My Book~Shadow Ridge

One night during my career as a police officer, a man with a grudge invaded a woman’s home bent on punishing her for a transgression that occurred more than five years earlier. Her fiancé escaped and alerted police. SWAT officers surrounded the house. Hostage negotiators manned the phone. The call went straight to the woman’s answering machine and the message echoed throughout the house. The suspect never picked up the phone, instead he reached for his shotgun and with a single blast, killed himself and the woman.

I was one of the negotiators.

Policing offers a master’s course in humanity. Over the course of my twenty-two-year career, I witnessed horrors and heroism. It made a profound impression on me and I started writing. 

I believe crime fiction is ultimately about redemption, which to attain requires unflinching emotional honesty.  I naively expected the transition from cop to writer to be fairly straightforward. But police reports are a recitation of facts while the incidents they describe are populated with people who bleed, and suffer, and sometimes die. As a rookie author, I wanted to exert a level of control over my stories that was impossible to achieve in policing. I relied on what I knew, but sidestepped the muddled emotions I was afraid to confront.

My first two attempts at crafting a police procedural resulted in manuscripts that read more like textbooks than mysteries. Undaunted, I began dissecting books by authors I admired, sussing out the authorial tricks they’d used to breathe life into their prose, and contrasted that against what had killed my own. Then, I did the unthinkable. I created an amateur sleuth.

My debut novel earned an Agatha Award nomination for Best First Novel.  Along the way, I learned I had to let my knowledge of law enforcement inform my writing, not overwhelm it. It took two books before I gained the courage to return to my police roots. That book is Shadow Ridge.

Detective Jo Wyatt inhabits a world I know: life is messy, plans sometimes fail, and cops don’t always know the answers. She’s a conscientious officer with ambition. Her foil is Quinn Kirkwood, a female gamer with personal baggage and big problems. I stumbled across this aspect of the story after reading an article describing the misogynistic subculture that thinks nothing of waging terror campaigns against women who embrace video gaming. Quinn finds herself in those crosshairs, but how she arrived there is murky.

Alice Walsenberg is a grieving mother and philanthropist who’s married to the District Attorney. Together, Jo, Quinn, and Alice comprise a triumvirate of driven, intelligent, and flawed women. 

 Decades later, the woman I couldn’t save occasionally still whispers in my ear. I imagine she exhorts me to be better.  Justice is a nebulous concept. It can’t bring a person back, and even when it prevails—as it does in Shadow Ridge—it doesn’t guarantee redemption. Those are the emotional truths crime fiction demands. It too, is non-negotiable.

~Originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Mystery Scene Magazine.

The Countdown to Shadow Ridge

A LOT is happening this month as I count down the days until October 6th and the Shadow Ridge book launch—including some giveaways!

But first…

Shadow Ridge will be available in Audiobook!

This just makes my heart sing. My very first audiobook is narrated by Kirsten Potter, an award-winning voice actor who brought many of author Lisa Gardner’s Detective D.D. Warren books to life! The audiobook will be released on October 6th, the same day as the hardcover and digital versions of Shadow Ridge!

Now, back to those giveaways…

Detective Jo Wyatt may be the star of my forthcoming book, but it all started with Dr. Mer Cavallo in the Agatha Award-nominated Adrift. So, in a nod to the book that started it all, here’s a chance to win not only a copy of Adrift, but also an eReader and over 50 more mysteries featuring women detectives and sleuths. It’s all over at BookSweeps and runs through September 9, 2020. Just click here to enter!

But wait, there’s more! (I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Not to be outdone, my publisher Crooked Lane Books is giving away five copies of Shadow Ridge on Goodreads! This giveaway starts today and runs through October 2, 2020. Click here to enter!

Right now, some of you are saying, “Dang it! I’ve already preordered my copy of Shadow Ridge.” First, THANK YOU! I can’t tell you how important preorders are to authors, and I am incredibly grateful. Second, enter anyway! Books make great presents and Shadow Ridge is set in the dead of winter, which practically screams perfect holiday gift!

There’s more in the making, so make sure to check out my Events Page to discover where I’ll be across the web this month and beyond!

A Sense of Place

Setting is the bedrock of a story and Detective Jo Wyatt and Echo Valley are inextricably linked in Shadow Ridge

At its most basic, setting grounds a reader in time and place. But setting also hints at mood, reinforces theme, presents physical and emotional obstacles, provides motivation, and may even offer an explanation as to why a detective such as Jo Wyatt would take an oath to protect it—regardless of the personal cost. 

San Juan Mountains first snow. Image by DL Bender

For Jo, Echo Valley is home. In a place that defined its locals by the depth of their roots, she’s a native child. Located in southwest Colorado, Echo Valley is urban enough for a craft brewery, but rural enough that bears rummage through the trash at night. 

While you won’t find Echo Valley on any map, the inspiration for the setting of Shadow Ridge derives from an area in Southwest Colorado. The San Juan Mountains make up the southernmost portion of the Rocky Mountains and their current beauty belies the brutality of their birth: volcanic explosions, repeated floods, ice fields, and earthquakes. 

The Animas River cuts through the heart of Echo Valley in much the same way the river wends its way through the real City of Durango. And like Durango, Echo Valley shares a history of mining, a traditional street grid with a historic downtown corridor, and several other aspects common to small jurisdictions scattered across the state. But Echo Valley is not Durango—it is smaller, less populous, and a bit more isolated. But if you squint, you can imagine what Echo Valley will look like when it grows up.

Footbridge over the Animas River in Durango, CO. Image by DL Bender
Footbridge over the Animas River in Durango, CO. Image by DL Bender

While I don’t live in Durango any longer, the area still has my heart. Many of my friends keep the area alive for me—including my critique partner. I’m fortunate that I can show you Echo Valley through Jo’s eyes. But the photos themselves were taken by one of my former colleagues, DL Bender. He continues to feed me a steady diet of photos depicting the area, the seasons, and the details of a landscape that on the page reads as Echo Valley. As a former member of the La Plata County Sheriff and their Search and Rescue team, his knowledge of the backcountry is impressive. That he is never without his camera is a bonus. I’m even more fortunate that he graciously allows me to share his photographs.

Until Shadow Ridge launches on October 6, I will be posting an image each Thursday on Instagram. Please stop by and see for yourself why Jo and I both find this part of the country inspirational. 

The Decision-Making Process in Police Organizations

Decision-making in law enforcement is as dynamic as the profession and there is no single process that will work in all situations. The course of action undertaken by an officer involved in a critical incident must be made quickly, under pressure, and often in isolation.

Continue reading “The Decision-Making Process in Police Organizations”