Getting the Cop Stuff Right

by Brian Thiem

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to help four writer friends get the cop stuff right in their novels. My cop friends know this stuff, but unless a crime fiction writer has carried a badge and gun for a living, they can make procedural errors that will make more knowledgeable readers cringe. Glock-23-40S-W_main-1

Most fiction writers these days (although a few are still clueless) know Glocks don’t have manual safeties and police officers carry their pistols with a round in the chamber, so there’s no dramatic racking of the slide before they go into a dangerous situation, as we often see on TV. Therefore, the questions I normally get are more nuanced and complex.

I helped two writers understand crime scene security. On major cases, such as homicides, the mayor, the victim’s mother, and reporters cannot enter the scene. In Oakland, our rule was that as soon as the life threating activities (medical care to the injured, arresting suspects, and searching and securing the scene) were complete, the only people allowed into the scene were the field supervisor (normally a patrol sergeant), homicide investigators, coroner’s deputies, and crime scene technicians.

Since every officer on the scene had to write a report, if some captain tried to pull rank to come in and “take a look,” I would just tell him that per the Report Writing Manual, he must complete a supplemental report detailing everything he did and saw while on the scene and his reasons for entering. I’d remind him he might have to testify in court because defense lawyers love to question everyone present looking for inconsistencies. In my time in Homicide, I never had any brass insist on entering a major crime scene.crime-scene-tape

I helped another writer create a realistic police detective character. Most major police departments require that all new hires start as a uniformed police officer and work their way through the ranks, except for possibly police chiefs, who are sometimes hired from outside the department. After a number of years in uniform, an officer may be promoted to detective. In some departments, detective is a duty position within the same ranks as those in uniform, such as officer or sergeant. In others, such as LAPD and NYPD, officers test for a separate detective rank. And if the detectives (or investigators, as many departments actually call them), work in crime-based units (homicide, robbery, burglary, etc.), they normally have to work their way up to Homicide.

I helped another writer understand the boundaries of an investigator’s legal jurisdiction. Investigators often have to cross jurisdictional lines to do their job. Crooks don’t stay within a particular city’s boundaries, so investigators can’t either. However, states have different laws governing the extent of a police officer’s authority. In California, for instance, a peace officer has police powers anywhere in the state. Even though I worked for Oakland PD, I could legally make an arrest in Los Angeles, although I’d be a fool to do so without the help of LAPD unless I accidentally stumbled on something and was forced to take action. Even if I was going a few blocks outside Oakland to make an arrest, I’d always notify the neighboring city first, and they’d often send their officers to assist.

Even though I had no peace officer authority outside California, I traveled to other states a number of times when investigating homicides. We’d always make contact with the jurisdiction we were visiting, either a city police department, sheriff’s office, or state police, as a matter of courtesy, but also because they knew the locale, the bad guys, and had direct access to a cavalry of blue suits if the feces hit the fan.

One investigation took me to Washington D.C., where the city’s homicide unit assigned two detectives to me and my partner to assist us as we interviewed an Oakland murder suspect they had arrested for us and helped us locate several witnesses in the seedier parts of our nation’s capital. I recall their assistance even included taking us to dinner and drinking with us at the local cop bar. Cop Bar

I worked with another writer whose police detective was getting into a romantic relationship with a crime victim. I won’t say it never happened in real life, but police officers know that’s an ethical no-no. Firstly, the investigator is in a disparate power position with a citizen victim or witness, somewhat like a teacher and a student or a therapist and a patient. Secondly, a personal relationship could taint the investigator’s objectivity and therefore, the investigation. And lastly, if the case goes to trial, the defense attorney will have a field day with the investigator in court, challenging his professionalism, objectivity, and honesty (he probably lied about the affair or at least kept it secret), which will likely damage the case beyond repair.

I’m not telling my author pals not to do it, because it makes for such great drama—the dedicated detective willing to destroy his career for the beautiful heroine or the flawed detective who breaks the rules in the name of justice and love—but understand the consequences in the real world.

