Friday, December 21, 2012

The Nutcracker (a true story)

In continuation of a series of posts I have just started with this one, I bring you a true story.  It happened not recently, nor too long ago.  When it happened doesn't matter, actually, I post it today in honor of today's Ballet Austin performance of The Nutcracker.

You'll see why.

The allegation was assault on a peace officer, specifically that the defendant had grabbed "the victim's scrotum and twisted, thereby causing pain."

Now you see why.

Anyway, it went to trial before the judge.  Two witnesses who saw her hands go into his crotch area, but not the actual "grab and twist" testified to his pained squeal and subsequent bending over while gasping for breath.  Their testimony was utterly consistent with that of the officer himself who added the details about her grabbing this testicles and twisting.  (I wanted to do a reenactment, but couldn't find any volunteers.)

Now, trial can be a battle of words. The whole practice of law, really.  The defendant had no real response, no defense at all, I gather that she (yes she) just didn't want to plead guilty.  And that left the defense lawyer with little to work with.  Very little indeed.

But the chap in question (a good friend of mine, by the way) was brilliant.  He pointed out that the charging instrument said "scrotum" while the officer had said "testicles."  As a result, the pain had been to the latter and not the former.

Clever, eh?

I pointed out in my own closing that the pain did not have to refer to the specific body part, and even if it did "the court may take judicial notice that in accordance with the evidence at trial it would be impossible to squeeze one and not the other."  For good measure, since we were in that region, so to speak, I remarked that defense counsel was "splitting hairs."

I did not look at the defendant during closing, but I can assure you everyone else in that courtroom had trouble keeping a straight face.  Judge included.

It's can be a funny job, that we prosecutors have.  In every sense of the word.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gangs - what are they good for?

Yes, of course, you got it: absolutely nothing.

It's something I see a lot here in the world of juvenile crime, sadly, gang activity.  Sometimes it's peer pressure, sometimes it's family replacement, and sometimes it's even family pressure.

It's a pet peeve for some of the judges, too, because (as they point out), Look where gang affiliation has gotten you!

Something I always want to point out to the kids, in addition, is this: "Look around the courtroom.  How many of your gang-banger buddies do you see here supporting you?"

Go ahead, dear reader, guess how many gang members we usually see supporting their troubled colleagues?

Got that one right, too, didn't you?  Zero.

The long-suffering family will be there, most likely a sad and over-worked mother who can't compete with the fun-sounding friends, the lure of instant cash, and who can't fulfill the need for a male role model.

And the one visceral reminder of the permanent damage these gangs can do to a young kid is often, and quite literally, etched on the bodies of the misguided: tattoos depicting area- or zip-codes, or straight up naming their gang.  Subtlety is not gifted to the young.

Good luck getting a job in ten years with "Representing the 05" or "Rolling Crips" stained on your skin.  Or, honestly the truth, the face.

But chatting with a cop recently I solved a puzzle I'd been pondering for a while.  You see, on my weekly ride-outs in east Austin I have seen (and had it pointed out to me) two dudes walking down the street in happy harmony -- one wearing blue (Crip) and one red (Blood).  When I see this, I am tempted to roll down the window and mock them heartily for their gang fail (mock them from the safety of a patrol car, of course, I ain't stoopid).

This officer, who studies gangs, explained it to me and it's not the result of weak or nominal allegiance to their gangs, it's an economic issue.  As he explained it, in places like LA the gangs are territory-focused, they fight for their little patches of land because that's what matters to them.  But here in Austin, and some other places, territory matters less than money.  The cop said that gangs around here have figured out that cooperating makes for better profits than fighting, and now there's even a saying: Blue and red make green.

Pretty interesting, don't you think?

The irony is, at least in my experience, gang members don't have much green.  Sure, a nice pair of sneakers, some extra baggy jeans and the latest in self-lowering boxers ("While you sell a little crack to your customers, we'll show a lot of yours to the world!").  These are people who gets rides to court from their parents or take the bus to visit their probation officer.  The retirement plan sucks, too.

Ah well, there's only so much I can do but it's good to know APD is following the trends and we have some pretty impressive gang-intervention programs running in schools (and beyond) so with any luck, in a few years at least, we'll be seeing a lot less crack on the streets of Austin. 

Yes, both kinds.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More great Xmas presents (books, books, books!)

I wanted to point out a few more great crime stories, and wonderful authors, for those looking to buy books for Christmas.  This is fun for me because I have met these authors in person, but I've also been able to read what they've written, so I'm not recommending blindly.

