Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Looking Under the Alibi: The Work of a Legal Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on October 6, 2020

Investigations are about gathering facts to form a cohesive and well-reasoned picture of a given situation. Legal investigations are also about gathering facts for a given situation with the addition that these facts will be presented in a court of law.

The legal investigator applies evidence/fact gathering through exacting requirements, called rules of evidence, which must be met for their admissibility for the judge and jury to see and hear.

V.I. Warshawski: A Fictional Legal Investigator

I view V. I. Warshawski, a private investigator character created by writer Sara Paretsky, to be a legal investigator. V.I. attended law school and worked for several years as a public defender, which attests to her understanding and passion for the law. She became a licensed PI in 1982. For fans of the V.I. Warshawski books, you know she works independently as well as on retainer for some attorneys (not uncommon for real-life legal investigators, too).

A Legal Investigator’s Job

Some legal investigators work in-house at a law firm. Others might work in a public defender or district attorney’s office.  And some work as independent contractors, under the umbrella of their own investigations agency.

A legal investigator’s tasks might include:

  • Locating and interviewing witnesses
  • Drafting witness interview reports for attorneys
  • Reconstructing scenes of crimes
  • Helping prepare civil and criminal arguments and defenses
  • Serving legal documents
  • Testifying in court
  • Conducting legal research (for example, drafting pleadings incorporating investigative data, devising defense strategies and supporting subsequent legal proceedings)
  • Preparing legal documents that provide factual support for pleadings, briefs, and appeals
  • Preparing affidavits
  • Electronically filing pleadings.

A legal investigator’s training and skills often include:

  • Good people skills, sincere interest in people
  • Understanding people’s rights to privacy, city ordinances, statutory laws
  • A passion for righting wrongs.

Lawyers as Legal Investigators

Sometimes lawyers choose to be legal investigator rather than practice law. That’s certainly true for the PI-character V.I. Warshawski. In real life, I know several former lawyers who now prefer to work as legal investigators, one being my PI partner. Their knowledge of the law is a boon to an investigations business and critical to a legal case; after all, not-guilty verdicts and huge jury awards are won on the street as much as they are won in the courtroom.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Please do not copy or otherwise use any of the content as it is protected by copyright law.

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Private Eye Writers of America: 2020 Shamus Award Nominees

Posted by Writing PIs on June 3, 2020

2020 Shamus Award Nominees
(for private eye novels & short stories first published in the U.S. in 2019)

The lists below are in alphabetical order by author. Congratulations to all the nominees!

 

Best Original Private Eye Paperback

The Skin Game by JD Allen / Midnight Ink

Behind the Wall of Sleep by James DF Hannah / author

Paid in Spades by Richard Helms / Clay Stafford Books

Ration of Lies by M. Ruth Myers / author

The Bird Boys by Lisa Sandlin / Cinco Puntos Press

 

Best Private Eye Short Story

“The Smoking Bandit of Lakeside Terrace” by Chad Baker in EQMM May/June

“Sac-A-Lait Man” by O’Neil De Noux in EQMM Sept/Oct

“The Dunes of Saulkrasti” by William Burton McCormick in EQMM Sept/Oct

“The Fourteenth Floor” by Adam Meyer in Crime Travel anthology from Wildside Press

“Weathering the Storm” by Michael Pool in The Eyes of Texas anthology from Down & Out Books

 

 Best Private Eye Novel

The Tower of Songs by Casey Barrett / Kensington

Lost Tomorrows by Matt Coyle / Oceanview

The Shallows by Matt Goldman / Forge

Below the Line by Michael Gould / Dutton

Cold Way Home by Julia Keller / Minotaur

With many thanks to the judges:  John Wessel, John Hegenberger, Mark Keliikoa, Stephen Rogers, Michael Pool, Virginia Welker, Matt Coyle, Michael Bracken, Kristen Lepionka, Colleen Collins, Matt Goldman and Alan Orloff

Gay Toltl Kinman, Chair, Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards

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Guns Gams and Gumshoes: Top 10 Investigative Posts 2009 – 2019

Posted by Writing PIs on December 31, 2019

Looking Back on a Decade

We thought we’d do a spin on our annual Top 10 posts and select the top 10 posts from the last ten years. Which is fitting as we kicked off the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes blog in June 2009, making it a decade old in 2019.