I’m impressed with authors who try to get the cop stuff right in their novels, so don’t be afraid to ask if I can assist. And if you’re a writer and going to the Mystery in the Midlands conference next month, I’ll be teaching a masters class on Police Tactics for Writers.

A Malice to Remember

Well another Malice Domestic Mystery Writer’s Conference is in the books, my third to be exact. And although the District of Columbia hasn’t quite released her grip on me, stuck at Reagan National even as I type this, it was a fabulous conference. From Donna Andrews, guest of honor, to my impromptu pre-banquet chat with the charming Cathy Ace, to having my most recent novel in contention for the coveted Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Mystery, it was a Malice to be remembered.

People often ask me what it is about writer conferences that make them special. There are so many different things it’s really hard to give a succinct answer. Getting to see the friends we generally only connect with on social media or by email, cheer on each other’s latest book or short fiction, talk about all things writing and our shared love of the craft, attending and taking part in panels, signing books and meeting fans, and on and on. What’s not to love?

Mystery conferences are very similar to mystery authors in that they come in all shapes and sizes, and they might just pop up most anywhere. Some conferences focus more on craft, some on getting published, some are largely fan based conferences and some are a combination of all these things. Malice is one of my favorite conferences, probably because it’s close to home (that is unless thundershowers thwart your flight plans), it’s warm and inviting, and because I know so many of the attendees. As far as size goes, Malice is what Goldilocks would have described as “just right.” Not too big to be impersonal and not so small that it won’t inspire.

This year I had the honor of taking part in a panel titled “Simply the Best” along with fellow Agatha Nominees Ellen Byron, Annette Dashofy, and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Also nominated was Louise Penny but she was unable to attend this year. Each of us was up for the Agatha for Best Contemporary Mystery Novel. The panel, which was a total blast, was moderated by Kristopher Zgorski, CEO and Chief Bottle Washer (BCW) of BOLO Books. Kristopher did a great job of putting us all at ease, and the attendees were very engaged.

Saturday night was perhaps the most fun of all. Every attendee got dressed to the nines for the Malice Banquet and Award Ceremony. My wife helped me pick my wardrobe so I couldn’t screw it up, or at least not too badly. There were many first time winners at this year’s awards, including two ties! Best First Novel was split between Dianne Freeman for A Ladies Guide to Etiquette and Murder, and Shari Randall for her novel Curses Boiled Again. And the Best Short Story Award was shared by Leslie Budewitz for All God’s Sparrows, and Tara Laskowski for her short The Case of the Vanishing Professor. Other Winners include Sujata Massey who won Best Historical for The Widows of Malabar Hill, Cindy Callaghan who won the Best Young Adult Mystery category for Potion Problems (Just Add Magic), and Jane Cleland who won the Best Nonfiction for Mastering Plot Twists.

Beyond the Truth didn’t win the Agatha Award, that distinguished honor went to the very talented Ellen Byron (no relation to John…at least I don’t think she is) for her novel Mardi Gras Murder. But surrounded by a multitude of friends, at one of my favorite mystery conferences, it’s hard to imagine anything more rewarding.

If you’re a fan of mysteries, or perhaps a writer of them, I highly recommend that you check out Malice Domestic. You won’t be disappointed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my rescheduled flight is boarding.

Write on!

What Makes a Good Cold Case Detective?

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Lissa Marie Redmond

Everyone knows cold cases just got easier to solve. Detectives now dump recovered DNA into a couple of databases and a match will pop out, right? If only it were that simple. Even with the database resources, it takes a lot more than a DNA match to solve a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Cases go cold for a number of reasons: lack of physical evidence, lack of a suspect, conflicting or no witnesses. There can be many causes for homicides go cold after those first important 48 hours. It then becomes the job of the cold case detective to find out what those reasons are and try to take a fresh approach to an old case.

But what makes a good cold case detective?

Cold case detectives aren’t better than regular homicide detectives. They aren’t smarter, or more talented, or luckier. But good cold case detectives do have to possess certain traits and skills to make them successful in re-investigating homicides.

