarded face covers. Over the past year, however, the mask has become integrated into the jail uniform. Not everyone complies, of course.  Rule defiance brought most of the inmates to jail to begin with. They are the exception, at least in the close quarters of my court. Some still wear it below their nose but then, truth be told, who doesn’t on occasion?

            Like everything else, COVID-19 has changed criminal justice. (Now, you’re suspicious if you walk into a convenience store or a bank and don’t wear a mask.) As with the rest of society, I wonder which parts will snap back when the pandemic is behind us. What will our new normal be?

            Until we know, keep your distance, wear your mask, get your shot. Oh, and stay out of jail.

Mark Thielman     

A Look Ahead: Risks in 2021

-Ben Keller

Hello again.  As regular visitors here know, my day job requires me to monitor dangerous situations and emerging risks around the world.  I’ve shared some of my observations previous, such as in this prior blog post.  As we have left behind a most unusual year in 2020, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look ahead at what 2021 may have to offer.

I consult with a lot of government sources, private security companies, open and restricted intelligence sources, and my own network around the world to keep an eye on potential dangers.  Based on this collection of data, here are some of the emerging risks around the world:

  1. Ongoing Effects of COVID

2021 will be a year of uneven recovery as vaccine rollouts create a world of haves and have nots, with pockets of forever COVID at the bottom of the pecking order. Competition will be fierce between nations and within them. State budgets will creak under the weight of their new debt, pushing some countries to the wall, or forcing others into prolonged austerity. The relationships between state and business and between society and business will be critical for companies. If 2021 does not mark the end of the pandemic, it will be the year that determines what is left when the worst is over.

  • Uncertain US-China Relationship

While 2021 should see superficial stabilization in the US China relationship, the two countries will continue clashing across the current range of issues. Both are quietly eager to reset ties and focus on domestic problems and we can expect resumed cooperation on issues like climate change. China is in its own “critical historical moment” and its domestic challenges outweigh external ones. If a Biden administration focuses on issues like human rights and efforts to coordinate multilateral pressure on China, this will clash with Beijing’s core interests. Retaliation could follow and the cycle of escalation resume.

  • Terror Threats Continue

Terrorism is an evolving threat and will warrant close monitoring in 2021. COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the existing political, religious and socioeconomic drivers of terrorist violence across regions and this is no time complacency.  Of particular note is the increased threat of domestic bad actors.  Parties holding simmering tensions across political and social spectrums may feel emboldened by recent disruptions, and violence may become a normalized component of protest.

  • Risk Goes Digital

The rapid adoption of new technology will continue in 2021, bringing ever greater connectivity. With connectivity comes exposure and rushed procurement will heighten the risks. Regulatory risks, including sanctions and bans on procuring foreign tech, will rise in 2021. Ideological and practical blocks are emerging rapidly. The challenges for business will be opportunities for cyber threat actors. They will capitalize on increased connectivity and hasty solution adoption. In 2021, companies across the world will have to balance the drive for technological innovation with security, integrity and resilience challenges.

  • Iran’s Future

The newly-installed Biden administration has signaled it’s willingness to re-engage Iran regarding international sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program.  A key issue will be whether the sanctions, resumed by the Trump administration after being lifted by the Obama administration, will be lifted.  Despite these sanctions, Iran has breached its mandated cap on uranium enrichment from 3.67% purity to 20% purity, closer to the weapons-grade purity of 90%.  Should Iran gain further freedom and resources for their nuclear program, it is likely they will pursue nuclear power aggressively.

As always, we live in a world with great risks.  But my career has been founded on the principle of not stoking fear, but provided and grounded and sober view of the risks, so that we may proceed confidently with appropriate mitigation efforts.  I look forward to a return to normalcy, to travel, to in-person gathering with friends and family (especially an in-person writers conference!) in the coming year.

To me, those things are worth the risk!

Regional Flavor

by Isabella Maldonado

When I set out to write The Cipher, the first book in a new thriller series, I changed from writing about local law enforcement to writing about the FBI. This choice afforded me the opportunity to have my characters travel around the country. I love to travel and wanted to share some of my favorite cities with readers.

Part of the fun of writing about different cities was describing the settings as well as the food and a bit of local perspective. One of the best things about seeing different regions of the country (or the world) is getting into the minds of lifelong residents.

For example, driving on the outskirts of San Antonio was a completely different experience from driving in Boston. Not just because cattle would occasionally wander onto the roads in Texas, but because of the way drivers reacted. As I approached from behind, vehicles ahead of me would invariably move to the right. I asked one of the locals about it, and she told me that Texas drivers move aside to allow faster traffic to pass as a matter of courtesy. Wow. Compare that to my harrowing white-knuckled experience navigating the traffic circles (locals call them “rotaries”) in Boston during rush hour, which felt like a blend of Darwinism and Chaos Theory.

Boston traffic circle in THEORY
Boston traffic circle in REALITY

When in Savannah, it’s like I’m in a different country. Spanish moss drips from towering trees, Southern delicacies grace every table and the speech is colorful. I don’t just mean the famous low-country drawl, I’m referring to their expressions. A southerner has a way of saying things that makes it clear what they mean even if you’ve never heard the expression before. They might refer to a thunderstorm as a “frog-strangler,” or they might say they’re “nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.”

Savannah’s Southern charm

California is so large and populous that it has its own regions with varying cultures. It’s hard to pick a favorite city, but I’ll admit to being partial to San Francisco. Not only is it possible to get fruits and vegetables so fresh they taste like nothing you’ve ever bought in a grocery store, but the seafood is right out of the water too. Don’t get me started on the Napa and Sonoma Valley wine. Or the authentic cuisine in Chinatown. Or the sourdough bread at Boudin. Not only did I discover that locals don’t call their city “Frisco,” but they also shy away from most tourist-oriented spots, preferring their own favorite haunts, which they jealously guard.

