Month of Mayhem

Next week kicks off a Month of Mayhem, with a look at the places that shaped Brinker’s story in his debut crime novel Mr. Mayhem—all in preparation for the return of the defrocked journalist and PR whiz this fall in the sequel, Mr. Magic.

Brinker returns a kinder, gentler guy who draws inspiration from his girlfriend Carly, a mate he calls The Buddha and the landscapes of the Greater Lehigh Valley. But in the meantime, he’s still stalking the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

Each day in August, visitors on social media view the scenes that inspired Brinker’s day job and his extracurricular work, as well as the ones that fueled his loves and addictions. Here’s a look at some of the sights that became models for the novel.

1959 Cadillac hearse used by Col. Mabry when the modern version breaks down.

1959 Cadillac hearse used by Col. Mabry when the modern version breaks down.

 

Stroudsburg, Pa. funeral home that inspired Brinker’s workplace, Mabry & Sons.

Stroudsburg, Pa. funeral home that inspired Brinker’s workplace, Mabry & Sons.

 

The house on Sarah Street in Stroudsburg, Pa. where Eddie Maps allegedly killed his wife and daughter plays a seminal role in Mr. Mayhem.

The house on Sarah Street in Stroudsburg, Pa. where Eddie Maps allegedly killed his wife and daughter plays a seminal role in Mr. Mayhem.

 

Corner house in Stroudsburg, Pa. served as a model for the home of the first victim.

Corner house in Stroudsburg, Pa. served as a model for the home of the first victim.

 

Brinker’s mascot, Pecan Man, haunts Mabry & Sons funeral home.

Brinker’s mascot, Pecan Man, haunts Mabry & Sons funeral home.

 

One of most famous taverns in the Burgs, Rudy’s served as model for Willy’s Tavern.

One of most famous taverns in the Burgs, Rudy’s served as model for Willy’s Tavern.

 

Infamous intersection at 7th & Main in Stroudsburg, Pa., host to politicians and fatal accidents.

The intersection at 7th & Main in Stroudsburg, Pa., plays host to politicians and other fatalities.

 

The Water Gap Trolley became the model vehicle for Brinker’s Magical Murder Tour.

The Water Gap Trolley became the model vehicle for Brinker’s Magical Murder Tour.

‘No More Dead Dogs’

“Did you kill off the dog?” my wife said as she read the chapter in Tourist in Paradise on Sugar Bear. My wife is a fan of Gordon’s Korman’s children’s book No More Dead Dogs and doesn’t truck with such nonsense.

“Yes,” I said, maybe regretting the decision to let her edit the manuscript. “Is that a bad thing?”

Sugar Bear feature photo 800x800Sugar Bear is the name of an American bulldog adopted by Susan Thompson in the second of the CW McCoy crime novels. I based the dog on the unofficial mascot of the Sarasota Sheriff Office’s Animal Services Center, a sweetheart that goes by the same name. The office let me photograph her during one of our classes in its Citizens Law Enforcement Academy.

The fictional Sugar Bear, who makes her debut a few chapters before the one my wife was editing, isn’t as mean spirited as some of the people coming after CW, her mentor Walter Bishop, his new friend, Lois, and Officer Chip Stover. But crime novels aren’t known for happy endings. So given my wife’s warning, I had a decision to make.

Was it the right one? The final paragraphs of Chapter 29 set up the outcome. I’ll let CW tell the story:

“Oh, my God,” Lois said. “Where’s Sugar Bear?”

“If she’s here,” Walter said, “the police would have found her.”

“Stover didn’t go through the house,” I said

“The fire crew has heat sensors,” Walter said.

Lois shook her head. “I heard them say they didn’t need them, that the neighbor said there was no one inside.”

I headed for the house.

“CW!” Walter yelled but I was already running across the shell-covered driveway, stamping through a watery scum of burned wood and sand, knocking aside the fence that circled the outdoor shower to let myself into the house through the back door.

