Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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

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Posts Tagged ‘top-ranked nonfiction books’

Surveillances: When in the Country, Don’t Be a City Slicker

Posted by Writing PIs on May 29, 2012

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  When conducting a surveillance in the country, don’t act like a city slicker.  But if you’re a citified PI who rarely, if ever, conducts rural surveillances, maybe you’re unaware that dressing in jeans, a flannel shirt and boots only goes so far if you’re also driving a spanking-clean pick-up.  Same applies if you’re a writer writing a PI-character doing a surveillance in the country — some of these tips might come in handy in your story.

Today, we’re sharing a few of our slides from a recent presentation we made at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference on Surveillance 101.

Rural Surveillances: Don’t Look Like a City Slicker

How to Not Blend in on Surveillance

On the other hand, if you’re writing a humorous character, make him/her not blend in!

Win a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate: Check out contest by clicking here.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in PI Topics, Rural Surveillances | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Military Justice, Historical Research and Contest to Win a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate

Posted by Writing PIs on May 28, 2012

Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins, the Writing PIs

Today at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes we have a smattering of links to share, from Shaun Kaufman‘s educational article on military justice to tips for historical research.  Last, there’s a fun contest running through June 4, 2012 where the lucky winner gets a $10 Amazon gift certificate!

“Remembering Military Justice” by Shaun Kaufman

This article outlines key differences between civilian and military criminal defense. To read, click here.

Historical Research Tips

Below are some articles on researching history — handy info for writers, researchers and those interested in investigating people and events in the past. To read an article, click on the link.

Tips from a PI: Historical Research Sites for Your Stories by Colleen Collins

State Historical Society of North Dakota: Research Tips for Beginners

History Detectives: Historical Research Checklist

From Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Historical Research Links

Win a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate!

Today through June 4, 2012, Mrs. Mommy Booknerd’s Book Reviews is running a contest for The Zen Man by author-private investigator (and Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s co-author) Colleen Collins.  For more information on how to enter the contest, click link below (hint: if you post a comment to this Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s blog, you get bonus points!):

Contest: Win a $10 Amazon gift certificate

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Historical Research, Historical Research Links, The Zen Man by Colleen Collins | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Private Eye News: From Training Programs to Gadgets

Posted by Writing PIs on April 3, 2012


Some news items related to private eyes, both the real-life variety and those in fiction. Click on links below to read more:

Top 25 Private Investigation Training and Education programs from

Got a client who needs home security? Easy-to-install, night-vision home security video camera that requires no software installation. Plus it’s relatively cheap. Check out Dropcam.

The Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PIs will be teaching “Surveillance 101” and “Finding Missing Persons 101” at the Pike’s Peak Writers Conference April 20-22.

News item about former PI-turned-chef who claims O.J. really didn’t do it: “Private investigator releases book claiming he has evidence O.J. Simpson didn’t do it”

April 3 news blurb about our own Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Colleen Collins: Kindle Nation Daily Bargain Book Alert: Colleen Collins’ THE ZEN MAN is Our eBook of the Day at just 99 Cents, with 4.2 Stars on 8 Reviews, and Here’s a Free Sample! 

A guide to what data mining is, how it works, and why it’s important: “Everything You Wanted to Know About Data Mining But Were Afraid to Ask”

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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Did Google Maps Steer You Wrong? Try a Crowdsourced Map!

Posted by Writing PIs on March 26, 2012

Have you ever followed instructions from Google Maps or another electronic map service that tells you to turn right on the next street…but there’s no street to turn down?

Some map services, like Waze, have incorporated people’s feedback (“Hey, just wanted you to know there’s no road where the map told me to turn”) to correct and add mapping in their utilities. The result? Crowdsourced maps! A huge benefit of these services is that these traffic and mapping services are more consistently reflecting the real-time landscape.