As I write this, I’m recalling a visit to Kennebunkport, made famous by former President George H.W. Bush, where I had incredible lobster. It occurs to me that I’ve got a thing for fresh seafood, which is tragic since I now reside in landlocked Arizona. If it doesn’t swim in a lake or river, fresh fish or crustaceans must be flown or trucked in via cooled containers. By the time it gets to your table, the bloom is off the rose.

Perhaps that’s why the southwest is known for a variety of powerful spices and robust seasonings. Here’s something I wondered about upon moving to the Sonoran Desert: Why do people eat spicy food when it’s 118 degrees out? Asking the locals, I learned that they believe the heat of the peppers actually causes the body to cool. I looked into this counterintuitive bit of local wisdom, and found that science backs it up, which is probably why the spiciest foods in the world are served in the hottest climates. Apparently, eating hot food raises the body temperature, which causes you to sweat—especially on your head and face—which ultimately cools you down faster than all the iced sweet tea in Savannah.

Muy picante!

In my travels, I have found that I love to immerse myself in the food, culture, and ambience of each locale. There is nothing like walking through New York City with a native to provide insight into the mindset of the people who call it home (it’s also your only shot at hailing a cab or crossing the street without getting run over), but the same can be said for visiting a red rock formation near a vortex in Sedona. Wherever you go, locals can tell you how to navigate the terrain…if they deem you worthy of such arcane knowledge.

NYC pedestrians
Sedona pedestrians

Here’s to the end of the Covid claustrophobia we’ve all been feeling. How wonderful will it be when we can explore new places and revisit favorites? I will finish with a quote that sums up my feelings perfectly: “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” –Seneca

Mystery and Music from the Old West

In a nod to Jeopardy:

Contestant No. 1: “I’ll take Fantastic Reads for $1,000.”

Host: “The answer is ‘Enormously entertaining fiction, set in the Mountain West.’

Contestant No. 1: “What do you get when you combine mystery and music with the standout writing talent of C. C. Harrison?”

Host: “Correct.”

Please join me in welcoming C. C. Harrison to the blog today. C. C. is a 2019 Colorado Humanities Book Award Winner, who writes both mysteries and Old West novels, and she plays one heck of a ukulele. A few years ago, she and I and another Colorado mystery writer did an author event at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ (yes, I’m bragging) and at the end she brought the house down with a fabulous performance on her ukulele. I’m always jealous of the multi-talented, but I can’t let that stop me from bringing the best the mystery-writing world has to offer to you, our faithful readers.

MB: C. C., thank you for being our guest on Murder Books. What brought you to writing as a career? Who have been some of your principal influences?

CC: I grew up in a house with books. My mother was a big reader. I knew when I finished my first beginning reader book checked out from the library that I was going to be an author, so I became an avid reader, too. I lived in Detroit at the time, and so did Joyce Carol Oates, so I guess she was my first inspiration. Later, my influences were all the big mystery writers, too many to name, but  included J. A. Jance, Tami Hoag, Nevada Barr, C. J. Box, Paul Doiron, Stuart Woods. Oh, so many. I still have old, tattered Phyllis Whitney paperbacks on my shelf along with the other women authors who were considered “gothic writers” in their time.

I occasionally swerve away from writing mysteries to write Old West novels mainly because I love the West and live in the West, and am particularly interested in the early days of the Old West. My first Western, SAGE CANE’S HOUSE OF GRACE AND FAVOR, introduces a woman who finds herself penniless and in debt, stranded in a rough and rugged Colorado mining town run by men. She knows no one and no one knows her, but she figures out how to survive and discovers that living well is the best revenge.

MB: How has the COVID pandemic changed the way your conduct your writing career? what advice would you give to aspiring writers who are trying to ignite a writing career under these conditions?

CC: Theoretically, the lockdowns and shutdowns should provide more writing time, right? And they did, at first. Because of COVID, I left the city and temporarily moved to the mountains, and wrote like crazy for the first couple of months. But then all the writer conferences, book signings, library author visits,  and other book events were being cancelled. To me, that was stunning, because I absolutely loved all that. Meeting my readers and talking to them, and mingling with other writers was kind of the center of my writing universe.

When all that was suddenly gone, motivation to keep up the writing pace I’d set for myself lagged. Zoom technology grew, and meetings and author events became virtual. I eventually got used to it, but it’s just not the same.

It’s hard enough to succeed in publishing without the challenges presented by COVID, so my only advice to new writers is to keep writing, and give those small publishers out there a try. I’m a reviewer for New York Journal of Books, and I’m finding that some of the best, most creative, compelling books are coming out of small publishers today.

MB: What drives/guides you to write the kind of books you write, in terms of setting, cultural backdrop, characters, and the way you depict crime/violence on the page?

CC: I like writing books set in small towns, the kind of small towns people run away to or hide out in. I’ve lived in those kind of towns, and find the stories and secrets and misbehaviors there are so much more interesting.

The characters in my books are ordinary women having extraordinary experiences and who face adversity because of someone else’s actions, or sometimes their own. But they don’t run away at the first sign of trouble. Instead, they find a way to overcome fear and obstacles to do what needs to be done.

MB: I always know the ending to a book or story before I begin writing it, so, in a sense I write things backwards, creating a set of circumstances that brings about the ending that I want to get the reader to. Do you start with an ending in mind, or do you start with an idea that you explore until it leads you to a compelling ending, or is it something else?

CC: I always know the ending to my story before I begin to write. It sometimes morphs into something else by the time I’m finished, but basically the high points of the book are in my head before I sit down to write. I go through a good deal of prep work in development and use an index card system to keep me on track. However, my book, SAGE CANE’S HOUSE OF GRACE AND FAVOR, was an exception. That book was channeled to me whole and complete. I lived it as I wrote it, laughed and cried at happy and sad scenes. It led me to think I may have lived a former life in an Old West town.

MB: What’s coming next from the pen of C. C. Harrison?