Enough fiction. Let’s talk reality.

The Sarasota Animal Services Center is a class operation. Supervisor Tami Treadway, Volunteer Coordinator Kristen Little and staff are eager to match good people with pets that deserve good homes. If you want to see animals like Sugar Bear thrive, visit the shelter at 8451 Bee Ridge Road or the center’s website or call (941) 861-9500.

Tell them CW sent you.

A walk on the dark side with ‘Mr. Mayhem’

Sued by his publisher for libel, Brinker is reduced to promoting trolley tours of crime scenes. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders to draw a crowd.

A good serial killer would help.

When his doctor asks for aid in euthanizing terminal patients, Brinker hires an assassin named Angel, who reigns chaos and fame on the sleepy resort town.

But as Angel’s demands soar with the body count, Brinker wonders whether he’ll become the latest addition to his own list.

For better or worse, Mr. Mayhem, the first in the Brinker series of crime thrillers, comes alive in this video.

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Exploring the character of place

Location, location, location. The mantra isn’t just for real estate agents. Writers have long known that a place works better as character than background. NPR does, too, which makes the radio program “Crime in the City” a delight for tourists of murder and mayhem.

The series features well-known authors and their beats—George Pelecanos’ Washington, D.C., Walter Mosley’s L.A.—as well as writers exploring smaller venues—Archer Mayor and Brattleboro, Vt., Julia Keller’s fictional town in West Virginia.

“Crime in the City” also gives armchair detectives a travelogue of international venues—Mary Lou Longworth in Aix-en-Provence, Ann Cleeves in the Shetland Islands, Richard Crompton in Nairobi, Paco Ignacio Taibo II in Mexico City.

Big or small, noisy or quiet, home or abroad, these locales illuminate both the authors and their characters in unexpected ways.

NPR’s correspondents intersperse the ambient sound of streets and cafes with the voices of police, shopkeepers and the writers themselves. As the sun becomes a distant memory in North America, the summer series offers armchair travelers a glimpse of the often superheated habitat of their favorite novelists. (In addition to the live broadcasts, the programs are available on the NPR website as downloadable MP3 files.)

As a reader or writer, what role do you think place can play in crime fiction?

NPR Crime in City Byzantine monument

The luckiest people in the world

Writers who need writers are the luckiest people in the world.

We build on the work of other writers. We draw inspiration from their creations, and their success. We’re usually too busy building our own careers to notice.

It’s time to notice.

Women-Writers-FrontYou don’t know me but I would like to thank you for helping to create the character of CW McCoy in Peak Season, a series I hope someday will approach the benchmark you’ve set. You didn’t just paste male characteristics onto women or use violence to attract attention. You were the trailblazers, the authors who turned the noir subgenre on its head and ushered in a generation of smart, tough, proficient female investigators.

That said, here is my list of writers whose female characters have traded cookies for cojones:

  • Sara Paretsky, for creating V.I. Warshawski, a character whose toughness serves her sense of justice
  • S.J. Rozan, for her evocative sense of place in the Lydia Chin outings
  • Lee Goldberg, for the deft portrayal of a secondary character, Natalie Teeger, in his series of Adrian Monk novels
  • Julia Spencer-Fleming, for Rev. Claire Fergusson’s moral compass
  • Laurie R. King, for the daring intelligence of Mary Russell
  • Sue Grafton, for revealing the conflicted love life of Kinsey Millhone
  • Janet Evanovich, for the push and pull of drama and humor in the Stephanie Plum novels
  • Marcia Muller, for Sharon McCone’s allegiance to family and friends
  • And Jennifer Crusie, for giving her leads a heartbeat and not just a pulse.

Writers who need writers are the luckiest writers in the world. Thanks to you, I’m one of them.

Writing from the distaff side of life

It’s time to switch genders.

In the genre of mystery and suspense, women have pioneered a tradition of writing as men: Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell, Martha Grimes. Poirot, Linley, Wexford, Jury . . . masculine characters come alive in the hands of female writers. The men seem real, the writing accepted by the public.

