Judging a book by its cover

I remember the day it it finally arrived . . . the cover for the Kindle version of Peak Season, the first in the CW McCoy series of crime novels. With its palm-tree sunset and police motif, the artwork reflected the setting and theme of the book—the fictional city of Spanish Point and the dilemma narrator CW (Candace) McCoy faces in her new life: how to live in peace while surrounded by violence.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]Here she is, working in a resort town in Florida, selling beach homes to the uber-rich, sailing with a former police commander and kayaking with a hunk who manages more money than the Philadelphia Mint. Paradise by most standards. If it weren’t so dangerous, she’d find the situation ironic.

That’s a lot to ask a designer to convey. Even more taxing is translating emotional nuance into something people can see.

I know, I’ve tried. Back when I made my living as an art director as well as a writer, I designed the cover and interior of my first published work of nonfiction, the Spirit of Swiftwater. It proved challenging but fun. I selected objects that embodied the theme, hired a terrific photographer (David Coulter), designed the cover in Quark and handed the whole thing to the printer.

Fast forward a dozen years to a technology that has outrun my ability to comprehend it. The applications are new and utterly complex. I tried designing a cover for Peak Season in Photoshop and cringed. Time to get professional help.

I found Rick Smith’s how-to book CreateSpace and Kindle Self-Publishing Masterclass on Amazon and followed it to a site called Fiverr. There I found a person in Bulgaria who created a design that’s provocative, attractive and professional.

But it’s your opinion that counts. Can you judge a book by its cover? Has a cover ever made you want to read a book?

Inside the yellow tape

The phone rings at 2 a.m. Dispatch reports two unresponsive adults in a car in a parking garage next to Kari’s Restaurant. Officers have secured the scene. Detectives from the Criminal Investigation Division, or CID, are on the way. As part of the Criminalistics Unit, so are we.

Our team walks into the parking garage to find a gold Prius surrounded encircled in yellow crime-scene tape, a bottle of Corona a few feet from the car, liquid spilling from the bottle. On the deck, a plastic sandwich bag and what looks like a candy wrapper.

In the front seats, a man and woman in their late twenties or early thirties, the driver holding a gun. He’s wearing a black short-sleeved athletic shirt, black pants, ring, no watch. He’s been shot once in the right temple. She’s wearing a white short-sleeved shirt with khaki pants, a ring and a watch. She’s been shot once in the left temple.

A shell casing rests on the dash, another on the back seat, a Super Vel .44 Mag. Two bottles of insect repellant in the seat pocket. Papers in the trunk.

Tunnel vision
As we crawl around the car, the head of the unit, Kari McVaugh, says, “Don’t get tunnel vision. Don’t get focused on the yellow tape.”

So begins the scenario created by the Sarasota Police Department for week seven of its Citizens Academy, the program that runs residents through the same training as police officers. The bodies in the car are real, officers within the department, but they’re acting, allowing us to collect and analyze evidence like our civilian counterparts in the real Criminalistics unit.

Kari the suspect in the interview room

Kari the suspect in the interview room

Back at headquarters, we review surveillance footage from the garage and video of two interviews with the department’s prime suspect, the owner of Kari’s bar, played with magnificent realism by McVaugh. As we watch, Sgt. Tom Shanafelt of the department’s Major Crimes Unit tell us what to observe, what to doubt and what would happen if we worked in CID.

We would run the tag and compare a license photo with the deceased–turns out he’s Kari’s ex-husband. Surveillance video shows Kari helping both victims to the car, wiping her hands on a towel as she walks away. We would ask experts to analyze body fluids, fluids on the towel, tool markings on the shell casings.

Truth or consequences
Months later during a second interview, two detectives have suspect Kari wedged in a corner of a bare room. The first thing they do is read her Miranda rights. Then they present DNA evidence that contradicts her initial statement. She’s confrontational at first, telling detectives her medical history is none of their business. She backs up, fidgets, stares at her hands. She’s confused. She doesn’t understand why the DNA evidence should matter.

Finally, she confesses, ending her monologue with, “I guess I just snapped.” Detectives charge and cuff her.

While the confession solves the case, the collection and analysis of evidence wins it, every careful step from autopsy to interview. Or as Shanafelt puts it, “The next-best thing to a confession is a provable lie.”

Next: dealing with the public.

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

 

Citizens Academy participants investigate a mock shooting in a parking garage

Citizens Academy participants investigate a mock shooting in a parking garage