Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Hook’em and Book’em Returns Jan. 1, 2011
We will be taking a short break during these holidays. On the first day of the New Year, NYT bestselling author John Lescroart will join us for an interview about his latest novel, Damage, scheduled for release January 4th.  Please join us in 2011 as we continue to explore the world of crime, fiction, writing and publishingUntil then, may everyone enjoy the season holidays.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the City of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 10-12)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kindle, iPad, Nook, Sony

What’s Santa Hiding Under Your Tree?
By Mark Young
Christmas shoppers are thronging to stores for last minute presents to surprise family and friends. Even in these uncertain economic times, the spirit of giving seems to be alive and kicking. One of the hotter items this season—actually the last three seasons—continues to be eReaders. Kindle, iPad, Nook, Sony and others are jockeying for position to be the hottest number on the shelf.

It seems consumers in large numbers have finally begun to understand what these gadgets are all about. As people get used to the idea of books in digital, portable form, mor eReaders are selling. Several factors have caused this astounding rise in sales: affordability of eReaders, mobility of devices, competitive prising, storage capacity, and a growing awareness of where this market is headed. Everyone seems to be interested in learning about this new age of publishing.

Last week, I took my youngest daughter to a basketball practice and carried my Kindle to catch up on my reading while I waited for her. As I pulled the digital reader out, a woman sitting next to me saw the device and began asking questions. She had never seen an eReader in person. I showed her how simple it was to operate, how eye-soothing the e Ink is to read, and tried to demonstrate the device’s capabilities. The woman became a believer in just a few minutes. She wanted to know where to buy it  for her son. She left for a few minutes and returned. "I just spoke to my husband on the phone. Can he come over and see how this thing works?" 

Santa was going to be making another stop at that household—if there are any Kindles left to buy before Christmas.

People do not seem to balk at the prices, even in these hard economic times. At a price tag starting at $139 for a Kindle to the top of the price range for an iPad ( $400-$900), these movable libraries seem to be selling faster than a Ponzi scheme.

The Kindle continues to be a Christmas sell-out gift. As of November 17, the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi were already sold out for customers living outside the U.S. and UK. In previous Christmas seasons, the Kindle sold out in 2007 and 2008. In 2009,  Amazon's digital reader remained available throughout the holiday season for the first time. Don’t hold your breath for Christmas 2010. Stock is dwindling fast. Amazon is holding on to its remaining stock to sell exclusively in the U.S. and the U.K.

How well is Kindle selling? Amazon has always been a little shy about revealing numbers, but the company’s  “Official Kindle Team” sent this out to their readers last Monday: “Thanks to you, in the first 73 days of this holiday quarter, we’ve already sold millions of our all-new Kindles with the latest E Ink Pearl display. In fact, in the last 73 days, readers have purchased more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009.”

At least one Kindle competitor—Barnes and Noble—seems to be enjoying a healthy buying spree of its own. In a recent Publisher’s Week article, Barnes & Noble Chairman Len Riggio said, “B&N is manufacturing Nook Colors at a rate of 18,000 per day and it is loading up a 747 every four to five days to bring devices to the U.S. from China.” He acknowledged that B&N might not be able to keep enough in stock to meet the need of holiday shoppers.

What about Apple’s iPad? Although this is like comparing apples to oranges—the iPad tablet to the Kindle or Nook eReaders—Apple seems to be holding its own. Writer Mike Shield on the AdWorks web site reports that “global sales of computer tablet devices like the iPad will exceed 80 million by 2012, according to a new report from eMarketer. The research predicts that after 15.7 million tablet devices are purchased in 2010, in just two years sales will balloon by 418 per cent to 81.3 million units worldwide.” Shield adds, “After introducing the wildly popular device just this past April, Apple is expected to sell 13.3 million iPads in 2010 … By 2012, sales should reach a staggering 56.1 million units.”

Additional competitive muscle flexed when Amazon and Barnes & Noble announced this year that they planned to expand or launch publishing platforms for indie authors and publishers.

Amazon’s digital foray—using print publishing sites such as CreateSpace and AmazonEncore— and its Digital Text Platform for eBooks caused ripples throughout the publishing industry over the last couple of years. This company reportedly garners seventy percent of all eBook sales. As one of the largest online book sources, Amazon claims its eBook sales have already surpassed hardcover sales earlier this year, and they expect digital book sales to exceed other print markets in the near future

Jeff  Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, told a Publisher Weekly reporter  last July, “We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle—the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price.” Bezos added, “In addition, even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books.”

To garner a part of this digital publishing market, B&N announced last May they are “extending its deep and longstanding tradition of supporting authors and publishers with PubIt! … an easy and lucrative way for independent publishers and self-publishing writers to distribute their works digitally through Barnes & and the Barnes & Noble eBookstore.”

Meanwhile, Google added its own muscle  to the competitive eBook fight by launching their Google eBookstore where readers can browse a collection of three million titles. Customers can make purchases from this growing bookstore, keep those books in their own eBook library, and read from an array of digital devices—laptops, netbooks, tablets, and e-readers (except for Kindle). Free apps for Apple and Android devices will also be available. A Google press release states that customers will be able to “access your eBooks much like you access Gmail or photos in Picasa—using a free password-protected Google account with unlimited eBook storage.”

And so goes the digital publishing war in 2010.
All this to say, “What is Santa sticking in your stocking?” As prices lower—and before stocks are depleted—maybe your very own Santa is out there right now snatching up a digital present to stick under your tree. Which eReader are you hoping to see under the tree Christmas morning?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Police Snapshots For Novelists: Building Searches (Part II)

Surviving Building Searches
By Mark Young
Scene: A woman screams from inside a nearby house. Witnesses hear breaking glass and a man snarling out profanities. An unknown truck angles across the driveway, left in park, door standing ajar. Neighbors begin calling 9-1-1. You are a patrol officer. Dispatch sends you to this call.

