Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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

  • Writing a Sleuth?

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

    "How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike."

    Available on Kindle

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    All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content on this site (including images owned by Colleen Collins) requires specific, written authority.

    It has come to our attention that people are illegally copying and using the black and white private eye at a keyboard image that is used on our site. NOTE: This image is protected by copyright, property of Colleen Collins.

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Archive for the ‘Writing About PIs’ Category

Finding Missing Persons: Some Internet Resources

Posted by Writing PIs on August 18, 2013

Here are some useful online databases that can be helpful in finding people.private eye guy

Keep in mind the importance of the correct spelling of the name (there can be a world of difference between Katheryn and Cathie), the correct order of the first and last name (is it Anthony James or James Anthony?), and if a nickname might be helpful to search.

Some useful, and for the most part free, online searches

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs): The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a centralized repository and resource center for missing persons and unidentified decedent records.

Wedding Channel: Search for weddings by name and state.

Zoom Info: Comprehensive source of information on 5 million businesses and 50 million professionals, geared to marketers. Offers free trial.

VitalCheck: Official source for government-issued vital records: birth, death, marriage and divorce. Not a government agency, but a resource to purchase government-certified vital records.

State and Local Governments: Links to websites of thousands of state agencies and city and county governments

Service Members Civil Relief Act website: Department of Defense’s official source of service members’ active duty status.

National Obituary Archive:  Obituaries by city and state.

To go to book's Amazon page, click on banner

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on banner

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SECRETS OF A REAL-LIFE FEMALE PRIVATE EYE – P.I. blogs, magazines and websites

Posted by Writing PIs on July 12, 2013

To go to book's Amazon page, click on cover

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on cover

“As an experienced private detective and a skilled storyteller, Colleen Collins is the perfect person to offer a glimpse into the lives of real female P.I.s”
~Kim Green, managing editor of Pursuit Magazine: The Magazine of Professional Investigators

“This book does a great job bridging the gap between our country’s first private investigators to the state of the modern sleuth. I like that Colleen is thoughtful about her work and her cases and represents our profession well. This is a must-read for anyone remotely curious about what a private dick(ette?) really does.”
~Mike Spencer, PI, Partner, Spencer Elrod Services, Inc.

Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’s Colleen Collins’s  nonfiction ebook is Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye, a part-memoir, part-reference book whose topics include:

  • A history of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency
  • The hiring of the first women P.I. in the U.S., Kate Warne
  • The advantages and dangers of being a current-day female P.I.
  • Tools of the trade, from interactive crime maps to smartphone apps
  • A sampling of cases, from paranormal to criminal investigations
  • Investigative tips, including free online searches, finding lost pets and sending untraceable emails
  • An overview of popular fictional private eye counterparts
  • And much more!

Available on Amazon.

Excerpt from Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

Below is a partial excerpt from a book appendix that lists a variety of P.I. blogs, magazines and websites.  Enjoy!

Appendix A: Some Favorite Sites

Below are a few of my favorite blogs, websites and online magazines, authored by real-life P.I.s or people in associated fields.  I’ve added a few private-eye genre sites as well for those interested in reading about gumshoe writers and stories.

Defrosting Cold Cases: A blog by Alice de Sturler to explore why some homicide cases remain unsolved. Through blogging and innovative use of existing technology, she has been able to get those cases renewed media attention.  Excellent resource for articles, interviews, news and cold case investigations.

Diligentia Group: Run by private investigator Brian Willingham, CFE, who specializes in due diligence, background and legal investigations.  He writes informative articles about the art and business of private investigations.

Handcuffed to the Ocean: One of our favorite real-life private investigators, also a fiction writer, is Steven Kerry Brown who is one of the writers for this blog. To read Steve’s blogs, click on the “Crime” category. Also check out his nonfiction book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating.

PInow.com news: News and articles about private investigations.

PIBuzz.com: Authored by Tamara Thompson, a highly respected California private investigator known for her expertise in Internet data gathering, genealogical and adoption research, witness background development and locating people.

Professional Investigator Magazine: Owned by the P.I. team Jimmie and Rosemarie Mesis, two nationally recognized private investigators, this magazine offers articles, resources and products for professional private investigators. In both print and digital, subscribers can order only one magazine or a full subscription. Also check out their investigative products site PIGEAR and their books on investigations at PIstore.com

Pam Beason: Private investigator and writer. From her website: “My books include strong women characters, quirky sidekicks, animals, a dash of humor and big dose of suspense. I love the wilderness, so many of my stories feature wildlife and outdoor adventures.”