CC: I have two books in development right now. One is a contemporary mystery called DEATH OF A TWO-TIMING MAN, and another Western called THE WOMEN OF CHEATER MOUNTAIN. And because I’ve had many requests for a follow up to my current ukulele themed cozy mystery, DEATH BY G-STRING, which is a Colorado Humanities Book Award Mystery Winner, I’ll be following that up with a second book called DON’T FRET THE SMALL STUFF.

Please visit C. C. at ccharrison-author.com.

C. C. Harrison was interviewed for Murder Books by Roger Johns.

The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett

Music has always played an important role in crime fiction — both in the lives of authors and the characters they create. Hieronymus Bosch, the eponymous detective of the Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly, enjoys jazz. Legendary blues guitarist and singer Robert “RL” Johnson inspired both author Walter Mosley and his character Soupspoon Wise in the novel RL’s Dream.  Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes—a character with a penchant for German operas and a facility for playing the violin (a Stradivarius acquired at a pawnshop, no less). Alexia Gordon built an entire series around her classical musician protagonist in her Gethsemane Brown Mysteries. The list goes on.

The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett

The nexus between crime fiction and music isn’t surprising. Music, like story, is built on a foundation of conflict. The dissonance and consonance of music is akin to the disruption and resolution of story.

One never knows exactly when inspiration will strike or where it will take you. I was a Jimmy Buffett fan long before I lived in the Florida Keys. When I learned that Josh Pachter, author and editor extraordinaire, was rounding up a group of crime writers to submit stories to an anthology inspired by the songs of Jimmy Buffett, I knew I wanted to be included.

Each story in the anthology shares a title with one of Jimmy Buffett’s original songs and each song had to come from a different one of his seventeen albums. My first and second choices had already been claimed by two of my cohorts. So, I did what any self-respecting Parrothead would do. I flipped on Radio Margaritaville. 

The first song that played on the radio, I heard in its entirety. The opening stanza refers to a photograph of Albert Einstein standing on the beach in Santa Barbara staring across the waves. I knew immediately this was the song for my story. Not only was I familiar with the photograph, but I’d spent fourteen of my twenty-two-year law enforcement career as a cop patrolling the streets of Santa Barbara. By the time Jimmy sang about the Channel Islands where I used to scuba dive, my mind was racing. When he mentioned surfing, well, I was all in. “Einstein Was A Surfer” comes from the 2013 album, Songs from St. Somewhere and is the song that inspired my short story of the same title. The somewhere is Santa Barbara, the song comes from the sea, and Einstein is a surfer. The rest? I hope you’ll read for yourself.

The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett  will be released in February. Contributors to the Murder Books blog are well represented in the pages of the anthology. In addition to my story, Isabella Maldonado, Bruce Robert Coffin, and Lissa Redmond contributed stories as well. I reached out to my fellow authors and asked them to describe what drew them to the particular song they chose. Here’s what they had to say.


I chose the song ‘If I could just get it on paper’ because it was vague and open to so many possibilities. Who hasn’t had an unexpected, wonderful night and wanted to remember every second of it? I got the email about the anthology on Super bowl weekend and a group of us had rented a house. Most of the guys were more worried about their football pools than who won the game and that got me to thinking. And we all know what happens when crime writers get to thinking. The whole way home from the rental house my husband and I listened to music and I threw ideas at him. I know that out of every short story I’ve ever written, this one was the most fun to write. Jimmy Buffett is more than a musician. He’s a storyteller. And his stories inspire other stories. I can’t wait to read what his music inspired in all the other authors in this book.


I chose the Jimmy Buffett song “Incommunicado” as the impetus for my short story of the same name because I fell in love with the references to John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee. Plus, the Duke, John Wayne and how could I choose anything else?

While I do listen to music while writing, generally I stick to instrumental music, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, or the occasional symphony soundtrack. I’ve even been known to put Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Riviera Paradise on repeat. Basically, anything melodic, sans lyrics, works for me.


I never use music to facilitate my writing because I’m too easily distracted by the lyrics, or even the melody if there are no lyrics. Each piece tells a story that sometimes conflicts with the one I’m trying to build. I do, however, listen to white noise while I write. Being at home with my family means loud noises and other distractions that I must tune out!

Regarding the anthology, I chose “Smart Woman (In a Real Short Skirt)” from the 1988 album, Hot Water. Buffett’s lyrics describe a man in search of his ideal woman: one possessed of both beauty and brains. 

I decided to create a story about a man named Donovan Snell, a weapons smuggler based in Miami who laments that he cannot use a margarita shaker to blend his gorgeous girlfriend with his brainy female accountant to create the perfect woman. Snell’s hubris–and his contempt for the law–ultimately land him in very Hot Water indeed!

From the Back Cover

Jimmy Buffett is one of the great contemporary singer/songwriters, and it’s hard to imagine a citizen of Planet Earth unfamiliar with such classic hits as “Margaritaville.” Jimmy has also written novels, children’s books, memoirs, and a stage musical based on Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival, and his family-friendly concerts almost always sell out to audiences comprised of a mix of dedicated Parrotheads, casual fans, and newbies. 

In The Great Filling Station Holdup, editor Josh Pachter presents sixteen short crime stories by sixteen popular and up-and-coming crime writers, each story based on a song from one of the twenty-eight studio albums Jimmy has released over the last half century, from Leigh Lundin’s take on “Truckstop Salvation” (which appeared on Jimmy’s first LP, 1970’s Down to Earth) to M.E. Browning’s interpretation of “Einstein Was a Surfer” (from Jimmy’s most recent recording, 2013’s Songs from St. Somewhere). 

If you love Jimmy’s music or crime fiction or both, you’ll love The Great Filling Station Holdup. Mix yourself a boat drink, ask Alexa to put on a buffet of Buffett tunes, kick back, and enjoy! 


The Great Filling Station Holdup  releases on February 22, 2021 from Down & Out Books.  Pre-order the trade paperback from the publisher for $16.95 and you’ll also receive a free digital copy!