How do you handle this case?

During our last post on building searches, we looked at all the information and options officers must consider before they even get to the front door. What kind of call is this? Weapons involved? Hostages? Prior calls for service? How many resources do we need to handle this situation? Can one officer handle this, or does the whole patrol team need to start rolling? All these considerations and more are running through the officer’s mind in route to the call.

One of the critical components of these calls is the coordination between officer and dispatcher. Key bits of information will normally be fed to officers before they ever get to the front door. Dispatchers will be pulling up information from various databases: calls for service to this residence, prior contacts, and certain utility information if available. If the neighbors provided vehicle information, that truck will be run and the registered owner (RO) identified. Wants and warrants will be checked on the RO, as well as anyone affiliated with that address.

On this call, dispatch advises that the residence belongs to a female who has prior contact information—including a restraining order against … you guessed it, the RO of the truck. So now, the officer is armed with a little more information that might shed light on today’s disturbance. It also gives the officer broader latitude to deal with this situation if the RO is on the premises. An arrest can be made on the spot for violation of the court-mandated restraining order, even if there are no other charges available at the time. But given the violent history between these two people, a diligent and alert officer should be able to hook and book this violator.

Even if the woman called the RO and invited him over—which happens because love is blind and some people in love lack sound judgment—the man is still in violation of the order. Just from the information provided by neighbors, an officer would probably determine that domestic violence might be the nature of this call.

So what do you do? Run up to the front steps, kick in the front door, and start looking for this scumbag?

Whoa, John Wayne. Back up a few steps and take a deep breath. Due to the nature of the call, you are going to want to make sure backup is on the way. Remember, domestic violence calls are one of the high-risk calls that get officers killed or injured. It can be a very volatile situation. You need all the help dispatch can send your way—if there are enough officers on duty and calls for service allow.

Your backup just arrived. What is your next step? Kick in the door or give knock and notice? It all depends—and this is why the job is so interesting. Every call is different. Circumstances can change faster than a traffic light switching from yellow to red. Officers always need to be their toes, able to wade through a flood of incoming information in order to make the right choice at the right time.
Years ago, officers might have been able to force they way in like Dirty Harry and take care of business no matter what happened. In these litigious times, an officer must venture forth carefully—this all becomes part of surviving the job. Survival can be broken down into three primary categories—physical, legal, and organizational. Physical: Don’t get shot. Legal: Follow the law at all times. Organizational: Don’t give supervisors ammunition to hit you with a personnel investigation.

Getting back to our disturbance call, what do we need to get inside the house. Courts frown on officers pushing the boundaries of knock and notice and fourth-amendment protection (Remember legal survival?). If you are going to break the normal rules of knock and notice, you’d better be armed with exigent circumstances.

Here is one interpretation of exigent circumstances: “Those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.' [United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1199 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 824 (1984).] Officers hear a lot of about this “reasonable person” from the courts but rarely do these legal scholars actually define what they mean by reasonable. What seems reasonable to an officer—in the dark, facing armed suspects, listening to the screams of victims—may not seem reasonable to the court during a preliminary hearing weeks or months later when everything has returned to normal.

A woman screaming within earshot might make a reasonable police officer believe exigent circumstances exists. Translation: You can kick in the door, Harry. Someone needs your help. This gets an officer inside without knocking and announcing. Again, under these circumstances a reasonable officer might come to the conclusion that an angry and violent man—with a history of firearms—just might shoot an officer or the victim before officers can intervene. However, officers should start letting people know the police have arrived once they get inside. This helps the officer survive legal and organizational threats, although this raises the physical threat. Common sense must prevail.

warrantless entries as long as the government did not create those exigencies. You’ve seen those movie scenes where a police officer breaks a window, turns to his partner and says, “look’s like a break-in in progress.” And in they go. This kind of monkey business would get everything they find inside the premises thrown out of court, while creating serious legal issues.

So now you’re ready to enter the dwelling. Go ahead and start that search. Work with a partner, watch both your backs, and go slowly—clearing every room before you enter the next. Remember the basics learned in training: hold flashlight away from your body so you don’t offer the bad guy a target; use soft- soled shoes; follow the ABCs of weapons use; use stealth; and use all of your senses—including common sense. Hook’em and book’em if you find the suspect.

Moments like these erase all the hours of boredom … until it comes time to write the report.  Paperwork is always the cost of doing business. And you had better make sure that everything that happened when you forced entry is thoroughly documented in the report. Testifying on the stand is the wrong time to remember an important detail you failed to include in your report. The district attorney will hang his head, the defense attorney will roll his eyes, and you can count on a frown coming your way from the judge—if not something more stern. Be smart and write everything down to ensure legal and organizational survival. You must survive a long career ahead.

Now it is time to go home until the next shift. Enjoy life. Relish the time away from the job. You made it through another day. As one military veteran replied at the end of his career: “Life is good. I’m still standing and sucking air.”

Novelist: Use these realistic situations to create all kinds of tensions and havoc in your story. Go ahead and let your creative mind run free. You might be surprised at how fast your main character gets into trouble. And your readers will want to turn those pages to see if their hero survives. Everyone wins—except maybe the bad guy. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Interview: Novelist Dean Koontz

Novel: What The Night Knows
By Mark Young
Release of author Dean Koontz's latest novel may create new definitions of terror, nightmare, and demonic possession. In What the Night Knows, Dean has created his own special genre. This gripping and exquisitely written tale refuses to fall within the confines of any genre definitions. What the Night Knows, scheduled for release December 28, 2010 rains upon the reader a potpourri of mystery, suspense, police procedural, romance, and flat-out terror.