Patience – Cold case detectives are always waiting for something: lab results, witnesses to show up, evidence to be re-examined by the lab. These things can take days to weeks to months. The job is not for the A-type get-it-done-now personality. For cold cases, slow and steady really does win the race.

Ability to Research – You have to be able to comb through records from various sources and have the means to do so. I knew how to look up newspaper articles and police reports on microfiche. I had a cassette tape player, access to a VCR, a DVD player, a micro tape player for old answering machine tapes, and a tangle of cords in my desk to fit every type of cellphone. Conversely, you must be able to learn to use cutting edge technology to aid in your investigations. Investigators who refuse to reach out to experts who use computer programs to enhance photos, isolate sounds on recordings, or pinpoint locations with cell towers are just as bad off as someone who refuses to learn how to use obsolete technology. Flexibility is key.

An Open Mind – A good cold case investigator knows that anyone can be a suspect. People don’t want to believe that parents can harm their children or vice-versa. They don’t want to think that a pillar of the community or someone in whom great trust has been placed is capable of murder. Anyone, under the right circumstances, is capable of committing unspeakable acts. A good cold case detective doesn’t dismiss someone as a suspect just because they don’t fit their idea of who a suspect should be in a particular case.

Tenacity – This might be the most important trait of a good cold case investigator. They must be able to ask for things. Then ask again. And keep asking until they get an answer.

A good cold case detective never, never, never gives up.

Sweet Justice

In 1914, Henry Ford shocked the business world by announcing that his lowest paid workers would receive the unheard-of sum of five dollars per day. This and other factors spurred the Great Migration, the movement of African-Americans from the southern states to the industrial north. Between 1910-1929, Detroit’s African-American population grew 611%.Ford Ad

In 1924, Dr. Ossian Sweet and his wife, Gladys, returned to America from France. They settled in Detroit. In Europe, Dr. Sweet had taken advanced studies in medicine, studying from Marie Curie among others. Ossian Sweet aspired to be among the Talented Tenth, W.E.B. Du Bois’ term for the group of black professionals who would by leadership and example, improve the life for their people.

The sudden influx of African-Americans strained the housing market in Detroit. Blacks were by custom and real estate codes restricted to a few neighborhoods within the city. These neighborhoods became increasingly crowded. Tensions within the city ran high. From the pulpit, a young Detroit minister, the Anglo theologian Reinhold Neibuhr, preached against racism.

          Insistent upon his right to home ownership, Ossian Sweet purchased property on Garland Avenue in an all-white neighborhood in May 1925. The house, an ordinary red-brick 1 ½ story bungalow sat behind a low picket fence. It had a broad front porch and was to be the family home. The move did not go quietly. The Waterworks Park sweet houseImprovement Association formed as white residents sought to prevent blacks from moving into their neighborhoods.  Crowds gathered outside the home.Aware of the opposition, the Sweets delayed their move until September. When the Sweets arrived at their new home on September 8th, they brought relatively little furniture. Dr. Sweet did, however, bring his brothers, Otis and Henry, several friends, ten guns and 400 rounds of ammunition. The Detroit police detailed officers to keep the peace.

                On September 10th, 1925, for the second consecutive night, a hostile crowd formed outside the home. The night was hot. The house was besieged by racial epithets and stones. At least one window was broken. Then, someone fired a shot from a second-floor window. One man, Leon Breiner, was killed and another man wounded. Dr. Ossian Sweet, his wife Gladys, both of his brothers and the seven other residents of the house were arrested and charged with murder.

The Judge presiding over the case, Frank Murphy, went on to become a justice of the United States Supreme Court. He had a reputation for being liberal and a humanitarian.

The NAACP recruited the most famous criminal lawyer of the day, Clarence DARROWDarrow, to lead the defense. He was reportedly motivated to participate, not only because of his commitment to racial justice but also by Detroit’s proximity to Canada, a land where Prohibition did not exist. “Even before the Civil War the runaway slaves would come to Detroit, for this city was in sight of the Union Jack which was flying beyond the river, in Windsor, Canada. To the footsore slave fleeing from his master, the Union Jack was the emblem of freedom, just as it is today for the thirsty,” he said.