So how are those ten years reflected in our readers’ favorite posts? Interestingly enough, the #1 most popular post in 2009 is still the most popular post in 2019.

Let’s start at number 10 and work our way up…

Top 10 Posts of the Last 10 Years

#10: Female Private Eyes Walked Those Mean Streets, Too

From Colleen: I was surprised to read a 2014 article “The Death of the Private Eye,” by John Semley in the New York Times and see references to only men being shamuses in hardboiled fiction. Hey, there were lady dicks, too.

#9 Employment Background Checks: Know What’s on Yours BEFORE the Interview

One of several employment background articles Colleen wrote in 2011 about employment background checks for a media company.

#8 Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Written in 2012 for Elizabeth A. White’s blog “Editing by Elizabeth.” White is a former lawyer and current book reviewer/freelance editor specializing in crime fiction.

#7 Marketing the Private Investigations Business

This article is a blast from the past, one of the first we wrote after kicking off this blog in 2009. Much of it still rings true, while significant marketing venues, such as social media, are missing (was “social media” even a term in 2009?).

#6 Investigating Crime Scenes: Police vs. Private Investigators

Because one of the Writing PIs, Shaun, had been a criminal lawyer for nearly two decades with experience litigating many felony cases, including several high-profile homicides, our early clients were seasoned criminal lawyers who respected his knowledge and insights into criminal law and investigations. One gave us our very first case: investigating a crime scene (a bar) where a homicide had occurred. This was the first of numerous cold crime scenes we investigated over the years.

#5 A Tribute to James Garner’s Iconic Private Eye Jim Rockford

This one pops up as a readers’ favorite year after year. Who didn’t love “The Rockford Files”?

#4 National and International Private Investigator Day: History of the Private Eye

From Eugene Francois Vidocq to Allan Pinkerton to Kate Warne, credited with being the first female PI in the U.S.

#3 The Witness Who Came in From the Cold

A case we worked the old-fashioned way, on foot, as the key witness was terrified for her identity to be traced digitally.

#2 How to Conduct a Trash Hit: A Private Investigator’s Dumpster Secrets

The down-and-dirty world of trash hits. This post is continually in the top two or three of readers’ favorite articles every year.

#1 Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference?

This post has been number 1 every single year! It’s a question we address at the beginning of our workshops, too, as it can be confusing what constitutes a detective being “private” vs. “public.” 

 

That wraps up the top 10 posts of the decade! Thank you, readers, for dropping by Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes over the years. We wish all of you a prosperous, happy 2020!

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Interview with Steven Kerry Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating”

Posted by Writing PIs on December 29, 2019

December 29, 2019

Saddened to learn today that Steven Kerry Brown passed away on Christmas day. I knew his name and reputation before I met him, first over the phone when he called to hire us for a case in Colorado. Later, we met in person at a writers conference. Over the years we’d occasionally chat about fiction writing as both of us were crafting private eye novels.

Below is a piece I wrote about Steven around 2013 when he was battling cancer, followed by a two-part interview I did with him in 2009.

Steven Kerry Brown

Steven Kerry Brown is a former FBI special agent and supervisory special agent, founder and president of Millennial Investigative Agency in Florida, novelist, author of magazine articles and nonfiction books, blogger, and has spent two years as captain of a sixty-foot ketch running sailing charters in the Bahamas.

He’s appeared on such television programs as Hard Copy and 60 Minutes, and is the author of one of the best books on private investigations around (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating — its third edition was released March 2013). He is also the author of 5 Things Women Need to Know About the Men They Date, released in April 2013.

The Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating

The first time I met Steven was back in 2004 when he called our agency and retained our services for an investigative task in Colorado. The prior year I had attended an intensive, 16-week on-site investigative course that used the The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating in its course material. I had read that book front to back, then back to front, scribbled notes in the margins, re-read — and then re-read again — numerous sections to ensure my grasp of a topic. Steven writes in a clear, straightforward manner, and sprinkles factual material with his own personal experiences.