Check out these crowd-sourced mapping services, all of which are free:

Waze: This community-based map and traffic service began as Freemap in Tel Aviv in 2006. It now claims more than 14 million drivers worldwide. Waze claims that 45,000 of its users are dedicated map editors and 5,000 are regional managers who ensure maps’ accuracy. Download to your iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Nokia. Site shows latest user reports that show traffic jams, accidents, even where law enforcement has set up speed traps.

OpenStreetMap: This service more closely follows the Wikipedia model, and in fact calls itself the “free Wiki world map.” Anyone can use the maps, and anyone can create and edit the maps.

INRIX: Another service whose ad claims it puts “the power of the world’s largest driving community into the palm of your hand with real-time alerts, traffic forecasting, information about accidents, police and other events.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Free Lookups & Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Did Google Maps Steer You Wrong? Try a Crowdsourced Map!

Answering Writer’s Question: Are PIs and Cops Compatible?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 17, 2012

Today we answer a writer’s question — one that a lot of writers ask, actually — about PIs and law enforcement.

Writer’s Question: I just read a book where the police detective and the private eye kept sparring before developing a friendship. Are cops and PIs like that in the real world, too?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We see that same kind of PI-cop conflict all the time in books, TV shows and movies, too. In reality, most real-life PI-cop relationships are characterized by professional distance and unemotional exchanges.

Many PIs have law enforcement backgrounds

We’re saying most here. A majority of PIs have law enforcement backgrounds, and with the agencies with whom they worked, they typically maintain a more collegial relationship. Do these former law enforcement PIs get perks — such as inside information, tips, and access to law enforcement databases — from their former agencies (which is also often depicted in books and film)? No. Although there are friendly exchanges and social invitations exchanged, neither party wants to be seen as improperly advancing information and displaying favoritism to law enforcement officers (LEOs).

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we work with various PIs who are former LEOs. Generally speaking, we have found their life experience to cause their investigations to slant toward law enforcement and prosecution. While they work for defense lawyers, they still think like law enforcement officers.

Former-LEO PIs often have years of experience on the streets with tough, violent people

Meaning, a former LEO PI might have unsubstantiated bias against their criminal defense clients. In all fairness, this bias is the product of years on the street with tough, violent, and often dishonest people — easy to see how a former-LEO PI might have developed opinions about the ethics of accused individuals.

To balance this point of view, former LEO PIs are also best situated to know how current police can make mistakes in their investigation procedures, such as Constitutional propriety and evidentiary processing. These PIs are best able to advise defense lawyers about how to attack the integrity of a police investigation.

The Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs have a unique situation in their neighborhood. A few blocks over is a coffee shop owned and run by a local police detective (he works the small coffee shop during his off hours). We like to hang out at the coffee shop and jaw about cases, both past and current. Add to the mix that one of us is also a criminal defense attorney, there have been some lively conversations and a lot of good-natured teasing about our various roles.

To be clear, we never discuss shared cases. However, both the police detective and us get valuable information about the how-tos, whys, and the end results of investigations. In this particular relationship, all three of us step outside of our professional roles and transcend our rivalries.

Postscript: Our detective friend is planning on retiring in the next few years and is thinking about becoming a PI. We’ve invited him to join our agency. He’s invited us to take over his coffee shop.

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iPhone Apps for Private Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on January 4, 2012

We finally ditched our dumb phones in 2011 and got smart ones, as in iPhones. Now that we have ’em, we can’t believe why we waited so long. Besides being able to check directions, look up phone numbers, research databases and more on the fly, we’ve also become enamoured of a few apps.

For the iPhone

Flashlight. There’s a number of flashlight apps. The one we use is simply called “Flashlight.” Big off/on button that fills the screen, easy to switch it on. We’ve carried flashlights with us since we opened our investigation agency yea many years ago, but we’re always losing flashlights, plus they’re cumbersome to carry, and if you’re not on top of the battery situation you can find — surprise! — you’re stuck in the dark with a weak-lighted or dead flashlight. But with this handy app, which was .99, we can now light up at any time.

