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Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference

Who would think that a local, independent bookstore would run what may be the best mystery writers conference in the country? But that’s exactly what I got this past weekend at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference held at the Book Passage location just north of San Francisco in Corte Madera.

Now you might be thinking that a small book store would have many unknown authors as their faculty. You’d be wrong. Here’s a partial list of presenters:
Hallie Ephron
Rachel Howzell Hall
Tim Maleeny
Cara Black
MWA Grand Master Laurie R. King

And as a bonus, the conference is small. There were about 60 attendees, which means you can get one-on-one time with these amazing writers. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, there were several agents and publishers in attendance taking pitches.

It started Thursday morning with a pre-con class “Managing Viewpoint in a Mystery Novel” taught by the amazing Hallie Ephron. At noon, the conference officially kicked-off with lunch and then a welcome session where we were introduced to the entire faculty followed by a panel on plotting.

It started Thursday morning with a pre-con class “Managing Viewpoint in a Mystery Novel” taught by the amazing Hallie Ephron. At noon, the conference officially kicked-off with lunch and then a welcome session where we were introduced to the entire faculty followed by a panel on plotting.

The next session was one of the best. The Wide World of Publishing featured a panel of publishers and agents and discussed the secrets of the book deal and publishing that I’ve never heard anywhere else.

Saturday started off with a choice of hands-on classes, Crafting the Character or Setting the Scene and Dialog. Tough choice between these two. We were then treated to a real crime investigation walk-through with current and former law enforcement, attorneys, and a judge. Super interesting, especially hearing how the prosecution and defense would see things differently. The afternoon was two double sessions, again difficult to choose which to go to as all of them sounded amazing.

The next session, The Agent and Editorial Process, similar to the one of publishing, laid it all out there, with things I’ve never heard, but are important to know.

Sunday featured more hands-on classes and a choice of classes. One that stood out here was The Doctors are In. One of the two doctors was Ellen Kirschmann, a psychologist who specializes in treating law enforcement. She gave great insight into PTSI and other mental health issues that affect cops. Definitely things that are often overlooked that can add great dimension to a book.

The day concluded with classes on an FBI case, again with current and former law enforcement, attorneys, and a judge. A class on continuing with what we knew, then a short celebration to end things.

Being that I had to buy airfare, rental car, hotel, some food, and the conference cost, this was not an inexpensive conference. But it may be the best mystery conference I’ve ever attended and totally worth the cost. I will do this again. I also can’t say enough about the people I met and the new writer friends that I now have…always one of the best things about a conference.

And as long as you’re there, add some time to go to Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate National Seashore, and Muir Woods National Monument.

What’s in a name?

Fiction writers often worry about using real brand names and company names, for fear that they’ll get sued. If you put the product or company in a good light, you’ll be fine. However…and this is important…make sure you use the name correctly. There are a few of ways you can get this wrong.

The first is to use the brand as a generic thing. For example, Kleenex is often used generically for facial tissue. But it is a brand name and should not be used generically.

The second is to spell it correctly. I recently read a book where the author had used the word styrofoam. (Note that my WordPress editor just flagged that as a misspelling.) Nope. Nope. It’s Styrofoam. It is a brand name and must always be capitalized. I suspect the publisher of the book got a nasty letter from Dow Chemical’s legal department about this. In case you’re interested, the generic word is polystyrene.

The last thing you can do wrong is to pluralize the name when it shouldn’t be. Again, the same book used the word Legos. Again Wrong. Wrong. According to the Danish company that makes Lego, The Lego Group, the proper plural is Lego bricks.

By now, you may be saying, “They’ll never find out if I use the word incorrectly.” Back in the 1980s, before the Internet, a friend was a contributor to a small weekly paper in the small town where I grew up. She used the word styrofoam, and she and the paper both received Cease and Desist letters from Dow Chemical. Trust me, they will find out. You see, companies do this to protect their trademarked names and brands. But it can even go further than names. 3M has trademarked the shade of red that’s used in their logo.

So, next time you’re using a company name or brand, think carefully how it’s used. It will protect you from possible legal action and make you look even smarter to your readers.