This police procedural requires its lead character to go where no rational cop dares ventureinto the consideration of demonic possession and the possibility of evil surviving beyond the grave. There is also the exploration of the deep love between homicide detective John Calvino and his artist wife, Nicolette, and between them and their three children. Don't get cozy, reader. Love serves  only as a brief respite as the Calvino family struggles to keep one another alive and their would-be killers at bay. And for mystery lovers, we have who-done-it murders where the most likely suspect died years ago.

A brutal killer--Alton Turner Blackwoodmurdered four families two decades earlier and thousands of miles away from where John Calvino lives now. Back then, fourteen-year-old John killed Blackwood as the killer lingered over the bodies of the boy's freshly killed family. Now John is a 34-year-old homicide cop, haunted by his past. Recent killings identical to those twenty years earlier lead John to suspect that his own family might be the next target.

Simultaneously, strange things are happening to John's three children as they struggle to understand seemingly supernatural events that are  occurring in their home.

Rather than risk giving too much away about this captivating story, let's focus our attention on the author and creator: It is a great honor to have Dean visit us here today.

MARK: Dean, once again, you've created an unusual event, a story within a story that never lets the reader go until the final resolution. Let's start with a basic question about your writing: How do you come up with an amazing plot like What the Night Knows? Does it start with a general concept or idea? Or are you one of those lucky ones who has a good grasp of the whole story and who knows exactly where this next writing journey will take you?

DEAN: An idea never comes to me as a complete story. One of the joys of writing is the struggle to properly develop a premise after it has occurred to me and excited me. No fine novel can be intricately plotted before you start writing because that approach elevates raw mechanics above the art and craft. I sometimes know a couple of set pieces I might like to include, which are suggested by the premise itself, or I might know the essence of the ending, but by allowing the characters free will, I not only allow them to become more real, but I ensure that the story line will be more organic, more true to life in spite of the fantastic elements.

In the case of What the Night Knows, I had just started work on another novel when the idea for a ghost story slammed me. I turned to a tablet beside the keyboard, on which I make notes to myself, and I wrote down exactly this: Twenty years ago, a serial killer murdered four families. The only survivor was John, from the fourth family—and John managed to kill his family's murderer, saving himself. Now John is 34, has a much-loved wife and children of his own—and someone is murdering families exactly as they were murdered twenty years earlier. John, a man of reason, comes to suspect a supernatural entity is at work. Will his new family be the fourth target this time, too—and how does he defend against a disembodied spirit? That was the nugget, but of course the novel became far more complicated as it progressed.

Sometimes I can identify the inspiration for a novel, the chain of real-life events that seeded the idea, sometimes not. In this case, not. The idea just came from nowhere, I recognized the power of it, and realized the ghost would be a metaphor for certain real-world forces that destroy families every day, which would allow layers of texture and subtext. When I passed the idea along to my editor and publisher, they were as enthusiastic about it as I was—to such an extent that I set aside the book I had begun and instead wrote this one.

MARK: One of the most interesting exchanges in the novel occurs between John and a defrocked priest, Peter Abelard. First, the name of the priest seemed intriguing. I learned that the real Peter Abelard, born in 1079 A.D., was a well-known French philosopher-priest and theologian in his day. Is the reference intentional?

DEAN: Yes, it's intentional, but nobody needs to notice it to follow the story. The real Peter Abelard first proposed new ways of thinking about the world and sacred order that eventually led to Freud and Marx. A good argument could be made that the seeds for the death of the West were planted by Abelard and have been watered ever since, until we now live with the fruit of his ideas. To discuss this at any interesting level would require 50,000 words! It's that subtextual kind of thing that readers are better not noticing because it only distracts them—and I'm amazed that you, in the first interview I do for this book, bring it up! I'm sure no one else will. Subtext is like the concrete foundation of a house: Once it's poured and the residence is built atop it, you don't need to know exactly what mix of concrete and gravel and steel rebar went into it in order to enjoy living in the house.

In the novel, the defrocked priest, Abelard, is in such a dark place psychologically that as I wrote that scene, the hair went up on the back of my neck more than once. John Calvino's encounter with him is creepy and to some extent heartbreaking. It's one of those scenes that, when you finally get it right, you want to jump up and do a little end-zone dance and spike the ball, except you're a writer and you don't have a ball to spike, so you'd have to spike your keyboard, which would be expensive and stupid.

MARK: John also goes to his local priest, Father Bill, for counsel and reveals a tentative belief in demonic powers. But Fr. Bill  characterizes John's belief as superstitious, not faith condoned by the modern church. On the other hand, Abelardthe ousted priest, grappling with his own demonsis not dismissive as is Fr. Bill. The irony here is that the practicing priest offers John less aid and sympathy than does the defrocked priest who has too much experience with his own tendency to evil. These scenes obviously counterpoint each other. What was your intention with them?   

DEAN: First, I wanted to see John go to everyone he would logically approach for help in this extraordinary situation—and receive no help at all. He turns, as well, to his detective partner, with no better results. I knew he had to be isolated and desperate—before he realized that his only reliable allies were his wife and children. And then, perhaps too late, he also discovers that they have been having extraordinary experiences, as well, and that the spirit presence in their house has been using their fears and their love for one another to turn each of them inward and isolate each until it may be too late for them to share what they know and in sharing save themselves.