Private Eye digital comic book:  Artist Marcos Martin and writer Brian K. Vaughan call this a “forward-looking mystery” featuring a private detective in a futuristic world where privacy is considered a sacred right and everyone has a secret identity.  The price is pay-what-you-can, and they’re planning on publishing 10 issues total.

Pursuit Magazine: What began as an informal e-zine for professional investigators, bail bondsmen, process servers, attorneys, and other security and legal professionals has morphed this past year into “a clearinghouse of information for truth seekers of all stripes, from detectives to journalists.” Check it out.

End of excerpt – partial list in appendix

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Happy 4-Year Anniversary Guns, Gams and Gumshoes! #bookgiveaway

Posted by Writing PIs on June 8, 2013

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: A Defense Attorney and PI Who Also Happen to Be Writers

On June 9, 2013, Guns, Gams & Gumshoes celebrates its four-year anniversary — thanks for being along for the ride!

Our blog byline started out as “A couple of PIs who also write” but as one of us is now a criminal defense attorney, we’ve changed it to “A defense attorney and a PI who also happen to be writers.”

We’ve had a great time writing these blogs.  Four years ago, we started this blog  to help fiction writers better understand the tools and tasks of contemporary private investigators for their characters and stories.  But we’ve also written for our peers in the profession, as well as those simply curious about the real-world of private investigators.

Shoutouts to Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

Along the way, we’ve garnered some recognition:

We’re Giving Away Books!  Yeah, We’re Talking Freefree

What’s a celebration without some free stuff?  To celebrate our anniversary, we’re offering free downloads of our two nonfiction books on private investigations on June 9 and 10.  To download a book for your Kindle, PC or Mac computer, browser or a variety of mobile devices, click on the links below.

Click on the book title link (or the book cover) to open its Amazon page. Remember, these downloads are free on June 9 and 10 only:

How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Colleen Collins

HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT cover

“A must have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.”
– Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“Real-life private investigator Colleen Collins spills the beans.”
~The Thrilling Detective

How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman

How to Write a Dick cover

“This is an amazing book and I’m very happy that I got it. The authors cover so much ground about a PI’s life and work, I’d find it hard to get a more thorough overview. Since this book is geared towards writers, I think the authors provided just the right amount of detail regarding specific PI work.”
~Allie R.

“HOW TO WRITE A DICK is an accessible, up-to-date guide to the realities of P.I. work uniquely tuned in to what fiction writers want/need to know. If it had been around when I was fiction editor for THE THRILLING DETECTIVE WEB SITE, my job would have been much easier.”
~Gerald So

Readers’ Favorite Articles Over Four Years

In four years, we’ve written 256 posts in 165 categories, with nearly 200,000 of you dropping by to read and post comments. Below, we list our readers’ top 10 favorite articles since we opened our blog doors in 2009…

Our readers’ #1 blog post over these four years has been:

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

Below are the next most popular readers’ posts, from #2 through #10:

Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car?

Booklist Online’s “Web Crush of the Week”:  Guns, Gams and Gumshoes

How to Find Someone: Free Online Research Tips

When the Amazing Race Reality Show Called and Invited Us to Audition

Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins, the Writing PIs

What’s the Importance of a Crime Scene?

Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Marketing the Private Investigations Business

How to Find Someone’s Cell Phone Number

iPhone Apps for Private Investigators

Our Other Sites

Shaun Kaufman Law

Colleen Collins Books

Thanks for dropping by, Writing PIs

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Staying Legal in a Shady Business: When PIs Are Asked to Break the Law

Posted by Writing PIs on April 9, 2013

fedora black and whiteCan You Break the Law for Me?

Can’t tell you how many times a potential client will call and ask us to do something blatantly illegal.  We’ve had requests asking us to “put some muscle” on someone who’d confiscated a car (a Ferrari, mind you) to putting a GPS on a vehicle the person doesn’t own to downloading listening software on a person’s cell phone.  We’ve politely explained that unlike Tony Soprano, we don’t do muscle and we’re not into committing felonies.  In the latter two examples (illegally latching GPS trackers on cars and wiretapping phones) we tell the caller that if he/she decides to do that on their own, they’ll be up on felony charges if they’re caught.

Wiretapping & Cell Phone Spyware

More people have smart phones these days, but “back in the day” (not so many years ago), most of us were using cell phones.  Remember them?  I now think of them as stand-alone cell phones.