Coroner, Medical Examiner, or Something Else?

I frequently see questions similar to “Does the Medical Examiner pick up the body from the crime scene and then do the autopsy?” or “Does the coroner always do an autopsy?” I’m going to try to give you some general information here. If you’re writing about a real location, contact your ME or Coroner to get specific answers.

What’s the difference between a coroner and a medical examiner?
In general, a medical examiner is a person with a medical degree. They may or may not be a pathologist. This person is hired.
A coroner is typically elected and usually doesn’t need a medical degree. In fact, they may not have any medical background at all. In some California counties, the coroner is also the sheriff.
In Utah, the state Office of Medical Examiner performs all autopsies. They report to the Utah Department of Health. In New York, each county has an office of coroner or medical examiner that reports to the county health department.

What is a Chief Medical Examiner?
This person is a manager. They almost never go out to a crime scene and may not do many autopsies. Their job is to make sure they are properly staffed and all applicable laws and guidelines are followed.

When is an autopsy performed?
An autopsy is performed when the death is suspicious or not natural. That means the ninety-three year old great-grandma who has a heart condition and dies in bed during her sleep is unlikely to be autopsied. But if there is evidence that she was smothered, then an autopsy is likely.

What is the purpose of an autopsy?
An autopsy is done to determine two things: manner of death and cause of death. Manner of death can be one of five things: suicide, accident, homicide, natural causes, or undetermined. Cause of death could be anything from cancer, to gunshot wound, to stabbing, to fell off a ladder.

Is time of death important?
Crime shows on TV will lead you to believe time of death is exact. It’s not. At best, you’ll get a window of a few hours. The ME would say, “Time of death was between 11:00 AM and 3:00PM.”
But many factors can affect that. A body stored in a freezer or in a warm swamp could make it difficult if not impossible to get a time or even a date of death. On occasion, you may lucky. “It was 5:00 because we were just getting off work when John fell down the elevator shaft.” If TOD can be determined, it is important, especially in a homicide.

So, who picks up the body?
If you watch NCIS, you might think that every investigation team has their own ME and forensics expert who knows everything. It doesn’t work like that. Ever.
In many places, there is a person called a Death Scene Investigator. Their job is to go to the place the death occurred, take pictures, gather evidence, and take the body to the morgue. That evidence gathering is important and in most states they do NOT need a warrant. This is because they are not investigating a crime. They are investigating a death. Remember this person is not law enforcement. They can…and should…collect all the medicines and anything related to the death. That could be clothes, sheets, etc.
The police could be there but the body should NOT be touched or moved until this person is done. (But it may have been. Perhaps the person was alive and Paramedics tried to save them but failed or they were transported to a hospital and died enroute.) A detective may request the ME (I’m using this term loosely) make they check under the fingernails or request injection points be identified, etc.
If the coroner/ME does not use a DSI, someone with the title of Assistant or Deputy ME or Assistant or Deputy Coroner will likely collect the body. Or, it could be someone used to working with dead bodies. In Florida, for example, this could be people from a local funeral home who do this as a sideline (thanks Paul Rose, Jr for this info.)
In the case of a mass casualty incident, it generally all hands on deck, so even the Chief ME will be there. Also, the Chief ME may arrive if the dead person is high profile.

But what about the actual autopsy?
Again, mass casualty or high profile, it may be the Chief ME and others. But it can be an assistant, deputy, or a pathologist. In some places, it must be someone with a pathology degree. What they won’t do is send blood to forensics (think Ducky on NCIS sending blood to Abby) to test. It will either be done in house or sent to a contracted lab.

What if it’s a buried body?
A buried body or one that’s been in a freezer has their own unique problems. How long the body has been there, what type of soil, humidity, rainfall, wrapped in plastic, or lack of any of that, all make a difference on how fast a body will decay. If buried in the woods, animals may sniff it out and drag off the entire body or just parts of it.
If it’s a skeleton, the ME may call in a Forensic Pathologist (think Temperance Brennan in the TV show Bones) to date the age of the bones. And yes, just from bones, they may be able to determine gender and approximate age of the person when they died, and how long they had been there.
One thing to keep in mind, if the bones are old enough, even if there are definite signs of homicide (think bullet hole in the skull, etc) there may not be a police investigation. Say the bones are fifty years old. How likely is it that the killer is still alive? What if they’re a hundred years old?