After that, there are several reasons for those two scenes. There's a dark kind of humor in the scene with Fr. Bill—just when I think the story needs a bit of wryness. And the Abelard scene ratchets up the creepy factor in advance of the extended third-act action sequences. It's also true of everyone in this story—except for the youngest child, Minnie, and perhaps also excepting her mother, Nicky—that he or she is in some way flawed, in some way foolish, and in need of maturing experience and/or redemption. Fr. Bill isn't actively evil, he means well, he is a big believer in positive thinking and paying it forward, but he is such an intellectual lightweight that it is possible that, by the end of his career, he might have done no less damage to his parishioners than has the more profoundly troubled, weak, and wicked Abelard.

MARK: Alton Turner Blackwood first makes his sinister appearance in a novella titled Darkness Under the Sun, just released October 25, 2010, as an eBook exclusive. In this coming-out for Blackwood, readers learn about this killer "who knew the night, its secrets and rhythms. How to hide within shadows. How to hunt." In What the Night Knows, Blackwood--or others under his influencecommits acts of great evil. How did this eBook release work to get people interested in What the Night Knows? What was the strategy behind unfolding this character's story in this manner?

DEAN: The events in the 14,000-word novella take place a year prior to the events in the novel. Darkness Under the Sun concerns an incident in Alton Turner Blackwood's life that inspired him to give up his days on the road, where he killed one victim at time, and instead to begin killing whole families. There was no way to drop this episode into the novel without destroying its structure and leading the reader too far away from the primary story. Writing an associated novella seemed the way to go, and Bantam thought the best way to use it was as an eBook, to build interest in this deformed and decidedly strange antagonist. I'm not much for strategy. I leave that to others.

MARK: As the title implies, the night in this novel almost becomes a character. However, the night does not take sides. Good and evil people struggle for position under the cover of night, for survival and supremacy. Can you tell us a little about this unique character and what it brings to the story? 

DEAN: You'll have to tell me what it brings to the story. I'm not the one to judge that it works or not. I don't actually personify the night in the story, but you're right that it serves, in some ways, as a character, not unlike the town of Pico Mundo in Odd Thomas and the great Bel Air Mansion, Palazzo Rospo, in The Face. Sometimes I like to take a key element of the setting--night, a town, a house, the flora of southern California in The Husband--and give it a heightened reality, explore it with some of the tools of magical realism, for a whole host of reasons, not least of all to weave text and subtext into a coherent fabric. Besides, when you challenge yourself to deal with one element of a setting in hyper-visual and emotional language that makes it almost a character, you find yourself unable to resort to cliche in any part of the story.

MARK: There seemed to be some confusion among your fans earlier this year about the story line of What the Night Knows. Initially it was described as a scary novel about a dog and a character named Kirby Wayland. Later it ended up being a ghost story with a main character named John Calvin. Can you clarify this confusion?

DEAN: When I put aside the Kirby Wayland story because this ghost story slammed into my head and demanded to be written, we didn't have a title for it. I sent my editor and publisher what seemed like tens of thousands of titles but was, I'm sure, more like thirty, and they sent me a bunch of titles, as well. They weren't crazy about any of mine, and I wasn't crazy about any of theirs. This was all friendly, you understand. We weren't spitting and cursing and threatening vengeance. But the title search did go on and on as I wrote the novel. Then one day I realized that the title of the Kirby Wayland story fit this story, too, and even better. I sent an email to my publisher, suggesting we take the title from the book I had set aside and use it on this one, which had so obsessed me. Just as that email was sent, one from my publisher came in, with the same suggestion. We simultaneously had the identical thought and had at the same moment acted on it. Spooky. But because the title was already associated with the Kirby Wayland story on some Web postings, there was confusion for a while. I'm a master at sewing confusion.

MARK: One of the more endearing characters in this novel is eight-year-old Minnie. She seems to possess an understanding of the whole other-world struggle that others do not grasp. Is Minnie's unique worldview because of her near-death experience earlier in her young life?

DEAN: The reader's expectation would be that if one of the three children was a mensch, it would be either 14-year-old Zach or 11-year-old Naomi, so it's better to play against expectations. But in any event, characters become who they insist on becoming, so Minnie was going to be Minnie regardless. As the youngest and also the least self-interested of the children, Minnie is also the most innocent.   Alton Turner Blackwood is absolute corruption, evil, and given his supernatural power, there is no way to defeat him unless one in the family can be said to possess the essence of innocence.  

MARK: Thanks for sharing this time with us, Dean.

DEAN: Thanks for asking questions that made me look like at least somewhat less of an idiot than usual.
Dean Koontz is the ultimate artisan of suspense. You can learn more about his prolific writing career at

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be Safe and Enjoy Thanksgiving
Hook’em and Book’em is taking a week off for the Thanksgiving holidays. We want to wish everyone a wonderful holiday with their family and friends. We send special thanks to all those men and women in the armed forces who will not be able to make home this year. You will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. May God bring each of you safely home. And finally, to those in our law enforcement community—may you stay safe. We appreciate what you are doing out there.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Police Snapshots For Novelists: Building Searches (Part I)

Surviving Building Searches
By Mark Young
Scene opens up: Bad guy rushes from a crime scene into a building to hide. Police close in and rush the building to make the arrest. Readers and viewers have seen this kind of action—in one form or another—played out many times. Scene ends: Bad guy is caught or shot. Good guy survives.

“Fools rushes in …” you know the rest of that line. Cops are no angels, but neither are they fools. Rushing into an unknown building is risky business. Those in law enforcement—if they have been around for any length of time— are going to take into consideration many options before they chase the bad guy inside.

There is almost an art to the business of conducting building searches. Every situation is different, and sometimes officers have to be very imaginative and resourceful to get the job done safely. This kind of operation takes training and practice. It takes a plan of operation and adequate resources to pull off successfully. Success means the bad guy winds up in cuffs and the good guys go safely home to their families at the end of shift. Anything less spells trouble.