The Defense faced several challenges. The crowd had been angry and tense but had never tried to enter the Sweet’s house. Under Michigan law, self-defense would be difficult to prove. The gunfire reportedly came in a volley. The firearms had been stockpiled. Breiner had been shot in the back, meaning that it was unlikely that he was an aggressor.

The prosecution, however, was not without its hurdles to overcome. The seventy eyewitnesses Prosecutor Toms called, seemed to belie the government’s contention that only a small group had gathered outside and did not surround the house.  Darrow also made clear through cross-examination that the witnesses had been coached to testify to the crowd’s peaceable nature. Since no one could prove who fired the shot, the government was forced to proceed on a conspiracy theory to obtain a conviction.

A trial began on October 30th, 1925 for all eleven defendants. This trial ended in a mistrial when the all-male, all-white jury was unable to reach a verdict. The retrial began on April 19th, 1926. This time, the only defendant was Henry Sweet, Ossian’s brother. The Defense had changed their tactics and demanded that the defendants be tried separately. The Prosecution chose to begin with Henry’s case.  He had admitted to firing a gun, although claimed to have shot high to disperse the angry mob.

As part of the Defense case, Darrow called Dr. Ossian Sweet. The lawyer asked him to describe his state of mind. Dr. Sweet answered, “[w]hen I opened the door and saw the mob I realized I was facing the same mob that hounded my people throughout Dr Sweetits entire history.” Through questioning, Darrow drew a picture for the white, male jury of the mindset of those inside the house. The prosecution objected to the testimony going back across Dr. Sweet’s entire life. Darrow argued that the defendant’s actions could only be understood through a psychology built upon his history. The judge sided with the Defense. Permitting this psychological “state of mind” evidence was extremely rare at the time.

In closing, Clarence Darrow asked the white men comprising the jury to become African-American.

“Now, let us look at these fellows.  Here were eleven colored men, penned up in the house.  Put yourselves in their place.  Make yourselves colored for a little while.  It won’t hurt, you can wash it off.  They can’t, but you can; just make yourselves black men for a little while; long enough, gentlemen, to judge them, and before any of you would want to be judged, you would want your juror to put himself in your place.  That is all I ask in this case, gentlemen.  They were black, and they knew the history of the black.

The jury did, acquitting Henry Sweet. The District Attorney subsequently dropped the charges against the other defendants.

The Sweets’ story does not have a storybook ending. Gladys Sweet died of tuberculosis, a disease she believed that she contracted while in jail. Ossian Sweet committed suicide in 1960. Henry also died of tuberculosis.

The case shined a light on the stressors which made up the mindset of even successful African-Americans in the 1920’s. It upheld their rights to protect their lives and homes with force if necessary.  The Arc of Justice, a 2004 book by Kevin Boyle about the events, won the National Book Award.

An ordinary red-brick house on Garland Avenue in Detroit. Curie, Du Bois, Darrow, and Murphy, some of the profound names of the Jazz Age came together in the case of Henry Sweet. The ordinary comingled with the extraordinary—the Sweet case is my Trial of the Month for April.

Mark Thielman

Shared Universes

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I’ll admit it:  I’m a huge nerd.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me in real life.  If the modest shrine to Captain America in my home didn’t tip them off, then the Batsignal light in our dormer window should do it.  I’m not even joking about that.  I’m known around the neighborhood as “Batman,” and it is known that if the Bat-light is on, the bar is open.  The light is frequently on.

But now, as I write this, we are approaching peak nerd-dom.  In a month that included my birthday and the most holy day of my faith, the real highlight comes in just a few days when Avengers: Endgame hits theaters.  For those not as nerdy as me, or who have been living under a rock, Avengers:  Endgame is the culmination of a ten-year, 22-movie experiment in filmmaking.  The Marvel characters (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Spider-Man, etc) inhabited what’s being called a “shared universe,” meaning that Iron Man appears in his own movies, but he also shows up in the Hulk’s movie.  Hawkeye shows up in Thor’s movie.  Then, they all joined forces in the Avengers.  This interconnected library of films was unprecedented in its scale and scope, and has created a deeply satisfying story.