Conclusion
Determining if you have a medical examiner or coroner for a real place is as easy as a web search. Figuring out who collects the body may take a call to the proper office. If you make up a place, you may be able to write it any way you want. Just keep in mind…once you settle on coroner or medical examiner, don’t mix up the terms.

Arrests on TV

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As you know, TV usually gets many things wrong about how cops work. In my Write Crime Right presentation, I discuss many of these, then talk about how cops really work. This class is suitable for writers in any genre. Contact me if you want me to present to your writer group.

One area I don’t cover in the presentation is the actual process of arrest. This is due simply because of lack of time. So, here are some aspects of arrest TV frequently gets wrong.

  • Handcuffed – Never handcuff the suspect with their arms in front. Always handcuff the suspect with their arms behind them. Always.
  • Reading Miranda rights – Sometimes you’ll see a detective tell a uniform to “read him his rights.” A good detective will always read rights to ensure it actually gets done and done correctly. There are three conditions that must exist for cops to read you your rights
    1. Police or someone known to you to be acting as an agent of the police must do it.
    2. Custody a reasonable person would not feel free to leave.
    3. Interrogation asking you incriminating questions which could be used against you.
  • Transported – Television will often show a suspect placed in the back of a squad car. A uniform gets behind the wheel and drives away. No and no. In the case of a serious crime, a detective will always ride along so that if the suspect says anything, a detective can take notes.

Hopefully this will help you improve the accuracy of your story.

Best Books of 2021

Well, 2021 is behind us. I join many others by sharing a list of the best books I read during the year. Some were published in 2021, others many years ago.

Craft

If you’ve ever wanted to ask some of the world’s greatest mystery writers for their advice on writing, Howdunit: A Master Class in Crime Writing by Members of The Detection Club. Founded in the early 1920s, and it is likely the world’s foremost and most elite mystery writers organization. You must be invited to join and originally only people from the UK could be members. It’s really more like a social club than anything else as it was created as a way for the members to get together for a very nice dinner. This book however, it not simple dinner reading. With advice on every aspect of writing from motives, people, plots, and places, to writing with a partner, challenges, and publishing there is great advice in every essay. You see, each of the famous authors, including Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, G.K. Chesterton, P.D. James, Ann Cleeves, Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr, Dorothy L. Sayers, and many more, have written short essays full of wisdom, help, and personal stories. Whether you’ve published no books (there’s also advice on short stories) or a hundred books, there’s something here for you.

How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America by [Mystery Writers of America, Lee Child, Laurie R. King]

If one book on craft from some of the greatest writers in the UK is fantastic, adding another book on craft from some of the greatest writers in North America makes things even better.

Mystery Writers of America has published a volume similar to the one above, but totally complimentary. Writers such as Kelley Armstrong (one of my favorites), Charlaine Harris (how can someone so sweet write about sex and murder), William Kent Krueger, Tess Gerritsen, Lee Child, Laurie R. King, Charles Todd, and many others give us advice on topics such as outlining, free-writing, the short mystery, protagonists, villains, community, and many other topics.

Paired with advice from across the pond, How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America, gives you practically MFA advice on mystery and thriller writing. Another must-read for the mystery author.

Non-Fiction

I was nine in the summer of 1969. My parents had bought a cab-over camper for the pickup truck and we were headed out on a family vacation to the Grand Canyon. Mom and dad rode in the cab of the truck and the four of us kids spread out in the area over the cab, laying on our stomachs, chin in our hands, watching the road in front of us through the tiny rectangular window. Dad had rigged up an intercom so we could talk to the cab if needed, but the sound quality was really bad. One day as we rolled along a two lane highway in the desert, mom came on the intercom and tried to play the radio broadcast to us, but it was totally unintelligible. So, dad stopped the truck and we all piled into the cab so we could listen to the first manned landing on the moon. For as far as I could up and down both sides of the highway, it seemed like there were dozens of cars stopped — people doing the same thing we were. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my hometown played a major part in the Apollo program. About an hour away was the location where the Saturn V booster rockets were made. Many of the people who worked there lived in my town. It was likely the parents of some of the kids I went to school with worked there. Years later, I got to tour the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. An entire Apollo rocket is there, laying on it’s side. The Saturn V booster is longer (taller?) than three football fields, including the end zones. A single exhaust module was taller than me.