Part II of this article on Building Searches will go into more detail what an officer must consider during the search. But an officer must be sure of their legal footing before they kick in that door and go after the crook. This article will consider some of the landmines that officers must try to avoid—as does your crime novel hero.

Generally, the bad guy is likely operating on his own turf—his residence, office, or neighborhood. Places this crook knows like needle tracks on his arm. The guy probably knows every inch of the place you are about to search. If it is the scene of a robbery or burglar, the crook probably cased this out beforehand to know the best places to run or hide if the cops show up. Right from the start, this crook has the home field advantage. An officer needs to shift that balance of knowledge to where police have the upper hand. That takes planning, communication, cooperation and discipline.

First, let us rid ourselves of the most obvious and most popular way of flushing a bad guy out into the open.  Best-case scenario: send in Fangs. All the officer has to do is seal off the area, call up the canine unit, and sit back and watch these four-legged creatures go into action. These dogs are a police officer’s best friend and the crook’s worst enemy.

Now, that would be too easy. What if canine units are not available? What if these structures are not conducive for these dogs to search?

Go to plan B.

An officer needs to back up and develop a plan of action. But first, the officer must consider a number of factors and options. If everything goes bad, this officer is going to need to justify every action he took in this operation. Particularly if someone gets hurt.

Here are some of the questions that will flash through the officer’s mind. Is the bad guy armed or does he have access to weapons and hostages? Has the guy barricaded himself? If the answer is “yes” to any of these considerations, then the officer would generally punt a decision to a supervisor and wait for SWAT to show up. Then, the officer just has to stand back and watch the show unless something else requires immediate intervention. This was learned from law enforcement’s tragic experiences at Columbine High School in 1999. Prior to this event, officers had generally been taught to sit back, contain, and call in SWAT. Law enforcement learned that in some situations, first responders must go forward and initial immediate action in order to save lives and help to control a highly volatile situation. Again, it all hinges on what kind of call the officer is facing.

Most times—unless shots are exchanged or weapons brandished—the officer is not going to know whether the suspect is armed. If a weapon was not seen, then an officer needs to decide whether it is worth going in to get this guy. I know this may sound odd, but at some point, the officer must evaluate the risk, the gain, the crime, and the liability. All in a matter of seconds.

First, why did the suspect flee? Did he run because he had outstanding warrants in the system and did not want to go to jail?  What kind of warrants—misdemeanor or felonies? Warrants for unpaid parking tickets or for armed robbery? Is he running because he stole some hubcaps or did he just commit a rape in the next block and he is facing a third strike in prison? A police officer has to have some idea why the suspect ran before busting in the door and starting a search.

If the runner has been identified, is it necessary for the officer to go in and arrest him or would it be more prudent to simply write it up and go for a warrant? Again, common sense must prevail.

An officer should gather whatever information is available in order to make a decision to start a building search. For example, maybe the officer cannot identify the suspect. They could run a records check on the residence—if that is where the suspect fled—searching for calls for service at that location and prior contacts. Utilities and other data base systems might provide additional information.
Another consideration is whether the officer has the legal right to force entry to that location. Again, going back to the reason the suspect ran. If it was a misdemeanor warrant, for example,  the officer may not have the right to go in and arrest the suspect depending upon the charges, the time of day, and whether the warrants need to be served in a public place (public thoroughfares, common walkways, or places the general public has a right to be).

Aside from the criminal charges, another consideration facing the officer is that of potential civil liability. What if the officer forces entry and did not have legal ground to do so? And what if the officer was forced to shoot and kill the suspect in defense of his own life? The officer might be absolved of any criminal wrongdoing, but civil action against the officer rises to a completely different rules and criteria.

So all these considerations—and probably a dozen other factors—all point to the officer going in to get this guy. Again, first consideration is sealing off the area so that the bad guy is contained. Second, get enough personnel on the scene to safely conduct the search. Gather as much information as you can on the structure you are about to enter. Lastly, make sure that everyone involved in the operation knows what their job is.

Not to leave readers hanging, but Part II of this article will go into the mechanics of a search. Writers do not want to bog down their story with facts and liability issues, however, these issues can be used to further make your main character twist and turn in the literary wind. Just think of the possibilities.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Police Snapshots For Novelists

Traffic Stops Are Deadly Business
 By Mark Young
A traffic stop for most motorists is an irritating experience: a red light flashes in your rear window and a police car trails behind with emergency lights flashing. You steal a glance at the speedometer and realized you just messed up. One moving violation ticket coming your way.

Now put the brakes on for one minute after you pull off the road. I want to snatch you out of the driver’s seat, wave a magic wand, and allow you to become that officer in the patrol car behind you. Allow yourself to experience what those officers face as they attempt to make a traffic stop. 

This article—among others—will attempt to help readers and writers experience what it feels like to wear that badge in a number of police-related circumstances. Hopefully, these series of articles will  allow authors an opportunity to vicariously experience these officers’ fears and concerns on the job before writers create another cop character in their novel.

The first stop down this road sounds mundane—traffic stops. Pretty routine?

Traffic stops are deadly business. Anyone who wears the badge and makes traffic stops knows the risks that they face when they try to pull over a vehicle. According to statistic compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, officers killed in the line of duty surged to 43 percent during the first six months of 2010 after reaching a 50-year low in 2009. Between January and July this year, eighty-seven law enforcement officers died in the line of duty compared to 61 officers last years. Among those killed, 35 percent of those deaths resulted from traffic fatalities. (This figure does not include those 31officers killed by firearms, some of whom might have been involved in traffic stops).

