On the Frontline: Fighting Crime in the CID
FROM 87th PRECINCT TO DOWNTOWN DEARNE VALLEY (YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND)
I have lost count of the number of dead bodies I have seen!
I have fought with drunks, wrestled thieves to the ground, and been threatened by a knife-wielding burglar on the run, and I’ve experienced the adrenalin rush from many a high-speed car chase.
On a number of occasions, I have also experienced the flight-or-fight sensation, especially when I was a member of the drug squad, working undercover buying drugs from dealers. Though looking back on that episode in my career, I need not have worried, for such was the change in my demeanor and appearance that not only was I able to trick the dealers, there were times when I even fooled my own colleagues. And that brings to mind one particularly funny moment while in that role.
Following one drugs operation, I recall being stopped by a uniformed sergeant while strolling away from the cell area, after “booking in” my prisoner. Planting a firm hand in the middle of my chest, he stopped me instantly in my tracks.
“How did you get out of your cell?”
I glanced up at the tall, burly officer and smiled. Then I flashed him my police warrant card. He scrutinized my passport-sized photo for a good ten seconds, ping-ponging his gaze between that and me. I shouldn’t have been so surprised for I bore no resemblance to the photograph. Since that had been taken, my image had changed dramatically: I had collar-length hair drawn back into a ponytail, and I was sporting an earring.
He took one final look at me, shook his head in disbelief, handed me back my warrant card, and mooched away.
In 2006, I retired from my career as a police officer. I had achieved the rank of inspector and at the time of my retirement was in charge of a busy CID department. During my service, I had spells in the vice squad at the time of the “Yorkshire Ripper,” was a detective sergeant on the drug squad as the “rave scene” flourished, and, in CID, was involved in many complex murder investigations.
I had thirty-two years of fighting crime in my background and therefore a wealth of experience to draw on. What I also had was a good deal of writing experience. Over the years, I had joined writers’ groups, attending them whenever I could in between shift patterns, or in the case of when I was a detective, in between investigations, and shared many drafts of the latest crime thriller I was working on. So, upon retirement, writing a crime novel seemed the most natural thing to do.
The enthusiasm to write crime fiction, especially in a police procedural/whodunit format, came from reading Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels during my teenage years. However, in my CID days, homicide, or murder squads, did not exist. Detectives were pulled together from surrounding districts to form a team and were immediately disbanded once the killer was caught, and so I struggled to develop a British version of a McBain story.
Then a remarkable thing happened. Following a national review, major investigation teams were set up by police forces countrywide. By sheer good fortune, I now had the foundations of realism to construct my story.
Pulling out the hoard of writings and scribbles I had made over the years—I was surprised at just how much I had amassed—I began to develop the form and structure of my first book. The plot wasn’t hard at all. I had so much material from my policing experience, plus I had already determined that my central character, Detective Sergeant Hunter Kerr, was going to be largely autobiographical.
Motivated by a real case, I fashioned the format of the novel using a timeline sequence, and I “ran” the story as if it were a real investigation, using an incident board to capture my murder case exactly the way I had done back in my career; I updated the inquiry as each chapter progressed, thereby breathing some semblance of life into it.
That novel went through many rewrites and took me almost four years to complete, but after only a handful of rejects, I got a two-book deal from my present publisher.
I now spend my days writing about all those incredible, ghoulish, jaw-dropping, and amazing incidents I visited during my thirty-two years as a British cop.