Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cheese It -- The Cops! by Roberta Isleib

John here. I'd like to welcome Roberta Isleib and thank her for taking time from her busy schedule to join us. Roberta is a clinical psychologist who has had eight mysteries published with Berkley Prime Crime, most recently ASKING FOR MURDER. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is the past president of National Sisters in Crime and is currently serving as the chair of the MWA Edgar best novel committee. She’s working on a standalone suspense novel called Married Seeking Married. Read more at

Cheese It—The Cops! By Roberta Isleib

I’ve never been tempted to write a police procedural. Despite a lack of personal experience with men in blue, I’ve always been a little afraid of the police. Besides, getting all those details nailed down looked like an awful lot of work. (Although I do have a very good friend who wrote a wonderful police procedural series and claims she made every bit of it up.)

With my amateur sleuth mysteries, I assumed I could finesse most of the police work details and concentrate on things I was more interested in, like psychology and golf. But as I wrote my first book, SIX STROKES UNDER, I realized I needed some specific local facts. In particular, if a murder occurred on the golf course just before a tournament began, would they cancel or postpone the event? A cancellation would ruin my story, so I had to know. Not seeing any way around it, I ferreted out who had jurisdiction of the area covering the Plantation Golf and Country Club and drove to the Sheriff’s office.

“I’m a writer,” I told the heavyset fellow who manned the front desk, “and I have a question.” I explained the scenario. Golf course. Dead body. Tournament. He looked at me blankly. A crackpot, I could imagine him thinking, but is she dangerous?

“There’s a law enforcement library in Orlando,” he finally said (3 hours away). “I’m sure you could find the answer there.” I left in a quiet huff and promptly wrote him into the book as Sheriff Tate, a “short, very sweaty man whose uniform barely stretched over the expansive girth of his stomach.”

I didn’t venture into another police station until my fourth book, set in Pinehurst, North Carolina. The experience couldn’t have been more different. I was shepherded through the department like a visiting dignitary—no detail was too minor for the friendly woman officer to explain. She was written into a book as well, as the stern but fair Officer Cutler in FAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. She attended my book launch in Pinehurst, dressed to kill, accompanied by other excited friends and relations who all purchased multiple copies of my book.

In the intervening books, I’ve consulted my husband’s golf buddy who’s a judge in Connecticut, surveyed mystery writer types with past lives in law enforcement, and read Lee Lofland’s excellent POLICE PROCEDURE AND INVESTIGATION. But the point came where I had to go back to the well: My work in progress features a detective as one of the main characters. He’s taken a job in my hometown (Madison, CT) as temporary director of public relations and training. We need public relations in Madison—for several years our local papers have been loaded with headlines like: “Police department requires intervention,” “Officers accused of consorting with prostitutes,” “Suit alleges retaliation, malice,” and “Commission receives charges against chief.”

With some trepidation, I made an appointment to meet with our acting Police Chief. After his secretary joked that they could arrange a night in a cell if I needed a realistic experience, he gallantly escorted me through the facilities. Then, joined by a member of our town’s police commission, we talked for an hour about the stresses of the job, the role of the commission, and even the emotionally hostile relationship in recent years between the department and the citizens. Now if I can’t make something interesting out of that, I’m not much of a writer.

Can I call you if I need to make bail?

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