One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon brought back all those feelings I had as a kid, listening to that landing and watching the space shots on TV. Charles Fishman has written a great book that talks about the problems of going to the moon, the opposition to manned space flight, and the great successes. He has facts that few people ever knew. And make sure you read the acknowledgements at the end to learn one interesting fact about the Lunar Module.

Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood by [Danny Trejo, Donal Logue]

When a retired cop friend told me if I wanted to know what’s it’s really like inside a prison, I should read Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood by Danny Trejo.

If you’re not familiar with Danny Trejo, rent some of his movies. But long before becoming an actor, he was a bad dude. A very bad dude. As he put it, “I was the Mexican you don’t want to meat.” He was in and out of California’s best known and most notorious prisons. At one point, while in the LA County Jail, he protected Charles Manson. Yeah, THAT Charles Manson. Yeah, that’s how tough Danny Trejo was.

But one day, Trejo decided he wanted something better than wondering when he would die in prison. He got off drugs. He stopped drinking. He found God.

And when he was finally paroled he went to work for substance abuse centers. Then he opened one, two, several. He spent his life helping others.

One day, he happened to get a gig in a movie. And his life changed. He was making money. Lots of money. He was traveling the world.

But his family life was awful. He had been married and divorced several times. He had kids who were on drugs. He was totally happy.

Don’t just read this book to learn about prison life. Read this book to inspire you to make your life better. And to help others make their lives better. Danny Trejo is an inspiration we can all learn from.

Fiction

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The Echo Killing is the debut novel from journalist Christi Daughtery and she does not disappoint. It’s clear the author has used her experience to tell this story. Harper McClain is a crime reporter for a newspaper in Savannah, Georgia. When a woman is stabbed to death in her kitchen. Harper watches as the twelve year old daughter who reported the murder is led out of the house by the same policeman who led Harper from her mother’s murder scene fifteen years earlier. But when Harper sneaks into the back yard of the house, she discovers the scene is also identical to her mother’s. She begins to suspect the same killer has returned and sets out to prove it when the police tell her it was not the same killer. There are a couple of things that don’t ring accurate, such as Harper having a cast on her arm after getting shot in the shoulder, but over all an extremely well written book full of suspense and intrigue.

The G-String Murders

I enjoy mysteries coming from unexpected writers. In the past I’ve read some from A.A. Milne and Gore Vidal with several more on my list. When I heard that Gypsy Rose Lee, perhaps the most famous stripper that ever lived, had written a mystery, it immediately jumped to the top of my list. They say you should write what you know, and she did. In The G-String Murders, Gypsy inserts herself right into the story as both the narrator and main character (but not the detective). Written in the Golden Age of Mystery, in 1941, she’s working at a burlesque house in New York City where other strippers are murdered. Gypsy does an amazing job with this book by weaving a story filled with suspects, red herrings, and real clues. It’s all there for you. You also learn about the world of burlesque shows. This is a well-done, fair play mystery. It was probably scandalous in its time and the movie adaptation, starring Barbara Stanwyck had to be renamed to Lady of Burlesque because “G-String” couldn’t get past the censors. The G-String Murders is worth your time.

When we think of the great detectives in American Hard-boiled Noir, two stand out. The first is Sam Spade created by Dashiell Hammett in the Maltese Falcon. The second is Philip Marlowe created by Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep. Both these detectives came out about a decade apart with Spade being the first of the two. I often get these two mixed up. It doesn’t help that Humphry Bogart played both characters in the movies.

