Crime fiction is all about the cat-and-mouse struggle for the truth. We identify with it because the investigator is on a quest to find order and reason, which we sometimes lack in real life. We’re interested in somebody who can sort out reality in a world of deception, facades, lies, danger, and moral ambiguities. The best detective stories not only sequence the clues to the crime – which often fool the detective and the audience – but the protagonist begins to think about things in a fresh way.
I set out to write a novel that hits on several themes and storylines. Namely, I wanted to have two protagonists, male and female, with contrasting backgrounds in a loosely defined “Mentor” situation. A buddy pic. But with a hint of sexual tension. The crime would be a sophisticated real estate scam, but the events unfolding in its aftermath, would explore thematic topics of revenge, corrupted ambition, tests of loyalty, and survival.
What coalesced to become Detective Lessons is a story about finding the missing son of a real estate billionaire.
The protagonist duo make an uneasy team. Kevin “Schmitty” Schmidt, who was introduced in Shadow Truth and then appeared in the short story The Deep End (which is now available as a free download on my home page), is a young Deputy Sheriff on Harbor Patrol in Newport Beach. He reluctantly ends up teaming with Megan McCann, a disbarred attorney who’s reinvented herself as a private investigator. She’s smart and successful; a schemer who doesn’t necessarily recognize ethical boundaries, or doesn’t respect them. But she’s loyal to her clients, including the billionaire.
Also playing a role is LAPD Detective C.P. Mata who appeared in my short story The Highlands. And Guy Spear from OC Confidential, all-around sleezeball, extortionist, and the guy who can dig up dirt that nobody else can.
But before swirling the characters into the plot to find a rich guy’s son, I wanted to explore Schmitty’s situation in more depth. He’s a character who is separated from his planned life. Veered off track and into a ditch. He has enemies in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and he’s bored working Harbor Patrol. He’s restless with unfulfilled ambition. So his mindset is to take chances and push boundaries.
Despite Schmitty being cynical on the inside, on the outside, he’s easygoing and a wiseass. Just trying to make fun of the moment. There is often a hint of mischief whenever he stumbles into trouble. And where he really thrives is when he’s in jeopardy, so that’s what we see when he’s pushed. He learns that private eyes can lie, cheat, and scheme, and he likes this, even though his DNA is to be a consummate professional who believes in duty and honor. By the end of the story, he has experienced his first real challenge to make a part of world right.
Megan, in her mid-40s, has built up a solid clientele in Newport Beach. She’s the “go-to” person for background checks, financial searches, and the like. She’ll do whatever it takes to find the missing son, although she has little tolerance for working with a young Harbor Patrol deputy. She opens Schmitty’s eyes about detective work, and in a way, knows more about Schmitty than Schmitty does.
People are usually more than they seem. And in the case of this story, the forces of antagonism grow large and complicated, with links to the past that come back to haunt.
In crime fiction, the good guys have to work on the edge, and in this story – learn to trust each other and navigate a certain attraction. Dark thematic undertones form an undercurrent in this story, but it’s lighter on top. Breezy and sometimes amusing. The Southern California footprint of this story ranges from Venice to Hollywood to Newport Beach. The protagonists butt heads with the LAPD, have to deal with the whims of a billionaire, unravel the workings of the real estate scam, and struggle with an ex-con burning for revenge. We glimpse the workings of two major gangs, and see the resources of two major law enforcement agencies – all after an elusive truth. I hope you enjoy the ride and thanks for reading.