Laurel Dewey: What goes into researching a thriller?

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Protector coverAbout thirteen years ago when I first told a few friends that I was going to write a crime/suspense thriller with a mystical twist, one of them responded with, “So, are you going to learn how to shoot a Glock?” I realized that “shooting a Glock” (a service weapon a lot of cops own) was an example of how superficial the understanding can be of what cops do. So much of what we think goes on during a homicide investigation is framed from what we’ve seen on television or the movies. And, yes, “shooting a Glock” is really a minor portion of that.

Since I had zero understandings of the workings of a real homicide detective and I wanted to make sure everything was authentic in the Jane Perry series, I sought out a lot of police officers from all the various levels of law enforcement: Street cops, fraud detectives, homicide sergeants, etc. all helped me create a much more accurate picture of what I needed. I went on midnight to six in the morning ride-a-longs with two street cops and garnered insight into what goes on when the rest of us are asleep.

I also went to Denver and was thrilled when a public information officer for the Denver PD allowed me to tour the actual homicide division at Denver Headquarters. This kind of tour was invaluable to me because I could describe the carpet, color of paint, where the detective’s offices were located, what view they had outside their windows, what the interrogation room looked like, and so much more. To me, this just helped make the whole setting more authentic.

Perhaps the most difficult part was realizing that I needed to describe crime scenes in a realistic manner. I met a homicide cop in Grand Junction, Colorado who was extremely generous with his time. He put together a slideshow presentation of gruesome crime scenes based on what I knew would be featured in the books. I needed to know what a knife wound really looked like, what a suicide gunshot to the head actually looked like, and many other grisly, real-life, death-inducing events. But because of certain plot points in my first novel, Protector, I also needed to see crime scenes that involved children. This was probably the worst thing I had to witness. The only way I could view it was without emotion and looking on it as an investigator would— basically separating themselves from the reality and focusing on the arm, then the leg, then the head and so on. But there is still one photo that I can’t get out of my head and it’s not so much because of brutality. In fact, the two children in the photo appear to be sleeping peacefully in the photo. And I think that’s what gives it a sense of creepiness because if you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t know they were deceased.

One homicide detective I talked to a lot during the research of the first novel in the Jane Perry series, Protector, told me that if any writer wrote a book on what really transpires during an investigation, it would be incredibly boring. I remember one of his comments that television and films have given people the idea that murders are solved within a set period of time and usually fast, with lots of twists and turns. The truth is that most homicide cases that have no immediate suspect can take years to solve, if ever. And any twists and turns are few and far between. The bottom line is that a writer needs to create just enough suspension of disbelief to make it interesting without making the reader scream out, “Hang on! That would never happen!”

Case in point: in Protector, there’s a scene where Emily (the young victim who witnessed the murder of her parents at her home but can’t remember what she saw) is brought back to her house with Jane to see if her memory can triggered. That’s something that actually can and does occur in investigations. However, in order for certain major plot points to happen, I had to create a situation where Emily stayed overnight in the house with Jane. When I asked the detective about whether this was legit, his comment was adamant. “That would never happen. Completely out of protocol.” But then he quickly suggested that if one of the characters mentions that it’s against protocol, it would soften it a little and make it more realistic…even though it would still never happen. The scene remains in the book with the necessary “against protocol” statement and it’s one of the dramatic and chilling scenes in the book.

And what about shooting that Glock? Yeah, I did that too. In fact, I took a weekend NRA gun safety class where I shot targets, learned about gun laws in Colorado, cleaned the Glock, practiced loading it quickly and was counseled on how to determine when and when not to shoot during a home invasion.

Basically, I immersed myself in the world of Detective Jane Perry in order to write about her life and her work. From the incredible reader response I receive on a daily basis, I think it all paid off.

Laurel Dewey Author Photo

 

Laurel Dewey is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of her books, including her national bestseller Protector. You can learn more at our website.

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On May 31, 2013
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