Back in 2014, a new Marlowe novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde came out, written by Benjamin Black, which is a pen-name for Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville. I have to say, this book is every bit as good as any Marlowe story Chandler wrote. In fact, it’s as if Black channeled Raymond Chandler.

In this story, Marlowe is hired by Clare Cavendish to find her boyfriend who she saw on the street in San Francisco. Except, her boyfriend was declared dead two week prior. Marlowe sets out to figure out if the boyfriend is dead or alive and in general what’s going on. I don’t want to play spoiler so I’ll leave things there.

I figured out some of the mystery here, but not all of it, even though all the clues are there. Black does a masterful job of hiding them, many in plain sight. At times, I laughed out loud. I read passages to my writer wife because they were so well written. You can’t go wrong with The Black-Eyed Blonde. Five stars!

Who is Maud Dixon?: A Novel by [Alexandra Andrews]

When Florence Darrow loses her job as a low-level employee of a New York publisher her future looks bleak. She’s always wanted to be a novelist and she was using the job as a spring board.

But her future quickly changes when she is offered a job as the assistant to the mysterious author Maud Dixon, who’s first novel was a huge hit. There are just two conditions. The first, she must sign an NDA to keep Maud’s real identity secret. Second, she must move to upstate New York and live in the small cottage behind Maud’s home. Of course, Florence accepts.

But soon, strange things start happening. And when Maud metes out her history, it sounds strange. Maud is not all she seems to be and her past is as mysterious as her future. Things get especially strange when Maud suddenly decides the two of them are going to Morocco for research on her new book. Then, Florence drives them off a cliff and into the ocean where Maud’s body disappears.

There are so many twists in this book, but that’s what kept me going. I guessed some of them were coming, but many others took me by surprise.

Alexandra Andrews has done an amazing job of twisting the real Maud with the fictional in Who is Maud Dixon? This is one book you need to read.

One of the best known American mystery writers from the Golden Age of Mystery was Dashiell Hammett. Most of us are familiar with the move The Maltese Falcon, based on his novel of the same name. Much of this book was written at John’s Grill, a San Francisco landmark today. You can still enjoy a meal there. The Dashiell Hammett Society meets there on the third floor in a room named “Hammet’s Den.” The doorway features a statue of the Maltese Falcon.

But this post isn’t about Hammett. It’s about his novels. He only ever published five. Four of the five are the the 100 Top Crime Novels of All Time list from Mystery Writer’s of America. I found an old 1960’s book club edition of a collection of these novels at a used bookstore for $4.00.

The first, Red Harvest, was on Time magazine’s list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923-2005 and number 94 on the MWA list.

The story is told from the view of the Continental Op, an agent of a fictional detective agency based in San Francisco. His name is never given, but he is sent to Butte, Montana to settle a labor dispute.

The second novel, The Dain Curse, continues the adventures of the Continental Op, this time in his home-base of San Francisco. He investigates the theft of diamonds from a family. A family who believes they are cursed as people in their vicinity suffer sudden and violent deaths.

The Maltese Falcon is the best known and number ten on the MWA list. Sam Spade, a San Francisco P.I. is hired to find a woman’s sister, but he gets involved in a smuggling and extortion ring. Humphry Bogart was unforgetable in his portrayal of Spade in the great 1941 film adaptation.

Next up is The Glass Key and it ranks #31 from MWA. Gambler Ned Beaumont gets hired as a special investigator by the District Attorney to investigate the murder of a senator’s son. But Beaumont has close ties to the senator’s corrupt rival. Can Beaumont be impartial? Will he catch the killer? Will he stay true to his pal?

Hammet’s final novel was The Thin Man, which introduces us to Nick and Nora Charles. Hollywood picked up on this pair and spun off several movies of their adventures. But in the original, Nick and Nora have traveled from their home in San Francisco to spend Christmas and New Year’s in New York. Nick had once been a P.I. there. He is asked to investigate the murder of the lover of someone he once investigated. He never does take the case, yet he is involved right from the start. MWA ranks The Thin man at #31.

Hammett never did publish another novel. But in her forward to the edition I have, his long-time lover, the famous author, playwrite, and screenwriter Lillian Hellman says she had an unfinished novel he was working on when he died. As far as I know, the unfinished novel has never been published.