What makes it so satisfying?  I could wax poetic about what I think these characters represent about the idea of being heroic.  I could cite some lofty (and often ridiculous) academic theories about superhero stories constituting a new, modern mythology.  Or I could just say why I think Captain America is just so damn cool!  But I’ll spare you all that.  Instead, I wanted to explore the idea of a shared universe.

Marvel didn’t exactly invent the concept.  You could make an argument that all the stories from Greek mythology are a shared universe.  I remember being pleasantly surprised when I was reading the story of Jason and the Argonauts and Hercules, my hands-down favorite, showed up.  Many stories have been told using characters and locations from the works of L. Frank Baum and H.P. Lovecraft.  In movies, the original Universal monsters – Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman – they crossed paths several times.

Quentin Tarantino has said he envisions all of his films existing in the same universe, and careful viewers can spot some of the connective tissue.  In television, we’ve seen multiple examples of this in the form of guest stars, spin-offs, and more.  In fact, a couple of guys here (bigger nerds than even me, apparently) have made the observation that through careful tracing of which show’s characters have appeared on other shows, more than 400 TV shows are interconnected, and St. Elsewhere is the hub of that universe in their grand unification theory.

The genre in which I write, crime fiction, has seen shared universes as well.  John Grisham has visited the same fictional Mississippi town many times in different books.  I had a special, unexpected thrill one year when two of my favorites, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole crossed paths in each other’s books.  They didn’t mention the other by name, licensing issues I’m sure, but to regular readers it was clear nonetheless.

And that thrill I mentioned, I think that’s what makes the shared universe so satisfying, when done well.  It opens the door to larger possibilities.  It sets up tantalizing questions of who’s the better detective or the more formidable fighter.  Who would find the murderer first:  Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot?  Who has a cooler car:  James Bond or Batman?  Who would win in a fist fight:  Jack Reacher or Miss Marple?  Okay, that last one may be a stretch, but you take my meaning.  The idea of the world in your story is not being limited by even the author’s imagination creates a wide horizon for even more exciting stories to come.

This Friday, I’ll be basking in the glory of a shared universe 22 stories in the making.  What’s your favorite shared universe?

–Ben Keller

HOW IGNORING MOM’S ADVICE MADE ME A BETTER COP

Now that I’m a mom, I find that I routinely dole out advice to my son. I expect—or at least, hope—that he will heed the words of hard-won wisdom garnered from years of…oh, who am I kidding? He’s going to do whatever he does. Just like I did.

During their training period, rookie officers fresh from the police academy are paired with a senior officer who guides them in learning to apply what they learned to real life situations encountered on patrol. Unlike the military, there is no Officer Candidate School, so everyone starts out as a “slick-sleeve,” hitting the streets in a patrol car.

Strong power police officer. large man in police uniform. Bodybu

My training officer was Tony, a forty-something mustachioed man of Italian descent who exuded authority. He was a respected, seasoned, intelligent officer who chose to spend his entire career in patrol. He was also a physical specimen who kept himself in excellent shape, even though his mere presence seemed to discourage fighting or running on the part of anyone he arrested.

Tony made it his mission to get me into as many dicey circumstances as possible to see if I could navigate my way out of them. He would only step in if the situation became truly desperate. I felt like a baby bird kicked out of the nest. Fifty feet up in the air. With the daddy bird critiquing my desperate flapping and floundering as I crashed to the ground. Again.

Slowly but surely, I began to learn tricks of the trade from him. For examplparking tickete, he told me his technique for writing a parking ticket. “Finish writing it while you’re still in your squad car, head to the violator’s car and put the ticket under the windshield wiper, then get the hell out of there as fast as you can.” When I raised my eyebrows, he gave me a serious nod. “Most people can handle it when you pull them over, but for some reason, they go ballistic if they catch you putting a ticket on their parked car. Trust me, it’s best not to let them see you do it.”

