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."

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Posts Tagged ‘top ranked nonfiction ebooks’

Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Investigators Investigating Kidnappings

Posted by Writing PIs on February 20, 2012

Today we’re answering a few writers’ questions about their stories where kidnappings occur and people hire private investigators. How might a U.S. private investigator get involved? What if the kidnapping occurred in another territory or country?

Writer’s Question: In my story, a 16-year-old girl is kidnapped and taken to Puerto Rico. Would an American PI have to check-in with the local police while searching for the missing girl in Puerto Rico?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: What if the PI visited Puerto Rico as a family friend? Personally, if we were contacted by someone who wanted to find a missing person in Puerto Rico, we’d go through our network to find a reliable, experienced PI in Puerto Rico and affiliate with that person. Our past experience has been 1-we can get into sticky legal situations if we go to another territory and 2-a local PI best knows the region, contacts, law enforcement, etc.

But for your story, perhaps you want your Florida PI-heroine to travel to Puerto Rico. Okay, back to her calling herself a family friend — that would work. Or, perhaps she does contact local law enforcement for advice, directions, or to let them know that she’s going to be doing things and visiting places related to the case, but she’s not a kidnapper herself. When we investigate cases in remote regions in Colorado, we always contact local law enforcement first (for their advice, directions, and sometimes just so they know we’re not suspicious characters).  But does your fictional PI have to contact law enforcement?  No.

Writer’s Question: What would happen if an American PI did not check-in with another country’s law enforcement and went about her business investigating?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: She could be brought in for questioning although she probably wouldn’t be charged with anything unless she impedes that government’s or the U.S. federal investigations of the missing person. If the American PI is licensed in a state (currently, only five U.S. states do not require licensure for PIs) — we’re guessing that state regulatory agency wouldn’t care if she’s in another country unless she committed a crime there. But we’re guessing. It’s a good idea to contact the state professional private investigator association (for the state in which your fictional PI is licensed) and see what they say about your story scenario.

Writer’s Question: How would you know if the missing person case you’re working on has crossed paths with the FBI? Would information be closed off to you? Would they pay you a visit in some way?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoe’s Answer: The only way a PI is going to earn a visit from the FBI is if the PI interferes with the federal investigation. Yes, they would pay an in-person visit most likely.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Loss Prevention/Industrial Security

Posted by Writing PIs on January 29, 2012

Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, available on Kindle and Nook

Basically, loss prevention refers to people hired to prevent theft and fraud in a retail establishment. An investigator who specializes in loss prevention might handle the following types of cases:

  • Credit frauds
  • Employee thefts (for example theft of money or merchandise)
  • Theft by store customers (for example, shoplifting, credit card scams, auto thefts)
  • Staged accidents.

A Deeper Look Into Employee Theft

The majority of bankruptcies in the United States are filed by organizations and are attributable to employee theft.  One study shows that the company loss per customer shoplifting incident is $207.18 whereas the loss per employee theft incident is $1,341.02!  Employee theft causes bonuses, promotions and raises to decrease as profits shrink and the company losses increase. This means there’s a big incentive for an organization to hire an in-house investigator or an outside investigator who specializes in investigation of embezzlement, staged robberies, “shrinkage” and computer frauds.  A ripe specialization for your fictional PI!

What signs of employee theft (specifically, cash money) might your fictional PI encounter?

  • No sales at register
  • Fictitious refunds and voided sales
  • Income from medical appointments paid with cash
  • Failure to record sales
  • Abundance of collections and donations
  • Passing to friends
  • Sales prior to opening the business
  • Refunds/Voids after the business closes
  • Questionable coupon redemption
  • Robbery with scanty identification information.

Signs of employee non-cash money theft:

  • Questionable credit card refunds
  • Phantom payroll
  • Fictitious vendor accounts
  • Bogus travel expenses
  • Kickback schemes
  • Credit card fraud with friends.

Signs of employee merchandise theft:

  • Direct theft
  • Fictitious mail order
  • Fraudulent receipts (free merchandise)
  • Fraudulent computer entries.

As of the writing of this book, the online Loss Prevention magazine is free and offers access to past issues as well.  Great resource for researching topics such as asset protection technology, shoplifting cases, retail investigations and more.