But what happens when men write about the distaff side of life?

Peak Season 3D cover 375x548Sure, men have written about women since cave days. Their work ranges from sparkling (Robert B. Parker’s Susan Silverman) to riotous (P.G. Wodehouse’s characterization of Honoria Glossop and other females in the Jeeves and Wooster stories). But when it comes to getting into women’s heads, do men get it right?

Some authors seem to meet the challenge without effort: Anthony Doerr’s blind French girl, Marie Laure, in All the Light We Cannot See and Tony Hillerman in Listening Woman. Others, like Parker in his Sunny Randall series, seem to present female versions of their male characters.

Ignorant or undaunted, I’ve entered the fray with Peak Season, a novel about a former detective who surrenders her gun, her badge her and confidence after shooting a fellow officer. Moving to Southwest Florida to care for her ailing grandfather, CW McCoy swears off violence until a fugitive kidnaps her family and she’s forced to decide which side of the law she’s on.

In portraying life through CW’s eyes, I’ve steered clear of stereotypical male and female roles. She swears off guns but will defend herself. She longs for a relationship but doesn’t make it her life’s pursuit. Even while navigating the mostly male world of law enforcement, she puts a high premium on family and friends, qualities exhibited by both women and men.

When I began the CW McCoy series, I wondered whether I could voice the feelings of a woman. Now I wonder about a more practical question: can the public embrace that voice?

‘There is no such thing as a victimless crime’

Demetri Konstantopoulos stands before the screen and narrates a list of Florida police officers killed in the line of duty in the last few years. One slide shows a pair of faces, one fresh, one veteran. One officer leaves behind a pregnant wife, another a wife and three children. The slides continue for a long time.

On this, the second night of the Sarasota Police Citizen’s Academy, Konstantopoulos has a tough lesson to present. He shows a video of a driver opening fire on Ohio police with an automatic weapon after a routine stop for a moving violation. He plays audio of an incident on Martin Luther King Boulevard when crowds and gunfire threaten Sarasota officers trying to rescue a man with arterial bleeding.

Konstantopoulos, a sergeant in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation assigned to the Street Crimes Unit, wants us to remember several things. Police work is dangerous. No call is routine. All crime has consequence. “There is no such thing as a victimless crime.”

That theme carries through the presentation by Jude Castro, the victim advocate coordinator for the department, who tends to the needs of people suffering the aftermath of crime.

“The victim advocate speaks up for people who can’t,” Castro says before outlining the major services she provides, including crisis intervention, death notification and bereavement support. She also helps victims file restraining orders and accompanies them to medical, legal and judicial proceedings.

If you think her job is any less stressful than that of sworn officers, consider that one of her most recent duties was to notify the family of a man who jumped from the Ringling Bridge.

Back to Konstantopoulos. After explaining when officers need a warrant to search a house, vehicle or person, the sergeant introduces the concept of consensual contact. It’s when a person agrees to a search and there is no evidence of coercion—a fine line to walk in even the best of circumstances.

To demonstrate, Officer Dominic Harris and Dick Smothers, a Sarasota resident and one half of the Smothers Brothers comedy team, create a scenario where Harris plays a drug dealer hanging on the street and Smothers an officer who does not have probable cause to search Harris but wants him to consent to a pat-down.

After about five seconds of street patois Harris says, “Man, you hassling me ’cause I’m black?” Things go sideways, fast. Officer Jeff Dunn, who organized this year’s academy, steps in to show how police would handle the request. He obtains consent . . . and finds a handgun.

Police work is dangerous. No encounter is routine. Crime makes victims of everyone.

It’s a tough lesson.

Next week: emergency response, explosive materials and crisis negotiations.

Jeff Widmer is the author of The Spirit of Swiftwater and other works.

