Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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

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Archive for the ‘PIs and Listening Devices’ Category

Answering Writer’s Question: Do PIs Use Listening Devices?

Posted by Writing PIs on April 13, 2015

“Eavesdropping” by Théodore Jacques Ralli 1880 – image is in public domain

Since we opened our doors nearly 15 years ago, we have been invited numerous times to give workshops at writers’ conferences about crafting plausible PI characters in stories. Occasionally, we have also taught our own online classes. Below is a question that several writers have asked over the years, and it’s a good one.

We have known PIs who got into trouble after being caught illegally using listening devices, but such problems are good in fiction as tension and conflict bump up the stakes.

Writer’s Question:  Do you ever use listening devices in your investigations?  I’d like to have my fictional sleuth use a listening device while she’s driving around — is that plausible?

Answer: No, we don’t use listening devices because they intrude on others’ expectations of privacy. Also, such devices are frequently electronic in nature, and any electronically supplemented listening device meets the definition of the crime of eavesdropping. We once had an attorney ask us to use an electronic listening device in a motel room to try to listen in on a “cheating spouse” in the next room.  We refused, explaining that would be eavesdropping. Last we heard, the attorney found another PI who was willing to do it.

As to your character using a listening device in her car, yes, it’s plausible, but keep in mind that your character is technically breaking the law. But think of this…unless your character repeats conversations verbatim or admits to using a listening device, who will know?

Now let’s look at it another way — your character is caught with the device — that’s great. Throws more conflict into your story. Or a third party says there’s no way the PI-character could possibly have known about a private conversation unless the PI had been illegally using a listening device. Again, more story tension. What does the PI do?  Toss the listening device?  Yes, probably…in a dumpster far, far away from her premises.  We’re talking fiction, so having a character do things that he/she knows are illegal are great for adding conflict.  What’s key is for the writer to know certain actions and uses of certain devices are illegal to begin with (then the character must wrestle with the whys and hows of what he/she’s doing…and be prepared to pay the consequences).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

Available on Kindle

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PIs as Criminals: Great in Fiction, Bad in Real Life

Posted by Writing PIs on November 18, 2012


“I Want You to Put Some Muscle on This Guy”

Sounds like a line out of a bad noir movie, but we’ve actually had someone request that. In this case, the man wanted us to put some muscle on a guy who’d stolen his Ferrari.  Yes, Ferrari. We explained that unlike Tony Soprano, we don’t do muscle.  The guy then asked if we could locate the stolen Ferrari.  That we can do, and did

We’ve also been asked multiple times to attach GPS devices on vehicles the requestor doesn’t own to downloading listening software on people’s cell phones. After explaining that we do not conduct such illegal activities, we explain to callers that if they decide to do such criminal acts on their own, they’ll be facing felony charges if caught.

Ads to Help People Wiretap

It’s interesting how many ads are out there (magazines, Internet) for cellphone software that a buyer can then download on someone’s cell phone and listen to (and track) all their conversations.  We’ve had callers say, “But they claim their product is legal in the ads!”  No, they don’t claim their product is legal, but they sure make it sound that way.

Real-Life PIs Who Go Bad

Although all the private investigators we know play by the legal rules, there are the few who drift over to the dark side.  Some drift in a big, bad way like Anthony Pellicano, the former high-profile Los Angeles PI who’s now serving time in a federal prison for illegal possession of explosives, firearms and homemade grenades, unlawful wiretapping and racketeering.

Then there’s former Concord, California, private investigator Christopher Butler who’s spending 8 years in a federal prison for committing a string of felonies that included the theft and sale of drugs from the Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team and setting up “dirty DUI” schemes where men going through contentious divorces were set up for drunk driving arrests.

Bad PIs Are Good in Fiction

When it comes to fiction, however, bad is good.  It bumps up the stakes and tension if a fictional sleuth, knowing he/she is committing a felony, does it anyway.  They illegally track with a GPS, knowing the consequences if they get caught, but they’re doing it for a compelling reason (to save a child, for example).  Adds complexity and tension to the story, doesn’t it?  Or they go into the gray zone and purchase that illegal cell phone software as a last means to track a killer.  As a writer, knowing what’s legal or not for your protagonist sleuth helps you crank up the stakes.  Plus it adds plausibility.

Mark Your Calendars: The Zen Man will be free November 25-27!

Speaking of fictional PIs, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ novel, The Zen Man, which features a man-and-woman PI team, will be free November 25 – 27, 2012.  Yeah, one of them’s a good PI who does some bad things.

Semifinalist Best Indie Books of 2012, The Kindle Book Reviews

“A brilliant mystery novel…I eagerly await the return of the Zen Man.”
~Becky Sherriff, The Kindle Book Review

“What I didn’t expect were the touches of romantic language, as delicate and erotic as a glance by Humphrey Bogart from under his hat. I also didn’t expect the humorous touches in what is essentially one man’s life-or-death fight to save his soul, his business and the love of his life.”
~Bonnie Ramthun, multi-published mystery and YA author

“Move over Sam Spade, Nick and Nora; make room for a Denver who-dun-it, Colleen Collins’s The Zen Man. Brilliant and fast-paced writing. I couldn’t put it down.”
~ Donnell Ann Bell,
 Award-Winning Author of The Past Came Hunting

Posted in PI Topics, PIs and Listening Devices, Private Eyes in the News, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on PIs as Criminals: Great in Fiction, Bad in Real Life

 
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