For the more dangerous domestic disturbance calls, Tony had this to say: “As soon as you arrive on the scene, separate them. Try to get them where they can’t even look at each other, but you can see both of them.” He jabbed a finger at me. “Most important, if you lock the husband up, watch out for the wife. She’ll jump on your back and try to claw your eyes out.”

Tony had a lot of advice, and it turned out to be spot on, but I gradually realized that my upbringing as a female left me with certain additional barriers to overcome that Tony hadn’t faced when he started out as a cop. Especially in the era when I grew up, girls weren’t encouraged to be outspoken or empowered.

That’s when I realized that the best cops did everything my mother taught me not to do. I’ve compiled a list of some of Mom’s top rules and why I learned to break them:

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  • Don’t go looking for trouble – All the grizzled veterans of patrol used to say, “Get out of your car.” Today it’s called community policing. To do effective police work, officers on the beat must periodically leave the squad car and interact with the community they serve. Not just when they’re on calls, but throughout the shift. This fosters better relationships and trust, which can garner investigative leads when it counts.
  • Keep your hands to yourself – I had to use my hands to perform countless pat downs and personal searches. Truly one of the worst things about arresting people. When you dug your hand into his pocket you never knew whether you’d come up with harmless pocket lint, a disgusting snotty Kleenex, or a deadly hypodermic needle. Of course, I was also treated to a stream of expletives, lewd remarks, or come-ons while I searched the crotch area. This came from both men and women. Yeesh, if only they knew what I was really thinking…
  • Don’t stay out until all hours of the night – Mom never envisioned me working steady midnights, or—the bane of my existence for five long years—rotating shifts. We changed schedules every week, and it felt like having an incessant case of the flu. It was considered part of the job, though, and we were expected to suck it up without complaint. Police work changes according to the hour, even in the same precinct. Different people come out in the wee hours. One thing my mother said, however, turned out to be applicable even on the job: “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.”
  • Don’t stick your nose in other peoples’ business – Cops have to ask impertinent questions. I’ll never forget the first domestic dispute call I responded to with Tony. We separated the spouses (Tony took the husband and I took the wife) and questioned them. At first, I found it challenging to get to the bottom of what they had been arguing about before it came to blows. Digging into their personal lives felt intrusive, but I swallowed my discomfort and got to the bottom of it. I learned that the husband smacked the wife because she didn’t caramelize any onions to go with his steak. She responded by hitting him upside the head with the skillet in which she’d cooked the onion-less steak. Seriously. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
  • Always tell the truth – All bets are off in the interrogation room. It is acceptable to mislead a suspect to convince him you know more than you do. That’s the challenge of being on the wrong end of a police interview. You never know what the cops know and what they don’t. Anything you say can reveal the lie you’re trying to weave into a coherent story. Better to confess…or better yet, don’t do the crime.
  • Don’t hang around bad people – Good cops cultivate sources in the community. This can include anyone from a local priest to the dope slinger on the corner. Often, it’s the latter that provides the most accurate information about what’s going on in the criminal world. Gaining trust with this group is difficult and takes a long time.
  • Mind your manners – At the scene of an incident, responding police are expected to take charge. When I first started out as a 22-year-old back in the Dark Ages, women who confidently strode into a situation and took command were called “pushy broads.” When I arrived at scenes with Tony, everyone naturally turned to him. He would jerk a thumb at me and say, “don’t look at me, she’s in charge.” They would turn from the seasoned pro to the obvious neophyte and shake their heads. I had to prove myself constantly for the first couple of years. Then, each time I got promoted, I had to prove myself to those working above and below me. Sometimes…this broad had to be a tad pushy.

— Isabella Maldonado

Claire Booth: Author of True Crime & Crime Fiction

Headshot(ClaireBooth)Please join me in welcoming Claire Booth to the blog, today. Claire is a mystery writer with a fascinating history as a journalist covering true crime. The latest installment in her Hank Worth Mystery series was released in the U.S. early last month, and it was great fun to read.