Police officers—whether straight out of the academy or a seasoned veteran—know just how risky traffic stops can become. It is hammered into the recruit from the first day of training. Field Training Officers carry this into the field, making sure their trainees learn how dangerous these stops can be. It is drilled into them day after day, stop after stop.

An officer—once they have made a decision to stop a violator—begins to think ahead, trying to pick a place to make the stop that will afford some reasonable safety while trying to guess what the driver ahead will do. The officer tries to pick a stretch of country road—or a city street—that gives some margin of safety for the officer and the motorist. A patch of road out of the flow of traffic where they can approach and make contact with the driver. They take into account how their car is positioned, and how the car ahead will be illuminated if the stop is at night. The officer must be ever vigilant of those inside the car, looking for furtive and suspicious behavior that might alert to danger.

Meanwhile, the officer is concerned about what lies behind as well as ahead. More than one drunk driver has ploughed into the patrol car, their eyes hypnotized by the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles. If in the city, the officer must be alert to pedestrians walking by as well as well as the terrain around them. Is this a gang neighborhood? Is there something about this part of the city that might be a threat to the officer?

But the greatest threat—in the mind of most officers—is those sitting inside that car. From a distance, it is hard for an officer to make a fair assessment of the situation until they make contact with the occupants. Most drivers are law-abiding citizens. They may be a little irritated that they were stopped, but these citizens generally recognize the officer is just doing his/her duty. But a small percent of those stopped are hardened criminals, and just about anything might cause these cons to use deadly force.

Many scenarios are running through the officer’s mind. Is this person in violation of their parole? Do they have a gun in the car? Have they just committed a crime? Are they high on drugs? The possibilities for deadly confrontation includes just about every conceivable motivation known to man.

Patrol officers are always listening to the police radio, trying to pay attention when other officers make a traffic stop. Details like where the stop is made, what the traffic violation might be, and other information put out over the air or on CAD (Computer Assisted Dispatch) allows officers to judge whether another officer needs assistance. Depending upon available units, another officer might drive by to see if the officer needs help. The officer making the stop is in charge. If they need help, officers will respond as quickly as possible.

The initial approach to the car is critical. There is a point as the officers draws close where they are most vulnerable, particularly at night due to decreased visibility. The officers try to maximize visibility by using mounted spotlights to shine into the car as they approach. As the officer gets even closer, a flashlight will be used to further illuminate the inside of the vehicle. The officer is looking for any kind of movements or suspicion that might warn of trouble: driver nervously looking in the rear view mirrors, the driver hiding his hands, or a passenger moving around inside the car.

Close your eyes for a moment. Just imagine walking up to an open window at night, your mid section exposed to the driver, the car windows all tinted up. You can’t see who else might be in the car. Maybe your partner came up on the other side. Will you be fast enough to pick up any signs from your partner that something is hinkey inside the car? Imagine a gun in the driver’s hand just out of sight. How fast can you react before that driver uses deadly force? Maybe you are lucky and see a flash of metal. Do you back up and seek cover or do you pull your own weapon? Will you be able to make that decision to use deadly force—if that is necessary—or will you hesitate, waiting to be sure of the danger, and discover you waited too long.

Do you have the picture in your mind? Now use it in one of your scenes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Novelists Break the law

Interrogations and Warrantless Searches Make for Good Story
Want to kill the action in your crime story? Let the main characters announce they’re going to get a search warrant before barging into the killer’s apartment. Audiences are hissing and groaning. Writers want to slink back into the shadows.  They know ‘waiting for paper’ is a real time waster and a fast way to destroy audience interest.

So is the story twisting the novelist’s arm to break the law?

This is fiction. Everyone should be able to feloniously break and enter—even if they are a cop—to keep the story moving along. In the interest of blind justice, right?

Last week, I realized how many novels and films I’ve seen where breaking the law has become standard operating procedures for the good guys. Where the main character—the good guy—pulls out the handy lock pick set, plays with the tumblers, and in they go. We are conditioned to think that breaking the law in the interest of justice is for the ultimate good. Does that strike you as a little convoluted? Here are few shows that will demonstrate what I’m writing about.

In a recent lawyer show, the law partner directed a private eye to get information on a potential client in the next few hours. Next scene: Private investigator pries open the front door of this potential  client’s apartment using a crowbar. The private eye trashes the place to make it look like a burglary, confiscates a few items that might be evidence, and hacks into her computer before leaving with what he found. The law partners—I think they call them officers of the court—willingly received this information with a wink and a nod.

In another show that same night, investigators raced to find a victim witness who might be in trouble. They reach the woman’s apartment, kick in the door, search the place at gunpoint and find it empty. Mind you, this is the home of a witness to a murder, a lady who might be in danger herself. In some scriptwriter’s mind, the fact that she might be in danger constituted exigent circumstances to break and enter for the good of the show.

Exigent circumstances make prosecutors wince—and judges frown—when these kinds of cases hit the courts. It is a legal term used to describe when law enforcement might be justified to enter a residence or private dwelling without a warrant. Such action might be justified if a person faces imminent danger or when a suspect is likely to flee. One of the most common situations in law enforcement are  domestic violence cases. Neighbors heard a man and woman fighting. Responding officers get to the door, hear a woman scream, a man yelling, and property damaging going on. They boot the door, grab the man and wrestle him to the ground. The woman—black eyes, bloody nose— sees her man hogtied on the floor, jumps on the officer and the whole mess winds up in court.

Stop and think back over the books, movies and television shows you’ve read or seen lately. Can you remember any scenes where the law was abrogated, where civil rights are violated in the interest of the greater good?