If you are interested in a digital copy only, you’ll receive special pre-order pricing of $3.99. (Once it releases on February 22nd, the eBook will revert to its normal price of $6.99.) 

The Great Filling Station Holdup is also available digitally on Amazon.

Table of Contents 

  • Introduction by Josh Pachter 
  • Down to Earth (1970) 

“Truckstop Salvation” by Leigh Lundin 

  • A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean (1973) 

“The Great Filling Station Holdup” by Josh Pachter 

  • A1A (1974) 

“A Pirate Looks at Forty” by Rick Ollerman 

  • Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes (1977) 

“Tampico Trauma” by Michael Bracken 

  • Son of a Son of a Sailor (1978) 

“Cheeseburger in Paradise” by Don Bruns 

  • Volcano (1979) 

“Volcano” by Alison McMahan 

  • Coconut Telegraph (1981) 

“Incommunicado” by Bruce Robert Coffin 

  • Somewhere Over China (1981) 

“If I Could Just Get It On Paper” by Lissa Marie Redmond 

  • One Particular Harbour (1983) 

“We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” by Elaine Viets 

  • Riddles in the Sand (1984) 

“Who’s the Blond Stranger?” by Robert J. Randisi 

  • Last Mango in Paris (1985) 

“Everybody’s on the Run” by Laura Oles 

  • Hot Water (1988) 

“Smart Woman (in a Real Short Skirt)” by Isabella Maldonado 

  • Off to See the Lizard (1989) 

“The Pascagoula Run” by Jeffery Hess 

  • Don’t Stop the Carnival (1998) 

“Public Relations” by Neil Plakcy 

  • Beach House on the Moon (1999) 

“Spending Money” by John M. Floyd 

  • Songs From St. Somewhere (2013) 

“Einstein Was a Surfer” by M.E. Browning

Going Home to Oakland PD

By Brian Thiem

I’m working on a new book, where a man who left his law enforcement career twenty-seven years ago, returns to his old department when his granddaughter goes missing. In some ways, it’s a coming-home story, where a character returns to his childhood home after being away for decades, only to find everything has changed—yet some things remain the same.

As part of my research, I spoke to several active and recently retired Oakland police officers and non-sworn employees (they’re now called “professional staff”) to bring me up to date. I retired 16 years ago, and much has changed.

Twenty-seven years ago, the Missing Person’s Unit was staffed by a few officers in YSD (Youth Services Division). They basically processed missing person’s reports, entered details into the local and national databases, and contacted hospitals and coroner’s offices to see if the missing person turned up.

I remember responding to missing persons calls as a patrol officer back in the early 80s. Most of the time, the missing person was a teenager who probably “ran away” or an adult who just decided to “leave,” which adults had the right to do, and we’d just write a report, call in a communications order (Be on the Lookout), and go on to the next call. Obviously, if an eight-year-old boy were missing, we’d pull out all stops and search for however long it took, but those situations were rare.

Things are different today. First of all, there’s no longer a Youth Services Division. Like many departments, Oakland PD is in a state of constant reorganization. The SVS (Special Victims Section) investigates missing persons, domestic violence, sexual assaults, and other crimes.

Today, if my fictional teenage girl were not found by patrol officers, they’d call out SVS investigators who would take over. They’d set up a command post at the parent’s house and another one back in the SVS office. They’d ping her phone, search her social media, investigate sexual predators in the neighborhood and anyone else who might’ve taken her. And they’d stay on the case until she was found.

The appearance of the department has also changed, with many more civilians (oops, I mean professional staff) performing duties sworn officers had done previously. Back then, non-sworn employees worked mostly as city jailers, dispatchers (many departments still had officers working dispatch at that time), and clerk/typists (now called police records specialists).

When I started out, our crime scene technicians were all sworn officers. They did everything from dusting a broken window for prints at a burglary to fully processing homicide scenes, and since they were sworn police officers, they’d drop their fingerprint brushes and respond to hot calls when necessary.

I remember the uproar when the department hired the first civilian Police Evidence Technicians. Old timers were convinced they wouldn’t be capable of properly processing a crime scene since they had not responded to thousands of scenes as an officer, and therefore couldn’t see “the big picture.” Others were concerned that civilians would be hurt and possibly killed by the criminal element out on the streets, since they didn’t carry firearms to protect themselves as officers did. For years, we had both sworn and non-sworn techs working together. After a while, the non-sworn techs were trusted to handle homicide scenes, and eventually, the sworn officer tech positions were eliminated.

My character will see many changes in the department and the law enforcement profession after his 27-year absence. Technology has greatly supplemented replaced shoe leather. Cell phones and computers allow better communication but less autonomy for officers and investigators. And the political oversight and interference has multiplied. But the very nature of policing has not changed, and that will allow my character to feel right at home. The officers, with the support of the professional staff, are still dedicated to protecting and serving the citizens of Oakland and holding the Thin Blue Line that separates good from evil and order from chaos.

Interview with Anthony Award Nominee Gabriel Valjan

Please join me in welcoming Boston-based crime novelist Gabriel Valjan to the blog. Gabriel is the author of the Roma Series, The Company Files, and the Shane Cleary mystery series. His second Company File novel, The Naming Game, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original.

Gabriel’s most recent novel, Symphony Road, was released earlier this week. It is the second installment in the Shane Cleary mystery series and—as I had the privilege of an early reading—it is highly recommended.

1. First off, congratulations on your latest release, Gabriel. It must be gratifying to see Shane Cleary back on the case. What made you decide to write a historical mystery series set in Boston?

Thank you for having me, and I’m happy to have Shane out there in the wild again.

