CONFESSIONS FROM THE DARK STREETS
Of the fifteen books I’ve written, my latest novel, Lie Catchers, is the most personal and unique. Having spent thirty-five years with the LAPD and thirty years as a professional writer, I am a sturdy branch on the genealogy tree of police writers. Other cop-author branches on the tree include William Caunitz (NYPD), Joseph McNamara (San Jose PD), Sonny Grosso (NYPD), and a plethora of others (for a full list CLICK HERE). The LAPD, however, has always led the way when it comes to police writers, including such luminaries as Dallas Barnes, Kathy Bennett, Gene Roddenberry (yes, that Gene Roddenberry), and almost 100 others (CLICK HERE). LAPD, of course, was also where the heavyweight champ of police writers, Joseph Wambaugh, hung his shoulder holster.
With that kind of professional ancestry, it was pretty much a given I would also do a Wambaugh when it came to writing novels. I have written books in other genres, westerns, an Elvis-is-not–dead novel, soccer mysteries, and boxing noirs, but cop dramas have always constituted the largest part of my output.
Fey Croaker, the heroine of the five book series in which she is featured, is a unique character, but the novels themselves follow the traditional sequence of mystery or police procedurals – there’s a murder, it’s a whodunit, the quirky detective doggedly works to untangle the morass of red herrings and false clues and, eventually, slaps the cuffs on the perpetrator. This is not a bad thing, but I wanted Lie Catchers to be something more. I wanted to take the reader into a world they only thought they knew and turn them on their heads.
During my LAPD career, I spent over twenty-five years investigating sex crimes. For fifteen of those years, I ran the Operations West Bureau–Sexual Assault Detail (OWB-SAD) – a unit of thirty detectives investigating all sex crimes in an area covering twenty-five percent of the city. This extensive jurisdiction included Hollywood Area, where anything that could happen sexually usually did.
From its formation, OWB-SAD consistently maintained the highest sex crimes clearance rate and number of detective initiated arrests in the city. We were busy, but what made us far more successful than the other sex crimes details in the city was our attention to interrogations.
Every interrogation we did was videotaped, reviewed, and critiqued. We developed many different techniques, both in the box and on the streets. Our byword was the belief the interrogation room wasn’t a place, it was wherever an OWB-SAD detective happened to be – the suspect’s home or workplace, in a car, in a coffee shop, literally anywhere. This was interrogation as it had never been approached before.
For good detectives, it’s not the cases we crack that matter, it’s the ones we don’t that haunt us. I now teach week-long interrogation classes to experienced detectives at wide variety of law enforcement agencies. Invariably, several detectives in the class have an epiphany. They think back to a case where they couldn’t get to the truth and realize they could have done so if they’d had these types of techniques – which are all part of a tactical approach to interrogation.
As a novelist, I finally had my own interrogation epiphany. I realized, I’d never seen or read anything dealing with interrogation in a realistic manner. Books don’t get it right. Movies and TV certainly don’t get it right – not even the real cop shows like 48 Hours.
However, with my background and experiences, I was in a unique position to write an interrogation themed novel and make it as realistic as fiction would allow. Lie Catchers is the result.
I didn’t want Lie Catchers to be just another whodunit murder mystery. I wanted to give the reader an intimate experience – much like the world created between a detective and a suspect in the box. To accomplish that goal, I knew the third person narrative voice I’d used for the Fey Croaker novels would not work. For Lie Catchers, I had to get inside the head of one of the main characters and tell the story in the first person.
Lie Catchers features two top LAPD interrogators, Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall. Telling the story from Ray Pagan’s perspective just didn’t feel right. One of Pagan’s qualities is the unusual ways in which he approaches situations. This was best experienced from the point of view of another character who would come to understand Pagan along with the reader. This put me, as the writer, inside the head of Calamity Jane Randall – a very good detective, but still a woman who doesn’t truly understand herself. To become a great detective, a great interrogator, she needs Pagan to lead her on the path to self-discovery. However, Pagan also needs Randall – for many reason, which become clear in the narrative, but most of all to save him from himself.
I didn’t want Pagan and Randall simply to be a riff on Holmes and Watson. I wanted their dynamic to be an equal partnership. Randall isn’t just there to assist and marvel at Pagan’s brilliance – a foil used to listen while Pagan explained his cleverness. Randall is her own woman with her own strengths. Yes, sometimes Pagan acts as a mentor, but I wanted there to be an equal number of times when Randall’s actions saved the day. Jane was a leader, not just a follower.
But here was the challenge. As a male, writing in the third person about a female main character like Fey Croaker was one thing. Actually getting inside Jane Randall’s head to tell the story from her perspective as a woman was entirely another.
I had been living with the characters of Pagan and Randall in my brain for quite a while before I started writing Lie Catchers. As I prepared to start tapping out words, I was surprised to find I actually knew more about Jane than I did about Pagan.
Jane was a touch more tentative, a little less self-aware, than Fey Croaker. She was no less of a detective, but her approach was much more stealthy. Fey reacts, charging into situations until she crushed them. Jane quickly assesses situations and responds – achieving her goal with a minimum of shattered glass. Interrogation is all about becoming the person the suspect needs you to be in order to confess. You can’t do that by reacting…You have to be able to respond. Jane’s style complimented the skills she needed to become a great interrogator.
Jane also needed to tell her story, her way. Unless you are a writer, you can’t understand the joy and the amazement of experiencing a fictional character completely taking over your narrative. It is as if they are an entity inside you, knowing all your secrets, each skeleton in your closet. Every day, they force you to sit down at the keyboard and then take charge of your fingers to tap out their story in staccato bursts of channeled energy.
Through this process, Lie Catchers became something more than just a story. It became an experience. All of the interrogation techniques within the pages are as real as I could make them, but the emotions and intensity – the intimacy I wanted to establish between characters and readers – were all sparked by Jane Randall and Ray Pagan.
My name is on the cover of Lie Catchers, but it’s Randall and Pagan’s story. They are your personal guides into the continent of darkness which lies in the soul of the art of interrogation. You couldn’t be in better hands.