Writer’s Slant: If Your PI Specializes in Loss Prevention, Think About

  • His background — is he a former thief, or more likely, a former police officer?
  • How did she get her skills in developing and documenting a case against a target?  (Many times a PI must present a completed case file ready for prosecution to a Deputy D.A. or to a company official who can then legally fire an employee.)
  • What ambivalences might your PI have about going after someone without benefit of the tools that law enforcement agents have, such as search warrants and intelligence data?
  • On the other hand, your fictional PI also has an easier job than a police officer in this investigative field because employees in the workplace might waive many constitutional rights to privacy, the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney’s presence when questioning takes place (steps the average police officer must respect).
  • The relationship between this job and the kind of work done by other, similar investigators who assemble cases for submission to insurance companies so that a claim for loss is paid. After all, loss prevention investigators are frequently making a case for money from an insurance company, which is not all that different from how personal injury investigators work.

Praise for How to Write a Dick:

“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

“What every wanna-be sleuth needs: a revolver, a bottle of scotch, a trusty sidekick, and this book.” ~ Mario Acevedo, author of Werewolf Smackdown

“How to Write a Dick is a gift to crime fiction authors everywhere, a comprehensive and no-nonsense compendium of information, analysis and thought-provoking writing prompts that will help you create your own 21st century shamus with confidence and class. An absolute must for the library of any PI writer!” ~ Kelli Stanley, critically acclaimed author of City of Dragons and the Miranda Corbie series

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Posted by Writing PIs on October 15, 2011

Never Sleep with Anyone Whose Troubles Are Worse than Your Own

-Lew Archer in Black Money by Ross Macdonald (attributed to Nelson Algrin)

Originally published in NINK, newsletter for Novelists, Inc. April 2011

A common misconception is that a PI’s work mostly involves surveilling cheating spouses. Actually, there are dozens of investigative specialties that PIs practice, from accident reconstruction to insurance investigations to pet detection. Infidelity investigations, aka chasing cheaters, is one of those specialized fields.

Infidelity Investigations: An Investigative Specialty

Chuck Chambers, PI and author of The Private Investigator’s Handbook, specializes in infidelity investigations. He offers this interesting statistic: 98 percent of his female clients who suspect their husbands of cheating are correct, and 50 percent of his male clients who suspect their wives are correct.

At our agency, we specialize in legal investigations (trial preparation/investigations), but occasionally we get the “I think my husband/wife is cheating” call. We’re hesitant to take these cases because they’re fraught with emotion, from tears to homicidal rage. Tears we don’t mind, but that latter passion makes the work potentially dangerous. Remember the woman in Texas who ran over her philandering husband three times in the motel parking lot? Know how she learned her husband’s location? The PI she’d hired to follow her husband called her, explained her husband had just entered a hotel with another woman, and gave her the motel name and address. That PI’s firm was later sued for gross negligence and will ultimately pay the children of the deceased philander millions of dollars.

Chasing Cheaters: Adding Danger (or Humor) to a Story

Infidelity investigations being fraught with danger might be undesirable in reality, but it’s great for fiction. Maybe your sleuth/PI takes a cheating-spouse case thinking it’ll be an easy way to make a few bucks, but before the sleuth has time to focus her camera, she becomes a witness to a murder. The Texas PI mentioned earlier actually filmed the murder as it took place and then provided testimony to convict the spurned client. What if the infidelity case was just a ruse, and actually the betrayed-wife pretext lures the PI into solving another crime (think Chinatown).

Chasing cheaters can also add humor to a story.  We know a PI who ended up marrying his client’s divorce attorney. And – true story – we once followed a suspected philandering husband who the wife said also “appeared to be involved in some kind of new business.”  We learned what that new business was…a brothel.

What steps might a PI follow in a cheating-spouse case?

Catching the Cheater

When we accept an infidelity case, we request:

  • Information about the suspected cheater’s habits, work schedule, days off, etc.
  • Photographs of the suspected cheater (and the suspected girlfriend/boyfriend, if available)
  • Addresses and phone numbers (suspected cheater’s home, businesses, etc. as well as addresses/phone for suspected girlfriend/boyfriend)
  • Any known routes suspected cheater takes on way to work, home, to exercise gym, etc.
  • Vehicle descriptions, license plate numbers for suspected cheater (and suspected girlfriend/boyfriend)

What About Attaching a GPS Device to the Suspected Cheater’s Vehicle?