Writing history is fun, for one thing. There’s a certain safety with chronological distance, and the research is easier. Also, unlike literary fiction, where you read hundreds of pages and nothing ever happens, a good mystery introduces readers to complex social issues. A mystery invites readers to participate in the story. As for my choice of city, that’s a harder oyster to shuck because there’s no getting around Boston’s Trinity in crime fiction: George V. Higgins, Robert B. Parker, and Dennis Lehane. I set myself apart from them by my choice of street corner. I write about Boston’s South End in the Seventies. It’s a neighborhood that’s ripe with forgotten history and local color.

2. You now have a number of series to your credit. Do you maintain a series bible to help you keep the details of character and setting and history consistent from book to book? Or is there another method you use to keep things straight?

I don’t keep a series bible. My creative mind doesn’t work that way. Once I’ve established the first book in a series, the characters and their personalities are inside my neural network. I hear them talk. I know their fears and desires, their strengths and weaknesses. What I do, however, before writing the next installment in a series is spend time reading the previous books, so I can fall back into the tempo and the world of the characters.

The way I keep matters straight is with the writing style. Each of my series has a Voice. The Roma Series is a contemporary story and therefore more expansive and descriptive. The Company Files, because they’re anchored in the Fifties, have echoes of Chandler and Hammett without being either Chandler or Hammett. The prose in the Shane Cleary mysteries is spare, cut to the bone, and with an undercurrent of dark humor. Hardboiled. I wrote the Shane series that way so the stories would sound different from The Company Files. My hope is that readers see I have range in my writing. I want them to be able to recognize me the minute they read a page.

3. Did you have a series in mind when you conceived of the story for Dirty Old Town? Or were you thinking strictly standalone?

I did have a series in mind, and writing Shane was an experiment for me. I wrote the first book, Dirty Old Town, in 2014, and then I proceeded to write the next four in 2016 BUT those four books, which were about 50K words each, had intentional holes in them. I returned to Dirty Old Town in 2017 and then proceeded to arc out each character and take the long view as to what I wanted to accomplish with each book in the series, and where I wanted each character to be by the fifth book. The objective was to give the reader a thorough journey.

In the first book, Shane is an idealist, a romantic, and there’s an undercurrent of grief in his life. He has walked away from his job as a police officer, fallen into PI work to pay the bills, and is haunted by his father’s suicide. In the subsequent books, I mine those themes, while I try to upend the tropes within the genre. What makes Shane unique is his clientele, which includes a mafioso, an arsonist, a mercenary, and so on. The twist is that the people he shouldn’t trust, he does, and the folks he should trust, he can’t. As for the long arc, the Shane in The Big Lie, book 5, is a very different man from the one the reader met in Dirty Old Town.

4. In my opinion, you have a real gift for writing historical fiction. Your sense of place, dialect, and events of the day all blend seamlessly. Has history always been a passion of yours?

Thank you for the compliment and I apologize for the long response here, but there is a lot for me to unpack in order to answer your question. I think what you perceive as seamless integration can be explained by how I work as a writer. My mind knows how to organize and order things; it understands the architecture inherent to storytelling from decades of reading. I know how to build the scene and a world. Then there’s my use of language. I can describe a lot with few words and, occasionally do it with a compelling turn of phrase. I don’t set out to do any of this. It just is.

As for my conveying sense of place…I’m originally from New Jersey, and the Garden State has character and characters. It’s a real greenhouse and it made me acutely aware of place. Know the Jersey expression, ‘I know a guy’? In certain parts of Jersey, everyone knew a guy. Sure, you can read Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguys, the basis for the movie Goodfellas, and get a feel for the place but experiencing it is another thing altogether. If you want a similar story—and if you can find a copy— read Paul Hoffman’s To Drop A Dime.

Then there’s the fact that I was a kid in the 70s and a teen in the 80s. Interesting times, but I didn’t know it then because I was busy being a kid. I remember the South Jersey-and-Philly mob war because it colored everything. I remember the day George Franconero, Connie Francis’ brother, was killed in his driveway, up the street from where I lived. New Jersey can be a vivid place. Neighborhood loyalties are real. Also, I used to go into Manhattan. A lot. Like Pete Hamill’s essays on Manhattan, The City I knew then is long gone. Brooklyn. The Bronx. Chelsea. The Village. Almost all of it is gentrified now. Vincent Gigante mumbled and stumbled around the Upper East Side in his ratty bathrobe and bunny slippers, to fake insanity and beat a couple of indictments. Little Italy was a very different place then. All the mafiosi would congregate at The Ravenite on Mulberry Street. Back then, Gotti would strut down the street, the brightest peacock of the brunch. Sammy Gravano hung back, a few steps behind him or at his side, sullen as a teenager. Like I said, a bygone era and I don’t miss it. The older generation died off, and those who replaced Gotti and his ilk send their kids to Wharton, the London School of Economics, and Bocconi in Milan.

As for dialect and dialogue, there’s another personal matter. I’m hard of hearing, and it wasn’t discovered until much later, after all the compensatory measures took hold. If I can’t see it, I can’t hear it. I can’t, for instance, hear anything behind me. I don’t have stereophonic hearing. My impairment places a premium on observation and intuition, which are invaluable to a writer, especially for dialogue. Think of it as encountering a text in a foreign language. You search for what you know, in terms of cognates, and figure out the rest by context.

The reason I brought up these colorful details of my personal history is that I listened to the way wiseguys used language, the cadence to their speech and thinking, how they connected the dots. It’s a real masterclass in psychology. The one trait that all of them had in common is that they could rationalize their behavior and convince you that they were the victim, the good guy doing you a favor! Unfortunately, give or take sophistication, education, and vocabulary, it’s the same sociopathic mindset you’ll encounter in white-collar criminals, corporate America, and politicians.