Michael Robotham is an Australian author who, I'm ashamed to say, I'd never read until about two months ago.  He did a book signing here in Austin and I picked up a couple of his novels, and got the chance to have a beer with him.  One of those incredibly nice, down-to-earth people that if you met him under other circumstances, you'd never know that when he does a book signing in Germany, 700 people show up to meet him.

His most recent novel is SAY YOU'RE SORRY.  

I was blown away by the story and elegant writing, I'm really excited to have found him.  And so were a few other people...

David Baldacci: "He's the real deal and we can only hope he will write faster."

Val McDermid: "'Heart-stopping, heart-breaking, heart-wrenching."

Stephen King: "Exceptional suspense."

Linwood Barclay: "Robotham doesn't just make me scared for his characters, he makes my heart ache for them."

I know what you're thinking - on top of those endorsements, he gets Mark Pryor's too!  Well yep, he sure does.

Okay, on to two new authors,young ladies I met at a conference who charmed me and impressed me with their energy, enthusiasm, and high talent:


Lisa Regan sees her book actually come out today, and I heard her talk about it at the conference.  Called FINDING CLAIRE FLETCHER, it's the kind of book that, when you hear about it, your hair stands on end.

Here's her blog, but seriously, click on the link for her book and go read about it.  (By the way, if you recognize her name it might be from here, she's been a loyal supporter and poster on D.A. Confidential since long before either of us were published, so that alone merits you checking her out).

Nancy Thompson has a novel featuring a Brit living in the U.S., the Russian mafia, kidnapping and murder.  It's called THE MISTAKEN.  Nancy is simply hilarious, a ton of fun and from what I've been told managed to get published the first time she tried.  Trust me, that means she's good.

Here's her cover:

What's next?  I predict a bestseller with this one, actually, and I'm going to talk about this book when it comes out in February, but I mention it here and now because you need to save a gift card or two to get your copies.

THREE GRAVES FULL is by the hugely talented first-time author Jamie Mason, someone I plan to get to blurb one my my upcoming novels.  

How good is this book?  Heck, just take a look at the awesome cover to know:

And check out who else likes it:

Racheting up suspense is one thing, and Mason manages it masterfully... But portraying characters so well and so thoroughly, examining and explaining their motives even for murder, requires a level of skill that is rare, marking this as an astonishingly accomplished debut and Mason as a writer to watch very closely."
Booklist (starred review)

"Mason's quirky debut novel deftly weaves dark humor into a plot that’s as complicated as a jigsaw puzzle but more fun to put together.... a dandy of a first outing with not a single boring moment."

"Three Graves Full is an astonishing debut novel, smart and stylish and wonderfully light on its feet. Jamie Mason writes crisp, surprising sentences, and this aura of wit infuses her lovely plot with an absolutely Hitchcockian menace. I think she was probably born to be a writer, and I eagerly look forward to whatever she will do next."
Peter Straub, author of Ghost Story and The Talisman (with Stephen King)

Three Graves Full is something special - an offbeat, high-class, pacey mystery that blends black humor with dark lyricism, and deft, intricate plotting with dead-on psychological insight. This is a gem of a debut.”
Tana French, author of In the Woods

Jamie Mason wields a pen that magically blends beautiful prose with unrelenting thrills. Each page delivers something new and fresh; in her hands, even the mundane becomes extraordinary. Grab a chair with a comfortable edge, because Mason will keep you poised there until the final page."
Alex Adams, author of White Horse

Did you spot the name Tana-blooming-French?  Oh, just my very favorite author in the world.  Oh, and if you can't wait to get THREE GRAVES FULL, you can pre-order it now and lock in your copy.  I wouldn't blame you at all, after all I have done just that myself.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ahhh, Christmas is nigh and here's what I'd like, please Santa.

Only a few weeks away, simplest the most wonderful time of the year.  My kids have been scribbling and rescribbling their lists for the jolly old man (whether that's yours truly or Santa, you may decide).

But what about me, what do I want for Christmas?  Well, since you asked, here's the list:

1.  Some cold weather, so I can light a fire of an evening.  Winter's thrill is blunted when its chill doesn't appear. And those kids' Xmas lists?  How the heck is Santa supposed to get them if we can't have the annual ceremonial burning in the fireplace?