Unless the spouse’s name is registered on the suspected spouse’s vehicle (and it’s surprising how many spouses think their names are, but they aren’t), this is a big no-no. We’re talking felony. Not counting the possibility of extraordinarily bad publicity.

But again, what’s bad in reality can be great for fiction. What if your PI knows he’s courting a felony, but attaches the GPS device anyway, gets caught, and ends up in jail. We know a PI who this happened to. He knew his client’s name wasn’t on the spouse’s vehicle registration, but attached the GPS anyway. A woman in an adjacent parking lot saw him crawl underneath the vehicle with an object, then reappear empty-handed. She called the police and said, “I think a guy just attached a bomb to a car.”

Next thing the PI knew, police, fire trucks, and bomb squads arrived, and he was in handcuffs. Nearby schools, homes, and businesses were evacuated. News stations picked up on the story, reported the bomb threat. It took him nearly two years and $8,000 in legal fees to salvage his investigations business.

Think about how to use infidelity investigations with your fictional PI As in the story above, it could be an expensive, comic subplot. Or maybe a seemingly distraught client hires a PI to watch his/her spouse, when the real reason for the investigation is something much darker.


How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compilation of articles about private investigations written by Colleen Collins, a professional private investigator (and one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes blog authors). Its topics are geared to readers interested in the world of PIs, including fiction writers, researchers, investigators and those simply curious about the profession.

“If you’re looking for the lowdown on private investigations, this is it. Packed with details and insights. A must-have for anybody writing private-eye fiction and for anybody who’s curious about what being a private-eye is really like.”
– Bill Crider, author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series and many other novels in multiple genres

“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

How Do Private Eyes Do That? on Kindle: Click here

Posted in Be Your Own Investigator, Nonfiction book: HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Excerpt from HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?

Excerpt HOW TO WRITE A DICK: Real-life PIs’ Pet Peeves About Fictional Ones

Posted by Writing PIs on July 4, 2011

How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, available on Kindle.

Real Life PIs’ Pet Peeves About Fictional PIs

A group of PIs were asked what misconceptions they’d like to correct in representations of PIs in novels, movies and TV.  Below are some of their responses:

Staying Legal: At least 80% of the PIs surveyed brought this up as their number one pet peeve.  Fictional PIs are often shown doing illegal things when, in actuality, real-life PIs abide by the laws.  Because if they don’t, they could lose their business and license — a risk no PI wants to take. If a PI doesn’t know his legal rights, he knows how to look up the statute or he has a lawyer buddy/client he’ll call for advice.  No smart PI goes into a legally-murky situation without knowing exactly what actions are lawful.  Slip-ups and missteps muddy a PI’s reputation, which is perhaps his most critical asset because it reflects both his ethics and skill.

Being Prepared: Columbo, the detective from the ‘70s’ TV series with the same name, always came back again (and again and again) to the witness, before he finally asked the zinger question.  He never seemed to have a plan how to obtain information efficiently.

A real-life PI typically has one shot, and one shot only, at interviewing a witness. There’s no bumbling around — he must get to the point.  That means being prepared.  When a PI first makes contact with a witness, the PI needs to know the purpose of his questioning as well as the questions themselves.  Sometimes legal investigators (PIs who work for attorneys) will come armed with police reports or past statements by the witness.  For example, sometimes a prior witness statement reveals to the investigator, in the course of the interview, that the witness’s statement has inconsistencies — such conflicts in a person’s story indicate the witness is unreliable.

Surveillance fantasies: Seasoned PIs scoff at the notion that a solitary PI can effortlessly pull off a successful mobile surveillance (meaning, following someone in a vehicle) for hours and hours.  Mobile surveillances typically require at least two PIs in two vehicles — and even then the success rate, per one PI’s statistics, is 50 percent.  And yet time and again one will read about or see in a movie a PI who magically follows someone who’s weaving in and out of traffic, turning, speeding, zipping through intersections for an entire day!  Try following one of your friends in traffic (especially when you do not know their destination) and see how easy it is to lose their car.