It was interesting how many ads were out there (magazines, Internet) for cellphone spyware that a buyer could download on someone’s cell phone and listen to (and track) all their conversations.  No mention that the product was inviting people to commit wiretapping, a federal offense and a state crime (both felonies).  Some spyware also allowed the listener to hear conversations that occurred in the vicinity of the phone, even when it was turned off.

We had callers say, “But they claim their product is legal in the ads!”  No, they didn’t claim their product was legal, but they sure

gavel and scalesmade it sound that way.

Committing Burglary and Theft

Probably our most uncomfortable request came from a lawyer, whose name we won’t mention.  He asked us to enter a home to take something from it under a false pretense.  We reminded the lawyer that the law calls those actions burglary and theft. His response?  “Well, use your own judgement.”

We did.  We turned down the case.

Using Shady Business in Fiction

But let’s turn this around to writing fiction–imagine how 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.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Related articles

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Private Eye Fiction Groaners

Posted by Writing PIs on March 17, 2013

A little research can go a long way to creating plausible PI characters (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we’re not only private investigators who also write (one of us is also a trial attorney), but we enjoy reading the private genre, too.  But sometimes we read something so implausible, we groan out loud.

A year ago, we wrote about a few private eye bloopers that ripped us right out of the stories — something writers strive not to do to their readers. Some bloopers require some common sense to correct, others a little research on the writer’s part. Today, we add to that blooper list.

Without naming names or titles (in fact, we’ve disguised some story attributes so authors/books aren’t identifiable), we’ll discuss a few instances where we groaned out loud…and sometimes gave up on the story altogether.

The PI Isn’t Licensed Because…You’re Kidding, Right?

We’ve read stories where the private eye character isn’t licensed in a state that requires licensure.  In the recent HBO series Bored to Death (which supposedly is being made into a movie, and we hope this rumor’s true) the private eye is unlicensed in New York, a state that requires PIs to be licensed. The PI character Jonathan Ames kick-started his private eye business by placing an ad in Craigslist. As real-life PIs, it bothered us that Jonathan continued to work undercover and unlicensed show after show…finally, a reference was made that, yes, he was unlicensed and courting legal trouble if were to be caught.

That was enough for us to buy into the story’s plausibility.

Then recently we read a story by an author writing a private eye series with a major publisher.  The private eye is unlicensed in a state that requires licensure. Okay. The PI character admits she is unlicensed, but gets around this problem by not advertising herself as a private investigator but as a legal researcher. Okay. Then, out of the blue, the PI character explains why she never pursued a private investigator license: Because to obtain a license in that state, an applicant must either have a legal degree or past law enforcement employment.

Hello?

Neither of us had ever heard of any state making such a requirement, but to double-check, we reviewed that state’s regulatory requirements for PI licensure. It took us all of 5 minutes to fact-check this. In this state, as with other states, a law enforcement background can be helpful (often, an applicant with that background gains credits toward earning a PI license). But there is no requirement to have been employed in law enforcement, nor to have a law degree. The writer seemed to think it necessary to add this made-up reason, but the character has already explained she wasn’t advertising herself as a PI. At the very least, any PI, PI-hopeful, person who might work with or hire PIs (paralegals, lawyers), law enforcement officers thinking of working as PIs after retirement would find this added reason silly.

If you’re writing a private eye story, and you’re not sure about licensure, below is a link (courtesy of Pursuit Magazine) that provides links to each state’s licensure requirements.  Note: Some states, such as Alaska and Alabama, do not have PI licensing requirements, although the state will require a business license and some cities impose additional PI licensure requirements. Also, in Colorado, there is a voluntary licensure program–the keyword being voluntary–but there is no requirement to be licensed.

Listing of PI licensure requirements by state: Pursuit Magazine: PI Licensing

Clueless, Really?

We just read a novel, actually one that is part of a series, where the private eye team met with an individual.  As readers, we had

PIs don’t leave their partners clueless (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

no idea who this individual was, but considering the fictional PI team was hot on the trail of a case, obviously this person was someone who might have pertinent information about a suspect or the crime itself, or maybe was an eye witness, or…well, we were ready to find out.

Imagine our surprise when one of the PIs had no idea why the meeting was taking place! The individual with whom the PI team was meeting asked the clueless PI (very loosely paraphrasing the dialogue here), “You don’t know who am I?”  The clueless PI answered, “No.”  The individual turns to the other PI and asked, “Your partner doesn’t know why the two of you are here?”  to which the first PI quipped something like, “Yeah, I don’t like to tell my partner everything — it’s good for [the clueless PI] to be surprised.”