Another situation  we see quite often is excessive use of force on suspects. In a recent show—one I actually enjoy watchinga family of cops are working in the same town. One of the sonsa homicide detectiveroutinely violated the civil rights of practically every crook he came in contacted with although the viewers and the cop felt each crook had it coming. The detective’s reason for roughing up the bay guys is that someone might die if certain information is not quickly obtained. The person is saved, the cop gets high-fived from his partners, and he goes to the local tavern for a beer. Finally—after weeks of civil rights violations—this detective follows the law even when the stakes are high. My wife and I gave each other a high five because the detective finally followed the law.

Now, I’m not a card-carrying, flag-waving ACLU member. Far from it. Remember, I once was a cop and suffered alongside others in the department when those legal beagles peppered us with all kinds of legal shenanigans. However, I wonder how much we have become conditioned to seeing the law violated—by the good guys. Real cops would have wound up in a state or federal prison for doing a fraction of the violations  that make-believe cops get away with every week.

I enjoyed—maybe fascinated is a better word—watching the 24 television show season after season. I agonized along with Jack Bauer as he tortured one terrorist bomber after another in order to save the nation from total disaster. He knew the ends somehow justified the means, but I think he generally regretted using those methods. Looking back over Bauer’s career, the viewing public grew to accept just how far Bauer had to go in order to save the country. Many of us grew to condone Bauer’s methods.

As novelists, I wonder if we ought to rein in our Jack Bauer-type of characters just a tad. Maybe we should try a little harder to stay within the law to get the job done while still raising tension. Characters are created to walk a fine line between right and wrong, between good and evil. As writers, we might consider trying a little harder to up the consequences when our characters stray.

It can be done. The job might be a little more challenging than the excitement of watching  a bad guy getting his face flushed down the toilet or some other interrogation technique. But it is possible to have our good guy walk a fine line, stay within the law, and still show the tension of the character.

Here is a good example of a not-so-nice private eye who finally decides to do the right thing by the end of the novel. Dashiell Hammett did a wonderful job of capturing this dilemma in The Maltese Falcon. Private investigator Sam Spade tried to explain to the beautiful Brigid O’Shaughnessy why he must turn her in as the killer and for her part in the crimes.  Brigid pleads with him to look the other way—for love.

Spade first says, “I don’t care who loves who I’m not going to play the sap for you.”

She keeps pushing. Spade then lists all the reasons he must do what is right—loyalty to his dead partner; for the good of the organization; because his job is to run down criminals and put them in jail; because it is his neck or hers. He gives eight reasons why he must turn her in to the cops.

Brigid comes close, putting her face close to his, still begging.

Finally, Spade grabs her, clinches his teeth, and utters: “I won’t play the sap for you.”

This might not be an altruistic  reason for staying within the law, but in Spade’s world it is reason enough to do the right thing.

Do you have a character in your novel who might be contemplating breaking the law? What consequences might your character suffer for crossing that line?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Novelists and Dead Body Calls

Homicide ALWAYS Called Out?
By Mark Young
Most crime fiction has a dead body turn up somewhere near the front of the book. Emergency lights flashing, uniformed cops standing around, and a grizzled and ornery homicide detective lumbers onto the scene. The detective might be guzzling lukewarm coffee from a Styrofoam cup while scowling at the supervisor for calling him out in the middle of the night. The detective—suffering from too much booze and too many call outs—glares at the world through blood-shot eyes. A cigarette dangles from cruelly-drawn lips if the detective does not give a hoot about contaminating his crime scene. How often have we read this sort of scenario?

Want to add just a little more tension to the story?

Roll back the tape until you reach a point in the story where the dead body is first discovered—if the author felt this event significant.  Maybe cops stumbled over the body or witnesses called it in to dispatch. Maybe hospital staff or caregivers reported another death of an elderly person or a person succumbing to a terminal illness—the kind of calls that come in every day. By the time we—the reader or viewer—get to the scene in our novel, everyone seems to know a murderer is loose. We see blood on the wall, a knife sticking out of the deceased’s back, or gunshot wounds riddling the dead guy’s chest.

But what if the signs of death are more subtle? What if someone really must pay attention to details? Little hints that may have been left that tell us this death is not natural or expected.

Everyone generally thinks the cop just grabs the radio and calls for investigators to come and take over. Do you think homicide units roll out on every dead body call? You would be wrong if you answered affirmative to that last question. Heads will roll if these hard-working investigators are called out to deaths that turn out to be natural.

So who makes these decisions?

Write this key shotcaller into your story and your next scene offers more opportunities to make characters and readers squirm unmercifully. Here is where the pressure comes in. If your character makes the wrong decision, one of several things might happen. Worst-case scenario—case against the killer goes out the window. Best case—made a wrong choice and tick off everyone up the chain of command, making you the laughingstock of the entire department because everyone else knew how to handle this. Even worse case scenario—killer comes after someone the officer/sergeant loves because evidence was over looked.

All agencies handle these calls a little differently. Any law enforcement agency, however, will have buried somewhere in their policies and procedural manuals exactly how these calls should be handled. The problem lies in the fact that someone must  make the right judgment call. And humans make mistakes, particularly when policies and procedures read like the fine print in an insurance claim. Any smart patrol officer will always make sure these questionable decisions fall on a field supervisor’s broad shoulders.

Once at the scene, officers must proceed with caution. One cardinal rule on dead body calls is that no one—not even the Chief himself— disturbs the body until the corner responds or gives permission to move the body. I remember one death-by-hanging case in which the officer was crucified by the coroner, the field supervisor, and by investigators eventually called out to investigate.  This kind-hearted officer did not want family members to see their loved one—a young teenager— hanging by a rope in the garage. The officer reached up and cut the deceased down to make the scene more presentable. He never made that mistake again.