Officer Dominic Harris, left, and Dick Smothers role play a street encounter

Officer Dominic Harris, left, and Dick Smothers role play a street encounter

Beyond the badge: citizens get inside look at department through Sarasota police academy

One of the first things Bernadette DiPino did when taking over as chief of the Sarasota Police Department was to ban her 161 officers from eating doughnuts while in uniform.

Members of the Sarasota Police Citizen’s Academy chuckled at her story but the chief has a serious purpose: she wants to counter stereotypes about officers as part of a larger campaign of community policing.

And that’s one of the reasons why 23 of us were admitted to the fourth offering of the academy, a boot camp for civilians who want to learn what it’s like to work as a police officer. The 12-week program will cover everything from search and seizure to criminalistics to firearms.

After introducing her command staff—Acting Deputy Chief Pat Robinson and Patrol Operations Chief Kevin Stiff—and Training Officer Jeffrey Dunn, DiPino opened the academy with a recital of her background. As the granddaughter and daughter of police officers, she’s a blueblood and proud of it, starting her career in Baltimore County, working as a narcotics detective and serving as chief in Ocean City, MD before assuming the position of chief in Sarasota at the end of 2012.

She talked about the challenges of a job in a seasonal resort town as well as her mandate to officers to stay visible, strictly enforce the law and appear professional at all times. Which is what led to the ban on doughnuts. But she spent most of the time discussing her philosophy of community policing. Because police need cooperative citizens to prevent and solve crime, they need to build trust and relationships with the residents on their beat. Officers need to get out of their cars and go door-to-door if necessary to introduce themselves and provide help.

As an example of that outreach, DiPino offered a barbecue police held for residents of Newtown. She said the strategy has led to numerous arrests and, more importantly, safer neighborhoods.

It didn’t take long for Dunn as the academy’s chief organizer to transition from strategic to tactical. He introduced bicycle patrol Officer Jerry Pucci, who illustrated DiPino’s goal of standardizing police uniforms for greater visibility. He reviewed dress and patrol uniforms for summer and winter and ticked off the 20 pounds of equipment officers carry on their duty belts: gun (.40 caliber Glock 22), two magazines, handcuff case, Taser, radio and flashlight.

Pucci drew the biggest laugh of the night when he pointed to a short black cylinder on the back of his belt and announced, “This is my ASP.” For the record, ASP is a brand of telescoping baton police can use in close combat.

Despite the laughter, Pucci didn’t miss a beat, saying police didn’t have much cause to use the defensive weapon. “If something goes sideways, I’d rather use the Taser.”

Keep that in mind if you’re tempted to eat a doughnut.

Next week: how crime endangers both victims and police.

Jeff Widmer is the author of The Spirit of Swiftwater and other works.

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino

Scene of the crime: the character of place

Location, location, location. The mantra isn’t just for real estate agents. Writers have long known that a place works better as character than background. NPR does, too, which makes the radio program “Crime in the City” a delight for tourists of murder and mayhem.

The long-running summer series features well-known authors and their beats—George Pelecanos’ Washington, D.C., Walter Mosley’s L.A.—as well as writers exploring smaller cities and towns—Archer Mayor and Brattleboro, Vt., Julia Keller’s fictional town in West Virginia.

“Crime in the City” also gives armchair detectives a travelogue of international cities—Mary Lou Longworth in Aix-en-Provence, Ann Cleeves in the Shetland Islands, Richard Crompton in Nairobi, Paco Ignacio Taibo II in Mexico City.

Big or small, noisy or quiet, home or abroad, these locales illuminate both the authors and their characters in unexpected ways.

NPR’s correspondents intersperse the ambient sound of streets and cafes with the voices of police, shopkeepers and the writers themselves. As summer draws to an end in North America, the spots serve as a sweet treat for readers who like to investigate their favorite novelists. (In addition to the live broadcasts, the programs are available on the NPR website as downloadable MP3 files.)

As a reader or writer, what role do you think place can play in crime fiction?