Don’t get me wrong, you can teach yourself a lot about writing from reading, but you need humility to get out of your own way in telling a story. You also need a capacity for analysis to understand what a writer like George V. Higgins and his idol John O’Hara are doing on the page. An example of analysis? We can agree that Elmore Leonard wrote great dialogue, but I’ll argue that he would’ve made one hell of a hostage negotiator. He used a lot of ‘mirroring,’ which is when you take snippets from the other person’s speech and throw it back at them so you can milk them for information without giving them anything out of your own pocket, and yet you are listening to them, still the good guy doing them a favor. If you want an example of mirroring, watch the movie Midnight Run. Listen to how all the characters talk to each other. Listen, observe, and try to discern motivation. We think we talk to each other to impart information. No, we talk because we need something from the other person, or we want them to do something for us.

5. When writing your novels, do you ever find yourself accidentally shifting from the historical to present day? I might be tempted to have Shane pick up a cellphone. What are some of the challenges to writing historical fiction?

Writing historical fiction does have its mousetraps, doesn’t it? A writer must do the research, all the due diligence. I can’t imagine doing the legwork without technology, though I tell people that that the internet is not the gospel truth. You the writer might have to consult with subject matter experts. Still, you have to get it right. The readers of your time period are often hardcore geeks about the era, so you’d better have the fashion right, and if you mention a song, then make sure you know when it was on the Billboard Hot 100 and for how long because you will be called out on mistakes. It’s always easier to be a critic.

I don’t think the cell phone is the problem. My worry is that nobody remembers a payphone. I’ve been pretty good at dodging anachronisms, although I almost experienced a public faceplant while writing The Good Man. The story was set in 1948 Vienna. I had my German shipshape, the Viennese desserts right, but…a character called another character, a single woman, Ms.

I could hear Harry Burns from When Harry Met Sally in my head. ‘Ehh. I’m sorry. I need the judge’s ruling on this.’ While the term Ms was used in the early twentieth century, it meant Mistress. Originally, or so I was told, Ms meant a young woman, 16 years old or younger. An unmarried woman by the mid-20th century was called Miss and it was sometimes spoken, with an edge of judgment. Nonetheless, a proofreader had chastened me and saved me from a public flogging. Take-away? Do your research.

6. What advice do you have for writers who are considering a historical novel?

First, find the era that you are passionate about because your enthusiasm will be contagious to the reader. When you’re really into a certain time period, you will venture beyond the dates and major events of the day. LA Chandlar, for instance, loves Art Deco and the Gotham that Mayor Fio La Guardia ruled as benevolent dictator, so her books are rich with details about architecture and art, cars and clothes, furniture, etc. Her imagination synthesizing all the details to make her Lane a compelling character. Susanna Calkins does the same thing with two characters in two disparate eras: her Lucy Campion in seventeenth-century London, and Gina Ricci in the 1920s. I also advise writers to watch films and listen to music. Say you’re interested in the Eighties and want to understand the Cold War. Watch the series The Americans because it integrates music with political events, while giving you the Zeitgeist.

When you do your research, look for WHAT spoke to people then, HOW it spoke to them, and WHY. When you connect those elements to Plot and Character, the writing becomes more vivid and vibrant.

7. Is there anything you did early on in your writing career that, given your later experience, you would have done differently?

Oh boy, where do I start? Hindsight is everything, isn’t it? I would say I didn’t trust my instincts. My first novel was Roma, Underground. I wrote what I thought readers wanted to read. What I mean by that is I felt that I needed more description in order to make a foreign culture come to life (the novel is set in Rome). One the other hand, in retrospect, it was a necessary part of my evolution as a writer, in improving my chops. I made mistakes. In Wasp’s Nest, the second book, I was heavy-handed with foreshadowing. Another mistake. Sometimes I’m too subtle with subtext in dialogue. Another mistake. Look, I can beat myself up all day long, better than any critic could, so I have to accept the bumps in the road. I still don’t have a line on marketing and visibility.

8. I’ve read a lot of series fiction over the years and, for me, keeping characters fresh and interesting over the long haul seems to be a major consideration in maintaining readership. What’s your secret?

My answer goes back to what I did with Shane. Like I said, it was an experiment, and I think my approach remains sound, but you have to have patience and think the long game. Think long character arcs. Create a character but have them have something missing. Shane doesn’t have love in his life. He doesn’t think he needs it. He is wrong. The question he thinks he has answered he hasn’t (no spoilers, sorry). My strategy with Shane is to have him (and his friends) have their own stories. A series is like calculus, you see a part of the story with each book, but the integral is the sum of experiences over time. Like Life, ups and downs. The “mystery” is a means to an end. We learn from conflict, not when everything is picture-perfect.

9. You’ve had success both as a novelist and a short fiction writer? Which format brings you the most joy? Or do you find them equally gratifying?

Intriguing question. I like short stories for reasons that may surprise you. I’m just not convinced people read them. One, I like the challenge of a call and a set word limit. It’s fun. I wouldn’t be writing if it weren’t fun. Short stories have taught me to write only what is essential to the story. You don’t have that with novels. Long fiction gives you more breathing space, more canvas. A short story is a distillation, often at the expense of something. The common complaint about short stories is there isn’t enough room for character development, or the plot might feel rushed. A great short story has a feeling of inevitability, and the last line should click like the clasp on a box.

There’s another benefit to the short story that nobody discusses s that it’s perfect for testing an idea out. The format, because of its compression, can tell you whether the idea is worthy of a novel. Roma, Underground began as a short story.

My preferred format is the novella. I can create a full experience, whatever the conflict, and present round characters, within 20,000 words. I did just that with five novellas in Five Before Rome. The novella offers that sweet spot between the confines of the short story and the endurance inherent in the novel.

10. What can readers expect to see next? Will there be another Shane Cleary mystery? Are you working on any other projects?

Level Best has scheduled Hush Hush, the third Shane Cleary mystery, for January 2022. A murder in the Combat Zone lays bare Boston’s class system and unapologetic racism.

Diminished Fifth, the third novel in the Company Files series, is slated for release on April 21, 2021 from Winter Goose Publishing. The Rosenbergs have just been executed. Senator McCarthy said Communists have infiltrated government agencies. Roy Cohn wants revenge, and J. Edgar Hoover sees an opportunity to damage The Company. Oh, readers meet an ambitious lawyer named Robert Kennedy.

