Four cops, Two paramedics, One Mystery Writer
by Vicki Delany
(a note from Louise Penny. I asked Vicki to join us today because she's not only a fabulous writer, she's hilarious - and kind. Two great qualities, in my book. She's published by Poisoned Pen and her latest is a Constable Molly Smith novel called NEGATIVE IMAGE)
Four cops, two paramedics, one mystery writer -
That's how many people it took to wake one man up to go to work.
After I’d published two novels of standalone suspense with Poisoned Pen Press my editor, Barbara Peters, and I decided it was time to try a series. I knew right away that I wanted to write the type of series I like most to read: the traditional British-type police procedurals.
But first, I had one problem: I have no experience in law enforcement whatsoever. I used to be a systems analyst at a bank. Not a lot of gun battles or drunk-and-disorderlies in that job. We didn’t even have a jail in the office basement.
I knew that if I was to create a reasonably realistic police series I would need some help.
I’ve been very lucky and there are now four novels in the Constable Molly Smith series set in the fictional town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, Canada.
Everywhere I’ve been I’ve found police officers to be more than helpful in talking to me about the ins and outs of their job. I have a detective constable who enjoys answering all my questions and will look things up, or ask the department lawyer, if he doesn’t know the answer to any one of them. I’ve toured police stations, met many officers, been out on ride-alongs and walk-alongs, talked to the dog handler and met his dog, been to watch in-service training, been to the firearms training course (where they didn’t let me touch a weapon, you’ll be pleased to hear).
I’ve had some really boring nights too. As I try to explain when the nice officer assigned to take me out apologizes because nothing at all happened, if I want to see a gun battle or a bank robbery in progress, I’ll watch TV. It’s the everyday details of the ordinary cop’s job that I’m interested in seeing first hand, that I want to give veracity to the books. The protagonist of the Constable Molly Smith series is young, green, a bit naïve. When the series begins, in In the Shadow of the Glacier, she is still on probation. She walks the beat on a Saturday afternoon, attends fender-benders, throws drunks into the drunk tank, tells people to empty out their cans of beer, helps confused old ladies cross the street, answers domestic disturbances, and stands outside crime scenes not letting anyone in.
This is the detail of day-to-day policing I’m trying to get right for my books. That as well as the way the officers relate to each other, the jokes they tell, how they balance families and young children, how they train (or not). My books are about murder and kidnapping and tragedy, yes, but they are also about people and relationships.
One thing I'm learning from the ride-alongs I've been on over the past two years, is that there can be a lot of humour in a cop’s job. It's a tough, often unpleasant, job and they put their lives on the line every day. But boy, do they get a good laugh some times.
Recently, the car I was in was called to a home where a man wasn't answering the door to his friend who had come to take him to work. It was the usual time and the usual routine, and the friend was worried because the man had a medical condition. He had hammered on the door, tried to peer in windows, even climbed a tree to get a peek inside. But no answer and no movement.
When we got there, the officer banged on the door, and bellowed, and peered in windows, and banged and bellowed again. He called for an ambulance. Reinforcements arrived, including the sergeant. Someone crouched down and yelled into the cat door. (And took a sniff - ug). Eventually there were four cops, two paramedics, and one mystery writer gathered at the top of a rickety set of stairs leading to the upstairs apartment. Permission to knock down the door was given, the door was kicked in, and everyone rushed in. Everyone, that is, save said mystery writer, who hung behind not wanting to see anything yucky. Then I heard a shout, "XX, what are you doing still in bed? Aren't you going to work?"
So I also wandered into the apartment to have a look.
Yup, the guy was tucked up in bed. Didn't feel like going to work, didn't bother phoning in, and didn't particularly want to get up and open the door. Out we all trooped, one mystery writer, two paramedics, four cops, leaving XX in bed and a broken door swinging on its hinges.
Here is a picture of one of the handsome officers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.