In my story, “Reasonable Doubts,” for instance, I present a fictionalized, but accurate version of how the bribery of some Cook County judges was accomplished in the 1980s. Operation Greylord, the undercover sting that grabbed a lot of those dishonest jurists, was highly publicized when the scandal broke. I actually knew one of the dishonest attorneys who was caught and sent to prison. Ironically, when I knew the man he worked for the State’s Attorney’s Office and prosecuted one of my cases. “Reasonable Doubts" appeared in an anthology called The Mammoth Book of Legal Thrillers and is probably my most unpopular story. It deals with the realization by a young law student who’s serving an internship with a famous, Perry Mason type attorney, that the man is actually crooked. I guess people didn’t want to believe that a Mason clone wasn’t fighting the good fight. This story got more negative comments than anything I’ve ever written with the exception of my gun control piece in the New York Times. The story ends with the forces of evil winning, so perhaps that’s why people had an adverse reaction.
I resurrected the young idealist and the prominent attorney in my third Ron Shade book, A Final Judgment. In this one I had my private eye detective take on the same forces of evil that thwarted the system in “Reasonable Doubts” and naturally Shade triumphs. Sometimes the wheels of true justice not only turn slowly, but they need to be lubricated with the blood of dishonest attorneys.
A few years ago I was asked to contribute a short story for an anthology celebrating the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe’s birth called On a Raven’s Wing. Since I’ve always loved Poe, I jumped at the chance, even though the deadline was a killer (ten days). I wrote “The Golden Bug” in homage to one of the master’s short stories (I’ll let you figure out which one) and set it on a remote Pacific islands in World War II. It featured a section about “how to make a shrunken head.” I learned these gruesome details from an old, WW II vet who was stationed on such an island during the war. He actually went into a lot of detail about the natives, who fought the Japanese, and their penchant for head-hunting and cannibalism. Somehow I didn’t worry my readers would be tempted to experiment in this area.
Other not-so-tempting how-tos include illegal, toxic dumping in my first Shade novel, A Killing Frost. I based this on a scheme the outfit was using in New Jersey. The mob has a long history of being in the disposal business, and when environmental concerns sparked an upsure in disposing of noxious chemicals, these “good fellas” jumped in with both feet to handle that odious chore. Unfortunately, their solution to the disposal problem involved sending tanker trucks out at night to empty their toxic cargoes into the first open field they could find.
There are a lot of training sequences and kickboxing strategies in the Shade books. He trains for big matches in the first two (A Killing Frost and Windy City Knights) and finally gets a shot at the title in A Final Judgment. I suppose this one contains a blow-by-blow description of how to get really beat up. Shade manages to hold his own, though against his super-sized Russian opponent. (I won’t tell you who wins.)
Julie Hyzy put a lot of interesting details about funeral parlors and their embalming procedures in Dead Ringer, the book we wrote together. It contains dual protagonists (her intrepid, Chicago-based reporter Alex St. James and my P.I. Ron Shade) as they track down a ring of bad guys who sell body parts on the black market.
The Heist, which was recently re-released as an e-book by Crossroad Press, features detailed descriptions of rappelling and lock-picking. Melody of Vengeance, my first Doc Atlas novel, shows how they used to use a fuming procedure to raise latent fingerprints in the 1940s. I put in some info about cryogenics in Freeze Me, Tender (soon to be released again, this time as an e-book), and my most recent novel, Sacrificial Offerings, gives a very detailed description about SWAT training, as well as raid planning and execution.
I also mentioned before that I’m writing novels in a popular adventure series under a secret identify. (I’m precluded by contract from mentioning the series by name.) Suffice to say, these books contains a lot of para-military tactics and weapon information.
I do try to thoroughly research everything I put into my novels and stories. When I first started writing the Shade books, I vowed that I was not going to create a fictional superman capable of leaping over tall buildings in a single bound. Instead, I made the statement that Shade would not be able to do anything that I couldn’t do. The only problem was, Shade never seemed to age or suffer any lasting ill effects, while I, on the other hand, was not so lucky. So I changed my credo slightly. Shade would still no longer to be able to do anything that I couldn’t do . . . He’d just be able to do it better and recover quicker.
How’s that for a how-to on how to get out of painting yourself into a corner?