TurboScan. Again, there’s a bunch of scan apps. We chose this one because reviews were good. And it is good. After taking a pix of a document, you can adjust the parameters (shorten, lengthen, add width) to encompass the entire doc. Haven’t figured out how to email the doc directly yet, but it’s easy to store a doc scan on the iPhone “Camera Roll” and email that image. We used to feel smart carting a remote scanner, which was heavy and clunky, into courthouses to scan file docs…now we just use TurboScan on our iPhones. $1.99.

VoiceRecorderHD. With this app, we can record witness interviews with our iPhones, link it to Dropbox (another app we’re fond of) for file transfer or instead connect the iPhone to our Mac and download the voice file that way. $1.99.

Lumin. Sometimes you gotta read the fine print…and sometimes you gotta read the fine print in the dark. Lumin works like a magnifying glass…lets you read the fine print, even capture the image so you can zoom in on a part of it for closer inspection, and if you’re in dim or no lighting, Lumin also provides a light for viewing. Cool. $1.99.

For the iPad

Evernote. We’re digging Evernote on our iPad, but still learning how to manipulate it on our iPhones (some apps just seem too large for an iPhone, y’know?). But on the iPad, this app is a winner. One of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs now carries her iPad to all witness interviews and uses Evernote to take notes, pictures, voice recordings…then sends the report immediately afterward to the attorney-client. You can use the free version or upgrade for a nominal fee (something like $1.99). We went for the upgrade.

There you have it. Our current 4 favorite apps for the iPhone, and one winner for the iPad.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Like private eye mysteries with thrills, humor and romance? Check out The Zen Man, a 21-st Nick and Nora mystery, now available on Kindle and Nook. Only .99 through January 18.

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How to Find Someone: Free Online Research Tips

Posted by Writing PIs on May 7, 2011

Updated April 4, 2012

There are various free online resources that specialize in people searches. Some resources offer comprehensive searches in dozens of online sources, including blogs, news archives, personal profiles, photographs, videos and publications. Other resources offer deep web searches, which means their web crawlers find indexes and links to databases that more traditional web crawlers miss. There are also business databases and search engines that offer business information associated to a person’s name.

Research the name using This online people search engine lets you search globally as well as country-specific (currently, its services include 12 counties and 10 languages). Some search results take you directly to a paid-for service (read the Pipl entry at the bottom of this page about paying for such services…in a word, don’t). But other results are free and potentially useful, such as Bing search results, blog links, website links, microblogs, tag links and more.

Look up the name in This people search engine looks up the name worldwide, and provides links to online sources that include that name, such as business or network profiles, education, interests, personal websites and obituary listings. The “Advanced Search” option lets you fine tune your search via keywords, name, location and company.

Conduct a deep-web name search by adding the words “database” or “search” (without the quotation marks) to your browser query. According to Marcus P. Zillman, executive director of the Virtual Private Library, in 2006, the deep web consisted of 900 billion pages of information that more traditional search engines either could not find or had difficulty accessing.

Use a social media search engine. According to, there are currently almost 4.5 billion active social networking and other online accounts. Therefore, it’s beneficial to conduct a name search in a social media search engine, such as Socialmention, that concurrently checks dozens of social networking sites.

Check out Biznar. This was previously advertised as a deep web business search engine; however, it now appears to be a more general, yet comprehensive, deep web people search engine. One thing we like about it is the immediacy of the results. Awesome advanced search options, too — you can select search categories such as blogs and social networks, advertising and marketing, finance and economics, government and more.

Search for a name in a business database. Linkedin lists more than 100 million professionals and their contact information.

Searches that were omitted from this list since it was first published:

Pipl. Once upon a time, this people search engine researched the deep web, with results including such online sources as public records, personal profiles, professional and business sites, publications, news articles, blog posts and more. We once found someone who’d seemingly fallen off the earth through a Pipl search.