What?  A PI team goes to a meeting with a possibly important resource/witness/contact, and one of the PIs is purposefully left uninformed and clueless?  This was one of several clueless episodes in this story, and the one that made us finally shut the book for good.  There is no way one of us would drive the other to such a meeting and not brief our partner on the ride. It’s to the benefit of any case we’re working that we’re both as informed as possible.  We both have our strengths, our styles of interviewing/investigating, and if we’re both well informed, we’ve just doubled our chances to unearth that telling detail, maybe even solve the case.

This isn’t PI rocket science.  Even in the business world, who wants to purposefully take a clueless person to a meeting?  Or how about leaving your car for repair at a shop and not tell anyone what you want fixed or looked at in your car?

Enough said.  Onto the next PI peeve.

Cell Phone, Really?

If your private eye uses a phone, research the technology rather than make it up (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

It’s fairly safe to say that the majority of current-day PIs have basic-to-advanced technological skills. For example many of us rely on our smartphones to do a handful of investigative tasks that used to require a bucket load of equipment. For example, at our agency, we use our smartphones to record and transmit witness interviews, take photos, even scan and transmit documents.  Cool stuff.

Here’s our techno-peeve: We recently started to read a story set in 1990 where the PI didn’t answer her cell phone because she’d forgotten to charge it. Uh, what?  Cell phones were in common use in 1990? To be fair, we researched cell phones on the Internet. According to “The Evolution of Cell Phone Design Between 1983 and 2009,” the first truly portable phone was the Motorola MicroTAC 9800X made in 1989 — a monster affair with a ruler-size antennae.  According to Wikipedia, the 9800X’s price tag was between $2,495 and $3,495.  This wasn’t a rich PI by any means — in fact, this gumshoe had to scrimp on food and other essentials to make the monthly rent. Seriously doubt this fictional PI could afford a cell phone that cost several thousand dollars. Heck, even today, my business partner and I wouldn’t blow that kind of money on a cell phone!

By the way, the next cell phone was the digital hand-size mobile telephone called the Motorola International 3200 made in 1992, two years after this story took place.

It’s a small point, maybe, but cell phones are such a part of our world today that this inaccurate factoid stood out like Philip Marlowe at a nunnery. Wouldn’t have taken much research for the writer to realize the PI probably used a landline in 1990. Still can’t figure out how this slipped past the editor…maybe he/she was too busy on their cell phone to notice.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Two Nonfiction Books About the Real World of Private Eyes

Posted by Writing PIs on December 10, 2012

Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, one of us, Shaun, is also a criminal defense attorney, the other, Colleen, a multi-published writer.  After teaching classes to writers at various conferences about developing realistic private eyes in fiction, we co-authored a nonfiction book geared to writers, and later Colleen wrote a second nonfiction book packed with articles she’s written on the art of private investigations.  Below are details about both books.

How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life SleuthsHow to Write a Dick cover
Available on Amazon for $4.99 at http://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Dick-Fictional-ebook/dp/B00595K1UK

This nonfiction research book for writers, co-authored with attorney and former investigator Shaun Kaufman, provides facts and guidance for novelists, scriptwriters and others who are crafting mystery, legal thriller or suspense stories. This book also appeals to readers who are simply curious about the techniques and tools of real-life private eyes. Topics include a history of private investigators; descriptions of various specialized fields and how to gain experience in them, from insurance investigations to white-collar crime investigations to pet detection; how private investigators conduct surveillances on foot and in vehicles; the basics of homicide investigations and how private investigators might be involved; a gumshoe glossary and much more.

“If you want authenticity in creating a fictional private investigator for your stories, then this is a must-have reference book. Its authors, Colleen and Shaun, are living, breathing PIs with years of actual experience in the PI game.” ~ R.T. Lawton, 25 years on the street as a federal special agent and author of 4 series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

“Forget Google and Bing. When you need to research PI work, go to the experts, Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman: they live it, they teach it, they write it. How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike. This will be the industry standard for years to come.”
—Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award winner for Best PI Novel of the Year and author of Hurt Machine

How Do Private Eyes Do That?HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT cover
Available on Amazon for $2.99 at http://www.amazon.com/How-Private-Eyes-That-ebook/dp/B005SSZJM8

This nonfiction book is useful for writers conducting research for mystery, thriller and suspense novels, as well as for readers interested in learning about real private detectives. The book provides dozens of articles on the art of private investigations, including case examples and a listing of recommended writers’ and professional private investigators’ sites. Topics include how to locate missing persons, how to find cell phone numbers, tips for catching cheating spouses, where to access free online research sites, techniques for conducting successful witness interviews, tips for investigating white-collar crime and more.