That same year, I took another course on process service.  One day, the instructor played a Q&A game with the class — the prize for the most correct answers was a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating. 

So a year later, when the author called out of the blue and requested our P.I. services, I was honored.

Writing the Private Eye Novel

Years later, Steven’s and my paths crossed again, but this time as novelists. We both have written private-eye genre novels, and have chatted off and on about agents, publishers, even WordPress. He co-authors the blog Handcuffed to the Ocean with several other writers, one being James N. Frey, a novelist and author of one of the better books on fiction writing, How to Write a Damn Good Novel.

Undergoing a Bone Marrow Transplant

Over the past few years, I’ve grown to admire Steven even more for his gutsy perseverance as he’s undergone a bone marrow transplant. Below is the beginning of a post he wrote last June:

I’m sitting here at 11 pm eating out of a carton of Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie ice cream. Got to love life. On Saturday June 15 I passed the one year mark since some nice guy over in Germany donated his bone marrow stem cells to me. I haven’t checked the statistics this year but when I agreed to enter the BMT Clinic at Shands Cancer Institute in Gainesville, Florida the mortality rate for bone marrow transplant patients was fairly high. 

Many of Steven’s friends and colleagues in the P.I. industry have contributed to his Bone Marrow Transplant Fund to help with the $500,000 in expenses for this procedure. Recently, there have been complications, which Steven wrote about in September 2013 — below is the beginning of that post:

I really thought I would have my immune system back by now. Most of the BMT transplant patients I’ve met received their shots by the end of the first year. But, now I’m convinced that I may never get it back. I’ve had a few set backs these last few weeks. I encountered a big flare up of GVHD that took over my entire torso. The doctors put me back on prednisone and other immune suppressant medication. I told the doctors I’d rather have the GVHD than the prednisone. But they said this flare up was life threatening, so I really didn’t have a choice.

Despite what he’s going through, his humor shines through—check out this poem to his doctors (posted on his September 2013 blog):

I wrote a little poem for the doctors about GVHD.

GVHD

Itch, itch, Itch,

Like a son of a 

Bitch, bitch, bitch.

By the way, this post includes photos of his symptoms (he does this to help others who might be contemplating a bone marrow transplant). Be forewarned—these photos are graphic.

At the end of this post, Steven writes:

Thanks for the well wishes and the donations. I promise as soon as I can I’ll get back to investigating the Haleigh Cummings case. I do have more posts on that coming up soon.

Amazes me that while dealing with his health challenges over the last year+ he has also self-published one nonfiction book and revised another. Puts the notion of “writer’s block” to shame.

Now to the 2009 interview with P.I.-author Steven Kerry Brown…

Steven Kerry Brown post 2-16-2014

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Good morning, Steven, and welcome to Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes. First, we have to say that The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating  is one of our favorite resource books. As we haven’t seen this second edition, we imagine you’ve updated it with more technology and tools–saying that, what is one of the more useful technological techniques you’ve recently started using in your investigative work?

Steven: There are three really useful techniques that are relatively new that I use a lot.  Two of them I describe in detail in my book. The first is the GPS tracking device. Below is a photo with the unit in a waterproof Pelican case and a 50 pound pull magnet and a long life lithium-ion battery pack. (Not much larger than a man’s hand.)

(Photo no longer available)


I set this unit (I have two of them) to report in every 10 minutes. I change the batteries out once a week. I also have the capability of clicking on “tracking now” on the unit’s website and receive a real-time location of where the unit is. So you or your client can sit in front of their computer and see where the unit is at any given time.  Of course, the primary use of this is in family law cases. Even though Florida is a “no fault” divorce state (meaning that proof of adultery doesn’t have a real impact on property settlement), still the client needs to know the facts of their situation before they can make an informed decision. Hence, using the GPS to track the spouse.

We follow-up the use of the GPS with a little judicious surveillance. Even though the GPS will tell us where the spouse is, it won’t tell us who he/she is with, so a few photos of the spouse and the other party will usually do the trick. And don’t be fooled by clichés. There are not more men than women committing adultery. We find it splits about 50-50.