MB:        Claire, thanks for being on MurderBooks, today. You’re not only a crime fiction writer, you’ve also written a true-crime account. Tell us about this.

CB:         I did start out in true crime. My first book was about a case I covered while working as a newspaper reporter. A man passing himself off as a pseudo-cult leader killed five people near San Francisco. It was an extremely complicated case that took four years to resolve in court (which I’m sure you can appreciate with your legal background!). It ended up involving three suspects, dozens of law enforcement investigators, a massive missing-person search, a Playboy centerfold, and a practicing Wiccan. I wrote dozens of articles about it for the paper, but I could never fit in more than a fraction of the details. I knew that a book was the only way to do it justice. It’s called The False Prophet: Conspiracy, Extortion, and Murder in the Name of God.CoverArt(FalseProphet)

MB:        I’ve lived in a lot of places, but chose to set my crime fiction in a place close to my origins. Your work as a journalist took you to a number of places across the country, so I’m curious why you chose Branson, MO as the setting for your novels.

CB:         That’s a really good question. I went to college at the University of Missouri, where I met someone who grew up in Branson. I ended up marrying him and as a result, becoming quite familiar with the town, even though I’ve never lived there. And it’s a fascinating place. It’s not a big place (less than 15,000 people) and has many small-town issues, but it’s also huge because it gets more than six million tourists a year. So it has this duality that makes it a great place to set crime novels.

MB:        Your novels revolve around Sheriff Hank Worth, a really good-hearted guy who knows a thing or two about crime-solving and the subtleties of human psychology and motivation. Where did the character of Hank Worth come from?

CoverArt(ADeadlyTurn)CB:         Hank came to me pretty much fully formed. His personality began to come out as soon as I started writing dialogue. I do think he’s the result of the influence of the many decent, down-to-earth men in my life.

MB:        The Branson, MO portrayed in your writing feels so real–not just the place, but the people, patterns of speech, social structures. Are there real people behind any of your characters?

CB:         Not really. I do see bits and pieces of real people come through in my characters’ reactions, but I haven’t modeled a character on anyone specific. In the future, though, I just might . . .

MB:        Some authors say their main characters are more or less with them all the time, rarely far from their thoughts. Is this the case with you?

CB:         I go back and forth. The character haunting my thoughts is usually the one I’m focusing on at the moment. They pester me until I can figure out what they’ll do next. If it’s a complicated scene or plot point, I have several of them going at once. It can get quite crowded in my head.

MB:        Why crime fiction?

CB:         It’s very much a case of “write what you know.” I covered crime when I worked as a journalist. I’ve always found it fascinating, and it was the natural subject for me when I started writing novels.

MB:        When you start a book, do you already know the ending?

CB:         Oh, goodness no. I have no idea. I am definitely not someone who outlines everything beforehand. I just start writing and see where it leads me.

MB:        Who’s more fun to write, the good guys or the villains?

CB:         Hmm. That’s a tough one. I do know that writing the good guys is more difficult. You have to make them interesting and complicated; you can’t let them become boring. I don’t have any trouble keeping a villain from being boring!

MB:        What’s next from the pen of Claire Booth?

CB:         Right now, I’m working on a stand-alone novel that’s set in California, and starting the fourth Hank book. I’m also putting together another true-crime project—going back to my roots, so to speak.

MB:         Claire, thanks for taking the time to be on MurderBooks, today. Best of luck with your current writing projects.

Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a journalist, much of it covering crimes so strange and convoluted they seemed more like fiction than reality. Her first book, The False Prophet: Conspiracy, Extortion, and Murder in the Name of God, is the true story of a multiple murder case in California. After that, she took a step back from the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mysteries take place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town politics and big-city country music tourism clash in—yes—strange and convoluted ways. The latest in the series, A Deadly Turn, was released this month. www.clairebooth.com.

You can find Claire’s books at: A DEADLY TURN and THE FALSE PROPHET.

Claire was interviewed for MurderBooks by Roger Johns.