Finding the Realism in books.
A common thread in my crime thrillers is the number of law enforcement characters—FBI agents, Interpol agents, U.S. marshals, deputy sheriffs, sheriffs, special rangers, highway patrol officers, secret service agents, police chiefs, police officers, and homicide detectives. It’s no wonder my thrillers have also been tagged as police procedurals.
It’s not surprising that I write about what I know, cops and crime. As a twenty-two-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, my police background is the basis for my fictional crime thrillers. I was a patrol officer, undercover narcotics detective, advanced accident investigator, tactical officer, and the first female sniper on the Dallas Swat team. I can draw on those past experiences to heighten the reality of my plots and characters.
Sentinels of the Night
In the first chapter, the lead protagonist, FBI Tracker Cat Morgan, is chasing a serial killer through a railroad yard. The details of the ground, tracks, trains, and odors came from an actual experience. Though I wasn’t chasing a serial killer. A man had stolen a car. I was in pursuit. Believing he could ditch the cops hot on his tail, he bailed out of the moving car and ran into a nearby railroad yard. Well, he didn’t get away then, and neither did my fictional serial killer in the opening scenes.
That wasn’t the only experience I drew on to add realism to the start of the book. During my tenure as a member of the Dallas Swat Team, I was involved in a hunt for a killer riding the rails. My partner and I spent considerable time with railroad personnel learning the ins and outs of working around trains. That training was used to train the other officers on our team.
The plot involved two serial killers. The first is the one in the railroad yard. The characterization for the second one came from an experience early in my police career. I once crossed paths with a convicted serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas. I have never forgotten the dead expression on his face as he turned his head to look at me.
Then there was the robbery gone bad that turned into a hostage takeover of a convenience store. The local police chief calls on FBI Tracker Cat Morgan’s sniper skills, and she ends up on a rooftop across the street from the store. The subsequent actions resulted from my years as the first female sniper on the Swat team.
This plot also involved a scene from my experiences as a sniper. U.S. Deputy Marshal Piper McKay and her partner are the sniper team during a hostage takeover of a home with an elderly gentleman inside. One of the criminals escaped from federal custody, killing another marshal during the getaway. Crawling through brush and over rocks was drawn from a similar situation. I had to get behind a house. The only way was to crawl along a weed-infested alley, dragging my rifle case.
Other incidents and characterizations in this book were based on actual events. However, it would be a spoiler alert to talk about them.
My Swat background came into play again. This time the lead character, Kerry Branson, an ex-homicide detective turned private investigator, is drawn into a takedown of a ranch house in a remote area of West Texas. This was an interesting scene to create as the dynamics of the entry team and movements were significantly different from a location in a city.
In one of the scenes, private investigator Kerry Branson and FBI Tracker Ryan Barr are on the hunt for a gang of mercenaries. To find them, they take to the streets of Austin to talk to prostitutes. To add a touch of authenticity, I used a procedure, a hook book, from my patrol days of pounding a beat. Criminals lie. Many times, I’ve found the lie was worse than the truth. But the reality is that people lie to police officers. It’s a fact. In this case, the lie is the woman’s name and date of birth. A hook book is comprised of mug shots and aliases used by prostitutes. It’s a handy device for an officer to use to identify the person’s correct identity before issuing a citation or making an arrest.
I used my expertise as an advanced accident investigator to create the explosive scene and shootout in Au79 that involved eighteen-wheelers. The scene also incorporated my experience as a reserve deputy sheriff. Before I became a Dallas police officer, I worked for a county sheriff’s department. In Texas, reserve deputies are a volunteer unit. Response times in the county for ambulances and the fire department are much different than in the city. Details that I added to the scene.
These are just a few examples where I’ve used my police training and knowledge to enhance my plots and characters. My books are riddled with them, and you might spot them when you read them. If you do and have a question, I can be contacted through my website: www.anitadickason.com
And I’m always “On The Hunt” for new ideas. If you have a question or a comment, please let me know.
Anita Dickason is a retired police officer with a total of twenty-seven years of law enforcement experience, twenty-two with Dallas PD. She served as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics officer, advanced accident investigator, tactical officer, and first female sniper on the Dallas SWAT team.