But what if the coroner isn’t coming out? The officer has given all the facts over the telephone to the coroner's office. The coroner's office—based upon the officer’s statement—authorizes the body to be moved to a funeral home. What if the officer overlooked something? A key element that might change the classification from “natural” to something more sinister.

Some of the most challenging cases are those general called  “unattended deaths.” As far as anyone knows, the person may have appeared to die alone by natural causes or expected terminal illnesses. Or did they?

For example, an elderly person dies while in a care facility. The attending physician or caregiver might make the pronouncement, sign a death certificate, and arrange for the body to be taken to a funeral home. Say a family member, distraught over the death and circumstances leading up to the death, calls the police regarding their suspicions.  Police would most likely investigate.

In these circumstances, the patrol officer walks in with a mindset that this is a natural death. Those with medical training  have signed off on it, people who should know something about how this person died. Just a formality. Right?  As seasoned mystery readers and writers, you might see where such a case could suddenly explode if each death is not closely studied.

Take for example the case of the Donald Harvey, dubbed the “Angel of Death,” currently serving four consecutive life sentences at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility for more that fifteen murders. He claims to have killed eighty-seven victims, but the officials estimate Harvey killed somewhere between thirty-six  to fifty-seven victims while acting as a caregiver in several hospitals during his seventeen-years killing spree. Not once did police suspect that Harvey might be the culprit, even when he was arrested for burglary in 1971 only two years after he began killing patients and began babbling incoherently about his murders. Finally, in 1987 a faint scent of almonds—the tell tale sign of cyanide—emitting from the decease's body finally led investigators to focus on Harvey.

This case is not isolated. There have been a disturbing number of caregivers who turned out to have killed their patients for any number of reasons over the years. Some, like Harvey, got away with many killings.

Everything hangs on the shoulder of the first responders to a death investigation. Detection begins with the first officer on the scene, or the field supervisor called to determine how this case should be handled. This is not an article on how to conduct death investigations. Rather, to focus on the critical role the first officer on the scene plays in these investigations. This officerwho initially stride onto the scene full of confidencebuckles under the stress when people he respects land on him with both feet because of stupid mistakes. Stress that writers can skillfully use as a tool to make everyone squirm.

So, writers, here is a situation that begs for conflict. Use one tidbit of evidence or one statement from a witness from that scene, and have a rookie cop walk in to investigate. Is he going to call in his grumpy sergeant or is he going to take it upon himself to make the right call and demonstrate to his superiors that he can handle these situations without anyone’s help. Did he tread on the only piece  of evidence that might give a clue that this case is murder? Or the sergeant—distracted by his third wife’s divorce attorney waiting back at the station—overlooks something that even the rookie would have caught.

How many ways do you want your characters to suffer? The possibilities are endless.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Citizen's Police Academy

A Nurse Goes To Police Academy
By Jordyn Redwood
(Editor's Note: Hey, novelists, want to write about crime scenes and police work with authenticity? Today’s guest–registered nurse and suspense novelist Jordyn Redwood—did just that. She ventured out and joined other brave citizens to learn first-hand about police work. Welcome Jordyn to Hook’em and Book’em  as she tells us about her experiences.)

I’m a nurse and self proclaimed medical nerd. After all, I do read medical textbooks for fun. That’s why medical inaccuracies in novels irritate me as much as someone dragging their nails down a chalkboard. Writing a medical scene is more than just being able to describe how to do a particular medical procedure. It’s about capturing the culture of how medical professionals interact with each other.

I face this problem when I write a scene that deals with law enforcement. I can do hours of research at Google University but still miss the nuances, those little details, that would enrich the scene because I’m not involved in the culture of a law enforcement agency. How can a writer learn about these subtleties from a book? Really, you can’t. What the next best thing?

Check out your local police department and see if they offer a Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA). If there isn’t one locally, look to the next largest city.

The CPA I’m taking meets weekly for three hours for fourteen weeks. As part of the class, I’ve been able to ride-a-long with a patrol officer twice, seen the K-9 unit in action, and will be able to fire a weapon with the SWAT team. Some CPA’s may not have the same time commitment, so don’t let that dissuade you.

What are some of the finer details I’ve picked up? One interesting thing I never considered is where would a K-9 officer keep the dog’s leash when the dog is set free to search for or chase a suspect? It’s better if both of the officer’s hands are free versus having one holding the lead. They clip it around their waist. Now, both hands are free for work. I’m not sure that’s listed in many books that write about K-9 units. The dogs are working animals. They’re not allowed to cozy up with “dad”, as one K-9 officer referred to himself, at home in bed on a cold winter’s night. The dogs train on their key scents at least weekly. They also bite “the easiest available area."


Evidently in one K-9 unit, the dogs were trained to only bite someone’s arm. Criminals caught on to this method and when they were being pursued by the dog, they would run with their arms up in the air. The dogs wouldn’t bite. Training changed.

Writing is always more than translating a particular protocol onto the page. It’s about capturing the spirit, dedication, and culture of the professionals you’re fictionalizing. A CPA is one way to deepen your ability to write about law enforcement.

By the way, the CPA I was involved with did a background check. I wonder if they’ve ever arrested anyone who’s applied? 
Jordyn’s blog offers new readers a chance to win money by just signing up by October 30, 2010. Here is the link if you’d like to find more about her blog and this great opportunity. It is also a great site for those writers wanting to make their scenes medically believable.

Jordyn Redwood is a pediatric emergency nurse by day and suspense novelist by night. Redwood’s Medical Edge is her blog that deals with how to write medically accurate fiction for both historical and contemporary writers. Check it out at