The second technique I like a lot is Spoofing Caller ID. Now you have to be careful with this as it is now illegal in some states, like Florida, if you spoof a caller ID with the intent to deceive. How does it work and how do I use it? You can do a web search on Spoofing Caller ID and find lots of folks who will sell you spoofing time. I use Spoofcard.com  For $5.00 you get 25 minutes of spoofing time. Basically spoofing caller ID means that you can use this service to call a target number and the incoming caller ID will display any number you want it to show. The technology behind it is the spoofing company uses Voice Over IP (VOIP) to make the call and in doing so can send whatever Caller ID data you want sent. (You can find full details in the CIG to PI pages 184-188)

How do you use caller ID spoofing? Well, you might for instance, want to see if a certain person is at a particular residence. Before the law changed in Florida, I called a witness to a case that I needed to talk to. He wouldn’t answer my calls so I spoofed my number to look like his mother’s phone was calling him. He answered the call.

The third technique I like only works on cell phone numbers. You can use this service and it will bypass the phone and go directly to the cell phone’s voice mail. That way you can hear the message on the voice mail and sometimes figure out who the phone belongs to without them ever knowing you called the phone. It’s not perfect and your number might show up as a missed call on their phone. The service is called Slydial and their number is 267-759-3425. It’s free, give it a try. A database only available to PIs called Skip Smasher, has a much improved version of this service which will not leave your number on the target’s phone as a missed call and it will record the voice mail message for you. I love it and use it often. Kudos to SkipSmasher.com.

(Note from WritingPIs: Because of Steven’s recommendation, we began using Skip Smasher, too. Still use it to this day. It’s owned and operated by Robert Scott, a licensed private investigator.)

End of interview, Part 1.  In Part 2, Steven discusses the recession and private eyes, crafting non-fiction vs. fiction, and how much real-world PI dirt he puts into a fictional-world PI story.

Link to his book:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, Third Edition

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Part 2: Interview with Steven Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating”

Posted by Writing PIs on December 29, 2019

Today is part 2 of our interview with former FBI agent, private investigator and author Steven Kerry Brown where we discuss the world of real-life private eyes and their fictional counterparts.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: Some people view private investigations as a “recession-proof” business.  Do you agree?  If not, how has the economy affected private investigation businesses, and in what areas of investigative work?

STEVEN: All of the private investigators I know are suffering from loss of business. I would guess there are some that might be prospering, those doing process service with mortgage related clients perhaps. But while we too, do serve process, I don’t consider process serving as “real PI work.” It doesn’t require a PI license to serve process.

My criminal defense workload is up, so maybe there’s an upside to the downturn in the economy. More crime, more criminal defense cases. A lot of those are “indigent for expenses” so I get paid, but less than my normal rate. Generally my family law clients have less money to spend. I’ve had several that wanted to continue with their cases but were forced to stop because their own businesses were losing money and they couldn’t afford us. The pre-employment background screening business is way down as you can imagine. Fewer people being hired so there’s less need for background screening. So if there are some PIs whose business profits are up, I’d like to know their secrets.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: You’re also a “writing PI.” How long have you been writing fiction? And please tell us about your PI fiction novel that’s currently being shopped to publishers.

STEVEN: Just because I enjoy listening to classical music doesn’t mean I can write a concerto. Likewise, because I can read and write English, it doesn’t mean I can craft a novel. There is a craft to writing fiction that must be learned before your writing is going to be publishable. I’m a slow learner. I’ve been writing fiction for 15 years and haven’t made the grade yet. I have a mentor that says you have to write at least a million words before you can produce a well-worked novel.

People ask me how long it took me to write The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating. With tongue in cheek I tell them 20 years. Non-fiction I find much easier to write. I wrote the CIG to PI in about 3 months. The Second Edition (which you said you don’t have and you need to buy it) took me less time. It has about 40 percent new and different material than the first edition.

My first novel was about an ex-FBI agent working a one-sailboat charter business in the Bahamas. It was pretty damn good if I say so myself and it was good enough to land me a fine literary agent. We’re both surprised that book didn’t sell. It took me eight years to write it.