Several of my short stories are out there working the streets.

Thank you for having me, and I hope everyone goes out and reads Symphony Road.

Thank you so much for taking the time to give us the benefits of your thoughts, Gabriel. Best of luck with your new book, Symphony Road.

Gabriel Valjan is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers, and is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime.

His second Company Files novel, The Naming Game was a 2020 Agatha Award nominee for Best Historical Mystery, and a 2020 Anthony Award nominee for Best Paperback Original. Gabriel’s short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He has been listed three times for the Fish Prize, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and received an honorable mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest in 2018.

To learn more about Gabriel, visit his web site at: http://www.gabrielvaljan.com.

Gabriel Valjan was interviewed for Murder Books by Bruce Robert Coffin. http://www.brucerobertcoffin.com

A Crime Writer’s List of New Year’s Resolutions

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It’s finally 2021 and it’s my first post of the new year. Instead of posting about crime and detection I thought I’d post my resolutions. This year instead of vowing to lose the ten pounds I gained during Covid and sending out more thank you cards, I’m resolving to be a better writer (among other things, but that’s a whole other blog post).With a new book coming out in July and having released two during the pandemic in the spring, I am resolving to work on my fiction differently this year. Here’s my 2021 list of writing resolutions:

  1. I am going to hit my word count every day. When I first retired from the police department and started writing as my job, I set a 1000 word minimum for myself. I figured if I set it any higher, the first time I didn’t hit my goal I’d get discouraged and dump the minimum altogether. The more I wrote over the years the more the word count crept up. Then the pandemic hit. Covid made it tough. Distractions were everywhere. Now that it’s a new year, I might up the ante a little. Maybe I’ll set the minimum for 2500 words and see what happens. If I find myself falling short, I can always revert to the original 1000.
  2. I am not going to be so hard on myself. Is everything I write going to be perfect and wonderful and deserving of publication? Absolutely not. Things fall flat, words don’t come together, and stories burn out. I think this has been especially true over the last year. I also think writers tend to be their own harshest critics. I have to allow myself to fail sometimes, recognize when it’s time to shelve a project, and learn from the experience.
  3. I am going to write outside my comfort zone. Even if I’m the only one who ever reads it, I’m going to experiment in other genres this year. Maybe I’ll try science fiction or horror or historical anything. I want to expand my writing boundaries. Who knows? It’s almost like visiting a foreign country. I might find my next big project in a completely new area.
  4.  In the same vein as resolution #3, I am going to try new things. Being a writer can be a very solitary and isolated life, but even more so with all the restrictions in place. This year I resolve to get out of my house more, taking my notebook with me, and writing wherever I happen to find myself. Maybe if I wander from my chair, out onto a beach or a hiking trail or a campground, I might find brand new things to inspire my writing. If nothing else, the fresh air will clear the cobwebs from my brain.
  5. I am going to support my fellow writers and readers. Whether it’s by going to a virtual book launch, or leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or taking part in Zoom writing groups and book clubs, I am going to encourage my fellow writers and readers this year. There are so many ways to be negative in this digital age that I resolve to be a positive presence, especially to writers just starting out. I appreciate all the wonderful and kind things perfect strangers have done for me during my own journey to publication, that I resolve to pay it forward in the new year. I also resolve to support indie bookstores and libraries and their patrons in these tough times.

This year’s resolutions won’t make me thinner or wealthier or more popular, but I think they will make my writing better and more creative. Hopefully, they’ll help me spread some love and encouragement in the coming year as well.  Happy 2021, everyone! We deserve it.

Lissa Marie Redmond is a retired cold case homicide detective. She is the author of the Cold Case Investigation series. Her latest standalone, The Secrets They Left Behind, was recently released by Crooked Lane Books. http://www.lissamarieredmond.com

To Kill a King

The first full week of January 2021 conveniently finds me next-in-line to blog here at Murder Books. Our collective complaints about 2020 likely know no end. We might happily bundle the old year into a pinata constructed from hand sanitizer and toilet paper and gleefully smash the hell out of it. Instead of a year-end retrospective, I’d like to look forward to a time of normalcy hopefully creeping back into our lives. In the spirit of the Roman god Janus who gazes both forward and back, I’ll kick off the year then by returning to my regular feature, The Trial of the Month.  January often being a slow month for litigation, I reach back to 17th century England. Let us consider the trial of King Charles I. As a king, he was a carriage wreck. As a person, he faced his final moments with dignity. His trial and execution mark unprecedented events in our Anglo-American history.

            Charles’ father was James I, the James of King James Bible fame. The English crown was intended to pass to Charles’ older brother, Henry. He died, however, before assuming the kingship. Charles, therefore, gained the throne in 1625. Sadly, he was ill-equipped for the job. Gentle and polite in private, his extreme shyness made him seem aloof and arrogant in public. In Protestant England, his wife, Queen Henrietta, remained a devout Catholic. In the back-and-forth religious conflicts between Protestants and Catholics of the 17th Century, suspicions about his faith undermined his popularity.

            Besides personality and religion, troubles also arose over money. Charles I needed Parliament to raise the taxes necessary to subdue unruly Scots and Irish. When Parliament gathered, they marked their own course and failed to do the king’s bidding. Stocked with Protestants, Parliament sought to pass legislation the king opposed. Determined to keep power centered at the throne, Charles I became increasingly alienated from the people. As Bob Dylan sang later, the times they were a’ changin’. 

            To smash a century of English history into a sentence or two, King Charles wanted the English people to accept the divine right of kings. That proved challenging when the king was broke, governed poorly and religiously ambiguous.

            War began. In sporadic battles, the Parliamentarian forces under the command of Oliver Cromwell defeated the Royalists. The king surrendered to the Scots who handed him over to the army of Parliament. He was jailed at Windsor Castle.