Unfortunately, Pipl isn’t what it used to be. It still claims to “dive into the deep web” but our recent searches show it pulls up a lot of  links to “sponsored” paid-for search engines, such as, where — if you want more data on the person — you must pay $$. The problem with online people search services is that there’s no guarantee how relevant or current the information is, and there’s no live source to interpret the results. If you’re tempted to pay money to one of these online services, you’re better off hiring a professional private investigator.

Surchur. This used to be a real-time social media search engine, but now it’s an aggregate of articles about celebrities, including a disparate listing of items for sale whose only unifying thread is the word “celebrity.” Odd. We’re sorry Surchur bit the search dust.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Be Your Own Investigator, Do-It-Yourself Private Investigation Articles, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on How to Find Someone: Free Online Research Tips

Locating Members of the U.S. Military Service

Posted by Writing PIs on October 19, 2009


Today we’re posting a few links for helping writers and others locate members of the U.S. military service:

Access to Military Records by the General Public, including genealogists who are not next-of-kin:

Air Force Freedom of Information Act: plane

Department of the Navy, Freedom of Information Act Office:

United States Marine Corps Freedom of Information Act Online:

Service Members Civil Relief Act:

Air Reserve Personnel Center:

Have a great week, everyone.  Writing PIs

Posted in Locating Military, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Answering Writers’ Questions: Law Firms Using PIs and Needing to Know if a Subject Has a Lawyer

Posted by Writing PIs on August 23, 2009

Sam Spade

Today we’re posting some writers’ questions (and our responses) about law firms using PIs, the importance of PIs knowing if subjects are represented by counsel, and could a character retroactively claim attorney-client privilege.

Writer’s Question: Do all law firms have a need for PI’s? I realize the obvious ones do, but it sounds to me like they all do. Could you give some examples of not so common law practices that may need a PI’s services?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes Answer: There is a rule of law that says an attorney cannot testify in any matter about his/her own investigation and continue to act as an attorney in that case. So, in most cases, any law firm that presents facts in a disputed case will want to hire an investigator (the only other way to get facts on the stand is through testimony from those who actually saw/heard the events in dispute). It’s not that an attorney can’t do the latter (it’s done all the time), it’s that a PI can also present facts such as measurements, photographs, witness evaluation, background facts, data analysis, etc.

Having a PI present testimony also circumvents surprises such as a witness changing his/her story after they get on the stand. As far as not-so-common law practices that might need a PI’s services, here’s a few: water law, elder law, real estate and mining law, intellectual property and trademark infringement law, and cable TV piracy, to name a few.

Writer’s Question: Is it illegal for a PI to have contact with a subject who has an attorney? Why? Is it harrassment? Also, if they do, is it the PI’s attorney who gets ‘punished’ by losing his license rather than the PI? If the subject doesn’t have an attorney when he comes into contact with the PI, couldn’t he just go get an attorney and indicate he had been harrassed by the PI?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes Answer: The legal system has gone to great lengths to protect and enhance the institution and confidentiality of the lawyer-client relationship.  The reason that it is illegal for a PI who is working for Attorney A (and A’s client) to have contact with Attorney B’s client is this institution and confidentiality.

Why might an attorney be accountable for his/her PI contacting the client of an opposing attorney?  The legal idea behind this is simply that the boss is ultimately responsible for the employee’s actions.  In states where PIs are licensed, it may indeed be the case that both the attorney and the PI would be punished for intruding on another attorney-client relationship (one needs to check if this is the case with that state’s PI licensing statutes or that state’s attorney’s code of professional responsibility).

As to your last question–could a person hire an attorney after being contacted by a PI, and then claim harrassment: A person cannot retroactively create an attorney-client relationship, but anyone can claim harassment by another third party.  For the sake of a story, could a character talk to a PI, then afterward realize they said too much and not want what they said to that PI be admissible as evidence?  Again, this character couldn’t retroactively claim attorney-client privilege, but that character might accuse the PI of harrassment, which would cast doubt on the reliability of that prior interview as evidence.  In other words, a lawyer wouldn’t want to “dirty up” their case with evidence of an interview that has serious concerns about its reliability.


Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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