The second novel, a Mormon PI murder mystery set in St. Augustine, Florida is being shopped now by my agent. It took me about three years to write it so I guess I’m getting faster. In this novel, the PI, Winchester Young, risks jail time, fights though a midnight tropical storm, and explores ancient Timucuan ruins to expose the genesis behind multiple murders. We’ll just have to wait and see if it sells. Winchester, by the way was one of the few “gun” names I could come up with that hadn’t been used already. Magnum, Beretta, Cannon, Remington.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES:  In your fiction writing, do you feel it’s necessary to portray, down to the “last scrap” so to speak, the work of private investigators?

STEVEN: I had a fellow PI call me yesterday and wanted to know if it was difficult to find a publisher. I asked him if he was writing fiction or non-fiction. The book he had in mind was really a novel but with “actual details” of how he went about working his cases. But he said it was both fiction and non-fiction. I told him he had to choose unless it was a memoir which is really a bit of both. Bottom line was he didn’t have a clue as to what he was doing.

In the PI novel that is being shopped now, I tried to include as many “real life” PI details as possible. I think one of the joys of reading is entering and learning about a world that the reader knows nothing about. So I tried to let my readers enter the PI world. One of the great things about writing is you can condense time, so it doesn’t take four hours to read about a four hour surveillance. But other than that, I think it pretty well immerses the reader in the world of this PI who has to solve a present day murder in order to solve one from twenty-five years ago.

I also tried to stay away from the stereotypic PIs, ex-cops, ex-military etc. My guy is ex-nothing and inherited the agency from his uncle. He is smart and resourceful but he’s not ex-CIA. I also tried to stay away from a lot of gunplay in the book. This PI doesn’t shoot anyone. There is a lot of action and the body count is pretty high but he is not directly responsible for any deaths. Really, how many real-life PIs do you know that have shot someone? I’ve been in the PI business for 25 years and I don’t know any. I do have some real-life clients that have committed multiple murders though. I’m a frequent visitor to death row at the Florida State Prison so I think I have a pretty good idea of how to portray crime and those who commit it. I guess we’ll see if any publishers agree.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: We look forward to reading about Winchester Young in your to-be-published novel because some smart publisher will snap it up. Thank you, Steven, for being part of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes.

Amazon link to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating: http://tinyurl.com/guide2privateinvestigating

 

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Private Eye Writers of America: Submissions Open for 2020 Shamus Awards

Posted by Writing PIs on December 14, 2019

Private Eye Writers of America Are Now Accepting Submissions for 2020 Shamus Awards

For Works First Published in the U.S. in 2019

Following are the guidelines and categories for the Private Eye Writers of America 2020 Shamus Awards for private eye novels and short stories, which must have a 2019 copyright in the United States. The Shamus Awards will be presented in the fall of 2020.

Deadline

Submissions must be postmarked by March 31, 2020. No extensions will be given.

Eligibility

Eligible works must feature as a main character a person paid for investigative work but not employed for that work by a unit of government. These include licensed private investigators, lawyers and reporters who do their own investigations, and others who function as hired private agents.

Main characters who do not fit the description of a PI include law enforcement officers; coroner office investigators; other government employees; and amateur, uncompensated sleuths (as in cozy mysteries).

Independently published books (indies) may be submitted to the Best Original Paperback P.I. Novel category.

Submissions

Please send one copy of each eligible work to all members of the appropriate committee. Do not submit a book or short story to more than one committee.

Application Fee

There is no application fee and no submission form—a simple cover letter will suffice. Be sure to add your contact information (email address, phone number). Any questions, please e-mail Gay Toltl Kinman at gaykinman@gaykinman.com before submitting.

Categories

BEST HARDCOVER P.I. NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction published in hardcover in 2019 that is not the author’s first published P.I. novel.

BEST FIRST P.I. NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction, in hardcover or paperback, first published in 2019 and that is the author’s first published novel featuring a private investigator as a main character.

BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK P.I. NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction first published as a paperback original in 2019 that is not the author’s first P.I. novel. Paperback reprints of previously published novels are not eligible.