With four books on the top 100 list, you can’t go wrong reading any or all of the works of Hammett. And if you’re ever in San Francisco, I recommend you stop by for a bite at John’s Grill.

The Chestnut Man: A Novel by [Soren Sveistrup]

Naia Thulin is ready to leave the Major Case squad in Denmark for a new position with the cybercrimes unit, NC3. But when she’s suddenly paired with Hess, a screw-up from Europol in the Hague who has been sent back to Denmark, she can’t wait to get out. They are soon assigned to investigate a series of kidnappings a gruesome murder where a woman had her hands cut off with a saw. A single clue is left behind, a doll made out of chestnuts…a chestnut man. But this clue is more strange as it has the fingerprint of a girl who had been kidnapped and assume killed (a man confessed) a year ago. The girl was the daughter of government minister Rosa Hartung. The killings become more gruesome and more of the girl’s fingerprints keep turning up. Police leaders state it’s coincidence and the girl is dead but something keeps bothering Thulin and Hess.

In his debut novel, Søren Sveistrup has put together a masterpiece procedural. Gripping, intense, complex, spooky, thrilling, The Chestnut Man is a absolute must read. This may be the best book I read all year.

We’ve all heard stories of the celebrity who is stalked by a psycho fan. But we’ve never heard it as told in Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir Inspired by True Events written by Brent Spiner.

The story opens on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Spiner is removing the gold makeup that turns him into Mr. Data. There is a knock on his trailer door and a large package, a gift from a fan, is delivered. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what’s in the box, but I’ll just say it shocks Spiner and freaks him out. It rreaked me out too.

The story continues with Spiner pulling in the LAPD, the FBI, a body guard, visiting with numerous friends, and telling stories of life on and off the set of his TV series, as they all try to find out the identity of the fan.

The line gets blurred between fact and what’s fiction. You’ll read a chapter and swear it’s fiction. But is it?

Oh yeah, the book is laugh-out-loud funny. Absolutely one of the best books of the year. Even if you’re not a fan of TNG, you’ll love this book.

The Foreign Embassy

Earlier this year, I read a book in which the main character visited a foreign embassy in Los Angeles. Hold on, I thought. No way he can visit an embassy in L.A. There’s not a single one there. None. From any country. Luckily I was a beta-reader and the author was able to fix the mistake.

So, then, what is an embassy and what could the MC have visited in L.A.?

The first part is easy to answer. An embassy is the official office of a foreign country. This is best explained with an example. Japan has one official office in the U.S. and many other countries. One. It’s always in the capitol. So, for the U.S. that would be Washington D.C. For England, that would be London. The Ambassador is based at the embassy. The embassy is considered foreign soil, so if you visit the Japanese embassy, you essential set foot in Japan. If you visit Washington D.C. you can drive through “Embassy Row”, a street where many foreign embassies are located.

The second part is not quite as simple. In the case from the book I read, the MC would have visited the Consulate. Again, this is considered foreign soil. The head person at the consulate is the Consul General. The purpose of a consulate is to provide support for foreign nationals. As an example, a Japanese citizen traveling to the L.A. and loses their passport. The consulate also helps foreign companies doing business in the host country.

But foreign government offices get a bit more confusing when you think of New York City, where the United Nations is located. In this case, there may be a consulate. The official representative to the U.N. is also called an ambassador and he works out of a “foreign mission.” This ambassador represents the foreign government to the U.N., not to the U.S.

Not every country has a consulate in a particular country and may not have one in the city where your story is based. Going back to the book I was reading, the foreign country does not have a consulate in L.A., but does have an embassy in Washington D.C. and a consulate in New York City.

Bottom line, as with everything you write that based in a real place, do your homework. If your character needs to visit an official foreign government office or even the official office for his country in a foreign land, make sure you get them in the right type of office.

Review: Fan Fiction

We’ve all heard stories of the celebrity who is stalked by a psycho fan. But we’ve never heard it as told in Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir Inspired by True Events written by Brent Spiner.