            At the beginning, no one forecast the end of the monarchy. Instead both sides negotiated, attempting to strike a new balance between the two branches of government. As the war continued, however, settlement became impossible. Oliver Cromwell persuaded Parliament that by conducting a military campaign, Charles had committed treason.

            On January 20th, 1649, guards carried the king on a sedan chair to Westminster Hall for court. His arrival in royal fashion was announced by the sound of trumpets and drums. Although the judges had pomp, the English, in fact, had no laws governing the trial of a king. They instead found precedent in ancient Roman law authorizing citizens to overthrow a tyrant. Charles I stood accused of treason against England by using his power to pursue his personal gain rather than the true good of his nation. The charges asserted that the king:

            “for accomplishment of such his designs, and for the protecting of himself and his adherents in his and their wicked practices, to the same ends hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament, and the people therein represented”, that the “wicked designs, wars, and evil practices of him, the said Charles Stuart, have been, and are carried on for the advancement and upholding of a personal interest of will, power, and pretended prerogative to himself and his family, against the public interest, common right, liberty, justice, and peace of the people of this nation”. The indictment held him “guilty of all the treasons, murders, rapines, burnings, spoils, desolations, damages and mischiefs to this nation, acted and committed in the said wars, or occasioned thereby”

            Charles I would not acknowledge the legality of the trial. He refused to answer the charges against him. Four times he came before the judges. Each time he challenged their jurisdiction, arguing that no court had authority over a king.

            Typically in those days, when a defendant refused to enter a plea, the practice was to press him with stones. To avoid torturing a sovereign, the court chose to move forward as if the king had pleaded guilty. Witnesses were called by the judges for “the further and clearer satisfaction of their own judgement and conscience.” King Charles was not present to hear the evidence and could not cross-examine the witnesses.

            Not surprisingly, the king was declared guilty at a public session on Saturday, January 27th, 1649. His sentence read:

            “That the court being satisfied that he, Charles Stuart, was guilty of the crimes of which he had been accused, did judge him tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of the nation, to be put to death by the severing of his head from his body.”

            On execution day, Charles reportedly wore two shirts so that the crowd would not see him shiver from cold and mistake it as fear. On January 30th, he proclaimed his innocence one last time and laid his head upon the chopping block. After a moment, he signaled the anonymous executioner to proceed. His head was severed with one clean stroke.

            According to accounts, Oliver Cromwell, the same general who had pushed for the trial and beheading, subsequently ordered that the king’s head be sewed back on to his body to allow his wife and family to pay their respects and to grieve properly. Charles I was buried in private and at night.

            England was governed without a king for the next eleven years. During this time, the poet John Milton worked as the chief correspondent for the commonwealth. Surrounded by monarchies, a government established by regicide, called on the best wordsmith of the day to communicate with its neighbors. Following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the republican experiment quickly collapsed. The nation invited the king’s son, Charles II, to return from exile and to resume royal rule of England.

            When America sought its independence, the challenges to King George’s reign had its roots in claims that a king must govern as a steward for the people and not in his or her tyrannical self-interest. We have seen again in the last few years a national debate about the ability of a government to try its chief executive. Throughout its history, English kings had been deposed or assassinated. Charles I marked the first and only time a sitting king had been challenged and tried. The ideas behind the trial still retain relevancy today.

            The execution of Charles I is my Trial of the Month for more personal reasons. My first story to be published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine was set in this tumultuous time. I enjoyed dipping a toe into the 17th century to write the story and have appreciated the chance to come back for this blog. (How can you not like a time where a head is chopped off and then sewn back on?)

            Murder Books hopes that the year ahead will find you free from COVID and your life steadily returning to normal. May you live a well-read life in 2021.

Mark Thielman

True Crime vs. Crime Fiction

By Bruce Robert Coffin

I’m often asked whether any of the crimes I’ve written about in my novels are based on actual cases. The short answer is no. Not yet anyway.

When I retired from law enforcement in 2012 I had no idea if my writing career would take off or not, but I did know that I was putting my police life behind me. I had no desire to write true crime, mostly because I’d lived it. But also because—unless there was a beneficial reason for doing so—I worried that my stories would only cause additional pain for the victim’s family and friends.

You might wonder how I happened to choose crime fiction as my genre if I was trying to move on from my days of police investigations. Truthfully, it wasn’t a choice I made. Crime fiction found me. But, oddly enough, writing crime fiction isn’t the same as writing true crime. I’m making up characters and crimes to populate the pages of my novels, and there’s something cathartic in that. Perhaps it’s because they aren’t real and, unlike real life, I get to make the rules and control the outcome.

On the pages of my novels John Byron, Diane Joyner and the rest of the fictional 109 crew experience many of the things that I and my fellow officers experienced on the job. They feel the same emotions and experience the same struggle to maintain balanced between their personal and professional lives. They witness horrific events, tragedy, and the worst of the human condition. But they also experience hope, camaraderie, and the chance to make a real difference in the lives of those they come into contact with in their fictional world.

In books, good can triumph over evil. But in the police investigations of real life there are simply too many variables, too many things out of the investigator’s control. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job well, each of the Detective Byron novels provide the reader a with a glimpse into what the job is really like.

On behalf of my fellow Murder Books bloggers I’d like to wish you all a safe and healthy new year. Sláinte!


Bruce Robert Coffin is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron mystery series. A former detective sergeant, with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Bruce spent four years investigating counter-terrorism cases for the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest award a non-agent can receive.

His novel, Beyond the Truth, winner of Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Award for Best Procedural, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and a finalist for the Maine Literary Award for Best Crime Fiction. His short fiction appears in several anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories 2016.

Bruce is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. He is a regular contributor to Murder Books blogs.

Bruce is represented by Paula Munier at Talcott Notch Literary.

He lives and writes in Maine.

To learn more about Bruce, please visit: http://www.brucerobertcoffin.com