BEST P.I. SHORT STORY: A work of fiction of 20,000 words or fewer.  Stories first published in an earlier year and reprinted in a magazine, anthology or collection in 2019 are not eligible.

2020 Shamus Awards Committees

BEST HARDCOVER P.I. NOVEL COMMITTEE

Chair: John Wessel, 9506 Park Manor Lane, Unit 302, Blue Ash  OH 45242

John Hegenberger, 6487 Ethan Dr., Reynoldsburg  OH 43068

Mary Keliikoa, 21000 NW 67th Avenue, Ridgefield WA 98642

BEST FIRST P.I. NOVEL COMMITTEE

Chair: Stephen Rogers, POB 286, Buzzards Bay  MA 02532

Michael Pool, 950 Carr St., Lakewood  CO 90214

Virginia Welker, 40617 Stetson Ave., Hemet  CA 92544

BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK P.I. NOVEL

Chair: Matt Coyle, 3939 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego  CA 92117

Michael Bracken, 1213 South Haven, Hewitt TX 76643

Kristen Lepionka, 73 East Granville Road, Worthington  OH 43085

BEST P.I. SHORT STORY COMMITTEE

Chair:  Colleen Collins, 2255 Sheridan Blvd., Unit C #293, Edgewater  CO  80214

Matt Goldman, 6333 Warren Ave S, Edina  MN 55349

Alan Orloff, 11906 Paradise Lane, Herndon  VA 20171

 

Please do not copy or otherwise use any graphic images in this post. All images have been licensed by Colleen Collins, who does not have the legal authority to share with others.

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Summer Surveillances: Avoiding Heat Exhaustion

Posted by Writing PIs on July 13, 2019

Scientists think summers could be hotter than in the previous 50 years (image in public domain)

Updated July 13, 2019: This article was originally written eight years ago after I experienced heat exhaustion while conducting a series of daytime surveillances. At that time, both my PI partner and myself had conducted dozens of surveillances, many during the summer months. Both of us knew what safeguards to take, but nevertheless the heat took its toll.

As summers across the globe could be increasingly hotter than any we’ve experienced within the last 50 years (based on a recent study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research), it’s imperative to take adequate precautions when working outdoors.

What Is Heat Exhaustion?

From Mayo Clinic: Heat exhaustion is a condition whose symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, a result of your body overheating. It’s one of three heat-related syndromes, with heat cramps being the mildest and heatstroke being the most severe.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion may develop suddenly or gradually over time (mine was the latter). Possible signs and symptoms:

  • Cool, moist skin
  • Goose bumps, despite the heat
  • Profuse sweating
  • Lightheaded or dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache

That summer, I re-learned some powerful lessons about conducting summertime surveillances, starting with the most important one:

Lesson #1: Respect the heat! I thought I’d taken adequate precautions (parking in shady spots; taking breaks in an air-conditioned building; staying hydrated, etc.), yet I still succumbed to heat exhaustion, likely due to the repeated days of high temperatures.

A few ideas for staying cool:

  • Bring ice packs along on the surveillance

    When possible, select cool, shady areas for surveillances

  • Pick shady spots to park in
  • Ensure there’s adequate ventilation in the vehicle. If appropriate, run air conditioning (there’s also portable units investigators can purchase that help keep the inside of a vehicle cool)
  • When feasible, take breaks in air-conditioned buildings
  • Wear a rimmed hat and sunglasses
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water, Gatorade or fruit juices (not sodas or coffee!)
  • Wear loose-fitting and cool clothes.

Lesson #2: Mine your client for details. It’s funny how many people have called and asked us to follow someone without any suggestions or knowledge about the subject’s schedule or habits. Maybe in the movies a PI can jump into a car and follow someone for hours with zero idea where that person typically goes that time of day, or is scheduled to go on a particular day, but that’s a road to failure in real-life surveillances.