Business savvy: Too many PI stories ignore that a PI runs a business that entails negotiating and writing contracts, managing money and sometimes subordinate PIs, buying/upgrading office equipment, writing reports and so on.  First and foremost, a PI has a business relationship with her client that includes all the legal ramifications that come with any customer situation.

Violence: Real PIs don’t hit people first, even if they are mad. In fact, they don’t engage in violence anymore than they engage in burglary or theft. The debate is ongoing within the PI community as to whether to carry guns or other self-defense weapons.

Goin’ It Alone:  Real-life PIs frequently work alone, without Sam Spade’s ubiquitous gal Friday or Jim Rockford’s wise, ex-trucker father.  In fact, many PIs work out of their homes, with their websites functioning as their virtual offices.

Make It a Whiskey, Neat:  Real-life PIs don’t all drink like Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade, and if they were to be slipped a mickey or hit with a sap, they’d be ashamed of their lack of planning.  Most real-life PIs wouldn’t chance dulling their senses as this could be used to denigrate them should they have to testify in court about their observations.

This is a good place to also note things a real-life PI would never do.  If a writer chooses to have her fictional PI do any of these acts, she’s setting up the PI character to be in some deep you-know-what (although, this might also be what you, as the writer, want for your PI—better to know than to write something that’s manifestly illegal and not know, right?):

A PI who wants to keep his job/license/career/reputation would never:

  • Knowingly assist a criminal in a criminal act
  • Get involved with jury/witness tampering (threaten a witness/juror so as to change testimony or a verdict)
  • Wiretap (place a listening device on a telephone)
  • Place a surveillance camera or microphone in a private place without the target’s knowledge
  • Commit a burglary
  • Slap a GPS device on a vehicle not registered to the client
  • Eavesdrop in a private place
  • Use violence or the threat of violence to get information
  • Pretend they have evidence that they don’t — the possibility exists that they are going to be asked to produce it by a lawyer or cop
  • Commit any other knowingly illegal act
  • Impersonate a peace officer.
Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Historical Investigations – Traveling Back in Time

Posted by Writing PIs on May 27, 2011

Private investigators sometimes specialize in historical research, typically for cases involving genealogy research or environmental investigations.  An investigator’s research might include meticulous reviews of such documents as census records, archives of newspapers, old city directories, special collections housed at libraries, obituaries, birth and death certificates and probate records. Fortunately, many of these records are becoming available online.

Genealogical Research

The following websites offer comprehensive research into family histories. offers links to census records, immigration records, photos, maps, old school yearbooks and more. claims it has the largest repository of military records, including draft registrations, pension records and service records. It offers a free 14-day trial membership. provides offers links to newspaper and obiturary archives, death notices, funeral arrangements and more.  Some libraries also contain hard copies of obituaries. is a service provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and offers a network of nearly five thousand facilities all over the world that offer public access to genealogical records. collaborates with hundreds of newspapers in North America, Europe and Austrailia and features obituaries and guestbooks for more than two-thirds of the people who die in the U.S. is a volunteer-driven site that lists free genealogical websites throughout counties and states in the U.S.

Some genealogists also work as private investigators. If your story involves extensive historical research, we suggest you contact The Association of Professional Genealogists. Look up a genealogist in your region who specializes in the era you’re writing about, and request an interview to help you flesh out your story.


Besides offering resources for historical research, libraries sometimes house special collections. For example, the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy, has a vast section on genealogy, including the ability to search its obituary and funeral notice indices. Don’t forget specialized libraries such as historical museums, university medical libraries, law school libraries and business school libraries, which also offer special collections. As private investigators we’ve learned that sometimes our best investigative tool is the reference librarian.


Available on Kindle and Nook

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White Collar Crime: Who Really Got the Post-Divorce Assets?

Posted by Writing PIs on October 5, 2009

This article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? on Kindle

Posted in PI Topics, White Collar Crime: Hiding Assets | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on White Collar Crime: Who Really Got the Post-Divorce Assets?

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