The story opens on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Spiner is removing the gold makeup that turns him into Mr. Data. There is a knock on his trailer door and a large package, a gift from a fan, is delivered. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what’s in the box, but I’ll just say it shocks Spiner and freaks him out. It rreaked me out too.

The story continues with Spiner pulling in the LAPD, the FBI, a body guard, visiting with numerous friends, and telling stories of life on and off the set of his TV series, as they all try to find out the identity of the fan.

The line gets blurred between fact and what’s fiction. You’ll read a chapter and swear it’s fiction. But is it?

Oh yeah, the book is laugh-out-loud funny. Absolutely one of the best books of the year. Even if you’re not a fan of TNG, you’ll love this book.

Review: The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope

Attorney Gil Henry gets a call to help a woman sell some stock. He’s not exactly the right person to do this, but he helps anyway. And that’s when trouble starts. His car tire is shot out. The man trying to buy the stock is shot to death. His client’s adopted brother is arrested for the murder. The wife of the stock buyer dies suddenly. The neighbor across the street is killed. Along the line, Gil is thrown off the case by his boss, he’s beat up…multiple times, he’s shot. Can Gil solve the murders? This was the first mystery published by C. W. Grafton. Written in 1943, it’s a look into the world in the middle of World War II. The language is rough, indicative of the time. And it’s a top-notch mystery. This book is also considered one of the earliest examples of putting humor into a mystery. Oh, and in case you recognize the name Grafton, C. W. was the father of Sue Grafton.

Review: The Chestnut Man

The Chestnut Man: A Novel by [Soren Sveistrup]

Naia Thulin is ready to leave the Major Case squad in Denmark for a new position with the cybercrimes unit, NC3. But when she’s suddenly paired with Hess, a screw-up from Europol in the Hague who has been sent back to Denmark, she can’t wait to get out. They are soon assigned to investigate a series of kidnappings a gruesome murder where a woman had her hands cut off with a saw. A single clue is left behind, a doll made out of chestnuts…a chestnut man. But this clue is more strange as it has the fingerprint of a girl who had been kidnapped and assume killed (a man confessed) a year ago. The girl was the daughter of government minister Rosa Hartung. The killings become more gruesome and more of the girl’s fingerprints keep turning up. Police leaders state it’s coincidence and the girl is dead but something keeps bothering Thulin and Hess.

In his debut novel, Søren Sveistrup has put together a masterpiece procedural. Gripping, intense, complex, spooky, thrilling, The Chestnut Man is a absolute must read. This may be the best book I’ve read all year.

Miranda Warnings

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We’re all familiar with the Miranda Warning. The reading of your rights came out of a 1966 Supreme Court case where it was determined that the rights of Ernest Miranda had been violated in his arrest in Arizona. On TV, we often see a suspect sitting in an interrogation room. The cops may ask each other if he’d been read his rights. But, as we should know, TV often gets things wrong and this is one of them.

Police can, and in real life often, do what is called a non-custodial interview where they don’t need to Mirandize the person they are questioning. There are two conditions that must exist for someone to be Mirandized.

The first condition is interrogation. If the person is being questioned, this condition is true. It can be at the suspects home, standing in a field, or in an interrogation room. Police generally prefer an interrogation room because they can more easily control things.

The second condition is custody. If the police say, “You are free to leave at anytime” and then allow you to leave, there was no custody. But if at anytime the police stop you from leaving for any reason, such as you don’t want to answer any more question, you are hungry, or you have to use the restroom, you are in custody.

If both conditions are not met, Miranda is not required.

Let’s look at a scenario. Fred is a suspect in a murder investigation. Detectives show up at his house and begin to ask questions. Fred gets up, goes to the kitchen and returns with a pack of cigarettes and lights up. A few minutes later, he admits to being the killer. The police then handcuff him, read him his rights, and takes him to the station. Is Fred’s admission admissible in court?

The answer is yes. Fred was not in custody at the time he admitted to the murder. But, any good cop would have him repeat his confession or even write it out, after the arrest.

So, to keep your stories accurate, remember my Miranda Warning.