It aids the surveillance significantly to have an idea where the person might be traveling, or if they have a scheduled appointment (hair dresser, exercise club, therapist) for a certain day and time. How does a PI find this information? Interview the client, ask about the subject’s habits, schedules, work routines, and so forth. Sometimes we’ve worked on an “on-call” basis with a client (he/she calls us when they have information where a subject will be that day—of course, this doesn’t mean we’re always available at that particular time, which is an agreed-upon understanding of the “on-call” approach).

Lesson #3: Stay in close touch with your PI partner. We’ve conducted multiple two-car mobile surveillances during summer, and understand the value of staying in constant touch. For example, before we drive through traffic to follow a vehicle, we’ll call each other on our cells, then leave that line of communication open as we drive (we put our phones on speaker, set them on the console, and talk to each other as we drive). This way, we can immediately inform each other if the car is turning, if we’re playing “leap frog” with the vehicle, and so forth.

Note: In our state, any driver under 18 years of age is prohibited from using a cell phone while driving. The prohibition includes phone calls, text messaging, or similar forms of manual data entry and transmission. Adult drivers are prohibited from using a cell phone to text message, or send similar forms of transmission, while behind the wheel. Regular cell phone use for voice calls is permitted. Drivers of any age may use a wireless device in the case of an emergency.

Tips From Other Investigators

We’ve heard other investigators talk about their vehicle having tinted windows, installing a roof vent in the vehicle, wearing canvas shoes, if possible working at night vs. the day, one said her best way to stay cool was wrapping a bandana filled with ice wrapped around her neck.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any of this material without written permission from the author. Unless an image is noted as being in the public domain, do not copy or use any graphics/photos.

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Private Eye Writers of America Announces 2019 Shamus Award Nominees

Posted by Writing PIs on June 6, 2019

Below are the nominees for works published in 2018 featuring a private eye protagonist. Listing is in alphabetical order by author with publisher’s name in parentheses. Winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon, October 2019. Congratulations to all the nominees!

Best Original Private Eye Paperback

She Talks to Angels by James D. F. Hannah (Hannah)

No Quarter by John Jantunen (ECW Press)

Shark Bait by Paul Kemprecos (Suspense Publishing)     

Second Story Man by Charles Salzberg (Down & Out Books)

The Questionable Behavior of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone (Redhook Books)

 

Best First Private Eye Novel

The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco (MCD Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

Broken Places by Tracy Clark (Kensington)

Last Looks by Howard Michael Gould (Dutton)

What Doesn’t Kill You by Aimee Hix (Midnight Ink)

Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne (Hogarth)

 

Best Private Eye Short Story

“Fear of the Secular,” by Mitch Alderman (AHMM)

“Three-Star Sushi,” by Barry Lancet (Down & Out)

“The Big Creep,” by Elizabeth McKenzie (Santa Cruz Noir)

“Game,” by Twist Phelan (EQMM)

“Chin Yong-Yun Helps a Fool,” by S.J. Rozan (EQMM)

 

 Best Private Eye Novel

Wrong Light by Matt Coyle (Oceanview Publishing)

What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka (Minotaur Books)

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)

Baby’s First Felony by John Straley (Soho Crime)

Cut You Down by Sam Wiebe (Quercus)

 

2019 Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards Committees

Gay Toltl Kinman, Chair, Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards

BEST ORIGINAL PRIVATE EYE PAPERBACK COMMITTEE

Brad Parks, Chair, Michael Wiley, Beth Terrell

BEST FIRST PRIVATE EYE NOVEL COMMITTEE

Colleen Collins, Chair, Dennis Palumbo, Cheryl Head

BEST PRIVATE EYE SHORT STORY COMMITTEE

Terence P. Faherty, Chair, John Hoda, Ken Wishnia

BEST PRIVATE EYE NOVEL COMMITTEE

Thomas Donahue, Chair, Tracy Clark, John Shepphird

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Courtroom Couture: The Not Guilty Look

Posted by Writing PIs on April 27, 2019

I Look So Pure, I Couldn’t Possibly Have Done Those Bad Things

An article in today’s New York Times (Does This Dress Make Me Look Guilty?) reads like a courtroom catwalk, complete with pictures of famous people dressed to kill, so to speak, their alleged bad deeds in the minds of jurors and judges. Such as Anna Sorokin, the fake heiress, who bilked people, even a bank!, out of thousands of dollars. According to the article, a secret benefactor hired a professional stylist to dress Ms. Sorokin in clothes such as white, frothy baby doll dresses to give her the aura of purity and innocence. Add simple hairstyles, large “who me?” eyeglasses, and a knock-kneed stance for a touch of vulnerability, surely the jurors would be blinded by her innocence.