“A must have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.” ~ Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“Real-life private investigator Colleen Collins spills the beans.”
~The Thrilling Detective

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Nonfiction book: HOW TO WRITE A DICK, PI Topics, Writing About PIs, Writing Mysteries | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on Two Nonfiction Books About the Real World of Private Eyes

Showtime Series Homeland Bloopers and Fave TV Female Private Eyes

Posted by Writing PIs on December 6, 2012

Today we look at the Showtime series Homeland and one its obvious bloopers, plus reviews of some iconic TV female private eyes of yesteryear.

eye and magnifying glass

Homeland Bloopers

We dig Homeland, the Showtime series about a decorated hero, Nicholas Brody, who returns to the U.S. as a serious threat to the U.S., and the CIA officer, Carrie Mattison, who risks everything, including her heart and sanity, to expose this threat. Every week, the stories are gripping and complex as Brody and Carrie dance around each other with lies, suspicion and enough chemistry to blow up the screen.

And then there’s the bloopers.  Every time we watch the show, we have a moment (or two) when we groan.  Skip down to Fave TV Female Private Eyes if you’re behind in your Homeland watching and don’t want to read this story spoiler.

Okay, for those of you willing to read on, we groaned out loud at this recent blooper:

The vice-president’s kid’s hit-and-run scene. The kid and his girlfriend (Brody’s daughter) are on their first date and, in the process of ditching the Secret Service, they hit a homeless woman.  Sitting 20-30 feet away in their running car, they look out the back window at the fallen woman.  The kid doesn’t want to go back and help her because, to paraphrase, “I’m the vice president’s son!” Meanwhile, someone has run over to check out the fallen woman.  The vice-president’s son’s car is fully visible, with a light over the back license plate.  And it doesn’t dawn on him, or Brody’s daughter, or the shows’ writers that it’s easy to read that license plate and, oh, turn it in as the vehicle that committed the hit and run?

And another gripe about the whole kids ditching the Secret Service and pulling a hit-and-run.  Surely the vice president’s son’s vehicle, not to mention his cell phone, are GPS’d.  There’s evidence that the vehicle was at the hit-and-run scene.

Nevertheless, we love the show, can’t stop watching it despite the occasional groaner.

Honey West on phoneFave TV Female Private Eyes

Over at The Zen Man, Colleen’s posted several articles about her fave TV female private eyes of yesteryear. To read an article, click on a  link.

Favorite Women Private Eyes on TV #1: Nora Charles

Favorite Women Private Eyes on TV #2: Honey West

Favorite Women Private Eyes on TV #3: Maddie Hayes

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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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

Story Foibles in Private Eye Fiction

Posted by Writing PIs on May 3, 2012

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we’re not only private investigators (and one of us also a trial attorney), but we also love reading the private eye genre.  Lots of great authors and books out there…and then sometimes we read something so implausible, so silly, we relate to Dorothy Parker who once said, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Without naming names or titles (in fact, we’ve disguised some story attributes so authors/books aren’t identifiable), we’ll discuss a few instances lately where we wanted to throw a book with great force.

Clueless, Really?

We just read a novel, actually one that is part of a series, where the private eye team met with an individual.  As readers, we had

PIs Don’t Leave Their Partners Clueless

no idea who this individual was, but considering the fictional PI team was hot on the trail of a case, obviously this person was someone who might have pertinent information about a suspect or the crime itself, or maybe was an eye witness, or…well, we were ready to find out.

Imagine our surprise when one of the PIs had no idea why the meeting was taking place! The individual with whom the PI team was meeting asked the clueless PI (very loosely paraphrasing the dialogue here), “You don’t know who am I?”  The clueless PI answered, “No.”  The individual turns to the other PI and asked, “Your partner doesn’t know why the two of you are here?”  to which the first PI quipped something like, “Yeah, I don’t like to tell my partner everything — it’s good for [the clueless PI] to be surprised.”

What?  A PI team goes to a meeting with a possibly important resource/witness/contact, and one of the PIs is purposefully left uninformed and clueless?  This was one of several clueless episodes in this story, and the one that made us finally shut the book for good.  There is no way one of us would drive the other to such a meeting and not brief our partner on the ride. It’s to the benefit of any case we’re working that we’re both as informed as possible.  We both have our strengths, our styles of interviewing/investigating, and if we’re both well informed, we’ve just doubled our chances to unearth that telling detail, maybe even solve the case.