Didn’t work. The jury found her guilty of second-degree grand larceny, theft of services, and one count of attempted grand larceny. Perhaps she knew what was coming because she wore black on the last day of court.

Dress Codes Apply to Witnesses and Parties, Too

Famous defense lawyer Gerry Spence once represented a Wyoming beauty queen who was suing the publisher of Penthouse magazine, Bob Guccione, for defamation. Spence said he knew he had the upper hand when Guccione showed up to court in a flashy velour suit with his shirt unbuttoned to display heavy gold chains.

Court is not the place to flash jewelry and designer outfits — it’s a forum of respect and seriousness where persons appointed as magistrates or judges officiate in the administration of justice.

Bottom Line: Keep It Simple

Before we go to court, we advise clients on how to dress to impress, the low-key way. Keep it simple, conservative. Think “business casual.” More tips:

  • Dress as you would for church/place of worship.
  • Dress to cover tattoos and too much skin (women, keep skirts and dress lengths to just above the knee or longer, and no low-cut tops).
  • Keep nails short and polished in light color or clear.

Avoid the color red and don’t wear sunglasses (looks as if you’re hiding something)

  • Take out any piercings (earrings are fine, again keep it simple).
  • Plain colors or light patterns on clothes: no logos, brands, flashy statements.
  • Women: simple hairstyles, if hair is longer, pull it back with a clip or in a simple bun. Men: neatly cut, short hair.
  • Sensible shoes. No open toes.
  • Women: Keep make-up to a minimum.

Choose Suitable Colors

Wearing the right colors helps a person look healthier, younger, and refreshed. Here’s a few color suggestions:

Charcoal, Navy and Blue

In general, these are the best colors to wear to court. They’re not as severe as black, and for men, they complement many colors of shirts and ties. The other half of Writing PIs once attended a trial college where an instructor claimed that blue was the best color to wear to court because blue connoted “the truth.”

Never Wear Brown

That same trial college instructor lectured that one should never wear brown to court because used-car salesman wear brown suits, so wearing a brown connotes the image of a tire-kicking shyster. Lighter shades of brown, however, such as beige, work well, as do lighter shades of pastels.

Avoid Bright Colors

Bright colored clothes can be a distraction, or worse, a joke. We once observed a witness take the stand in a crayon-orange muscle shirt that displayed his bulging biceps and tattoos. You could see the looks of “What the?” on some of the jurors’ faces.

Links of Interest

Cardi B’s Courtroom Catwalk Continues (The Cut)

Dressing your client for success at deposition and trial (Plaintiff)

No defense for some courtroom attire (Chicago Tribune)

All Rights Reserved, Colleen Collins. Do not copy or distribute any content without written approval of the author. Images in this article are licensed by the author, who does not have the legal authority to share with others.

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Win a Box of Mystery Novels (Ends April 13)

Posted by Writing PIs on April 6, 2019

Love mystery novels? Private eye tales? Amateur detective whodunits (AKA cozies)? Enter the Box o’ Mystery Books Giveaway! Most novels are hardcover, from different publishers and writers, either released in 2018 or 2017. Winner can request one genre (such as private eye) or a mix of genres.

When: April 6 – 13, 2019 (ends at midnight April 13)

How to Enter: Click Box o’ Mystery Books Giveaway

The fine print: Your email address will only be used for this giveaway and never shared with others. Follow @writingpis on Twitter for an extra point. Winner will be randomly selected & notified by April 17. No purchase necessary. Must be 18 years old. Due to mailing restrictions, entrants must be residents of U.S. Good luck!

All Rights Reserved by Colleen Collins. Do not copy any content without written permission from the author. Images are licensed by the author, who does not have legal authority to share them with others.

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