This isn’t PI rocket science.  Even in the business world, who wants to purposefully take a clueless person to a meeting?  Or how about leaving your car for repair at a shop and not tell anyone what you want fixed or looked at in your car?

Enough said.  Onto the next PI peeve.

Cell Phone, Really?

It’s fairly safe to say that the majority of current-day PIs have basic-to-advanced technological skills. For example many of us rely on our smartphones to do a handful of investigative tasks that used to require a bucket load of equipment.  For example, at our agency, we use our smartphones to record and transmit witness interviews, take photos, even scan and transmit documents.  Cool stuff.

Here’s our techno-peeve: We recently started to read a story set in 1990 where the PI didn’t answer her phone because she’d forgotten to charge it.  Uh, hello?  Were there cell phones in common use in 1990?  To be fair, we researched cell phones on the Internet.  According to “The Evolution of Cell Phone Design Between 1983 and 2009,” the first truly portable phone was the Motorola MicroTAC 9800X made in 1989 — a monster affair with a ruler-size antennae.  According to Wikipedia, the 9800X’s price tag was between $2,495 and $3,495.  This wasn’t a rich PI by any means — in fact, this gumshoe had to scrimp on food and other essentials to make the monthly rent.  Seriously doubt this fictional PI could afford a cell phone that cost several thousand dollars. Heck, even today, my business partner and I wouldn’t blow that kind of money on a cell phone!

By the way, the next cell phone was the digital hand-size mobile telephone called the Motorola International 3200 made in 1992, two years after this story took place.

It’s a small point, maybe, but cell phones are such a part of our world today that this inaccurate factoid stood out like Philip Marlowe at a nunnery.  Wouldn’t have taken much research for the writer to realize the PI probably used a landline in 1990. Still can’t figure out how this slipped past the editor…maybe he/she was too busy on their cell phone to notice.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Private Eye Stories That Get It Right

Posted by Writing PIs on March 28, 2012

Today we’re looking at a few writers who nail private investigations in their stories.

Steve Hamilton, Misery Bay. In this short paragraph, he captures how it sometimes feels on stationary surveillances when you’ve been sitting and staring for a long, long time:

Another hour passed. The sun tried to come out for a few seconds, but the clouds reassembled and then it was a normal Michigan sky again. Cars went by, one by one, kicking up slush. I stayed where I was, feeling like I was slipping into some sort of trance, but always with one eye on the side-view mirror.

George Pelecanos, The Cut. Sometimes we think that if we say we’re private investigators, the person will refuse to talk to us, so we’ll simply say we’re investigators or legal investigators…omitting the word “private” can keep the conversation warm.  However, we’re careful not to lie about our work, and if asked who we’re working for, we’re upfront that we’re working on behalf of the defense.

In the below dialogue, the PI, Lucas, is looking for potential interviews on a case. Lucas speaks first.

“Look, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m looking into a theft on this block.”

“You police?”

“I’m an investigator,” said Lucas. It didn’t answer the question exactly, and it wasn’t a lie.

Don WinslowThe Gentlemen’s Hour. Winslow is a former private investigator , so no surprise he nails the PI profession in his writing. The below excerpt, where the PI brainstorms case strategy, legal aspects and the legal players with the attorney, hit home with us. Often we work closely with defense attorneys on case/investigative strategies and issues — this type of “brainstorming” relationship is due to our backgrounds (before returning to the practice of law, one of us was a former criminal defense attorney) and also our established attorney-PI relationships that have been built over time where both sides have proven track records and mutual respect.

In this passage, the attorney-client, Petra, is speaking to the PI, Boone. Corey is the defendant whose family has retained Petra. The first line is Petra’s.

“I’m not sure it’s a viable defense anyway,” she says. “But it’s worth looking into. Where else do you want to take it?”

Boone starts off with where he can’t take it. He can’t talk to Trevor Bodin or the Knowles brothers because their lawyers know that their interests conflict with Corey’s and won’t let the interviews happen. Those kids, smarter than Corey, started making their deals right in the police interview rooms. The best they can hope for is that Alan takes a chunk or two off the rest of the crew’s credibility during cross-exam, but that’s about it. So that’s no good. But he can run down more info on the Rockpile Crew and the “gang” issue, find out what they were all about.

Boone sums all that up for Petra, and then says, “If Corey takes that attitude into a trial, Mary Lou will ride it to a max sentence.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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