2.  World peace.  Been asking for a few years now, I figure it's due.

3.  Another year, a full one all the way through next Christmas, where my kids believe in Santa.

4.  Glacier glasses.  Oh, I could ask for a ski trip for me and my son (we've been pining for several years now) but I'm not greedy.  I just want the glasses. 

5.  One of my cunning plans to work. Specifically, number 4., above.  (Ssshhh, here's the plan: I act like I'm not greedy about demanding a ski trip and, thinking I'm being nice, Santa gives me glacier glasses.  I show them to my wife and say, "Well, no point having these unless. . . "  She nods wisely and says, "Very true, darling, I'll go book that ski trip.")

6. Another year, a full one all the way through next Christmas, where I myself have nagging doubts about the non-existence of Santa.

7.   For people to stop saying there's a "War on Christmas."  Seriously, stop it.  Everyone knows the First Amendment is suspended for Christmas, and even non-believers like me are okay with that.  Look, it's a day where we can wave merrily to our neighbors (not just the ones next door, the ones across the street whose names we should know but don't), where we can eat too much, drink too much, watch too much TV (and let our kids watch stuff they probably shouldn't) and where we can do all this to honor a baby.  How cool is that?  (And if you really do believe there's a war on Christmas, watch this right now and report back on your change of mind.)

8.  Ski gloves.  (Back up plan and reinforcement to numbers 4. and 5. above.

9.  For Santa to skip requests 1. through 8., if he's busy.

10.  Exactly what I had last year: a nice Christmas tree decorated by my wife and kids, a day full of hugs and a few presents, no school, no work, no one there but us and James Bond.  Oh, and a Christmas meal of roasted duck (for me), a good bottle of port to share with my wife, and a lunch platter for the kids of their very favorite dish: roast beast.  Seriously. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Well, how nice (again!)

For the third year in a row, D.A. Confidential has been nominated by the American Bar Association's Journal as one of the best legal blogs in the country.

(One of a hundred, which actually sounds less impressive so I won't mention that bit.)

But look, I get a badge/label thingy:

Anyway, check what fellow blogger Jamison Koehler said about me (unbribed, for the record):  “Mark Pryor of D.A. Confidential is like the Jerry Seinfeld or Jay Leno of the criminal law blogosphere: He can be funny, original, interesting and entertaining without using obscenity or going for the jugular."

Man, I wish I could use obscenity.  Anyway, if you are inclined, and I do hate touting for votes, click here and vote for me -- you'll have to create an account, but it's quick and easy and I hear that it stops people cheating.

Which, obviously, is a shame. Those legal people think of everything. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Big feet and copycats

Here's an example of the difference in maturity and (one hopes) thoughtfulness between adults and kids. 

And yes, it has to do with feet.  Big ones.

Imagine you're an adult, a slender and short one, maybe 5'4" and 140lbs.  You're a stealer, a thief, a nicker of other people's stuff.  And you loooove breaking into cars.  One summer night as you're casing joints and sussing out stealing sites, you come across a truck and you gain access via your usual sophisticated method: the window and a rock.

You reach inside and help yourself to a few items, maybe some CDs, a phone charger, a jacket . . . and then your hands settle upon a pair of shoes.  To be more precise, a pair of size fifteen sneakers.  Yes, I said size fifteen.

Now, as a diminutive chap, two thoughts will likely go through your head:

1.  "What the hell do I want with a pair of size fifteen sneakers?"  (Granted, if you come from a family of clowns, this thought will not occur.)

2.  "Wow, these shoes are big, I hope their owner isn't standing behind me.  Maybe I should leave them and run away."

The second thought, I can assure you, did not occur to the young man in question. I know that because the victim of the theft reported his shoes stolen. 

I suspect the first thought did, once he got home, and in my mind that would have been an amusing moment to witness.

And a nod to a copycat, the good people at who have realized what I've known all along: a crime blog is fun. Actually, I expect good things from them, I do like their work.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Want a free copy of The Bookseller?

One of the best reviews yet from the site Buried Under Books.  I love the final paragraph the most:

To me, three things are most evident when an author is really good. First is strong characters, second is a plot that grabs me and won’t let go, and third is a mastery of the English language.  Mark Pryor has it all in his first novel and I can’t wait for his next Hugo Marston mystery.

Not surprising I'd like that bit, eh?  (And no, I didn't bribe anyone. . ., though I'm not saying I'm above that. . .)

Anyway, you can enter the drawing for a free copy of the book, just visit the site here and drop a comment about a great new book or author you've discovered recently.  Yep, it's that easy. 

And, come to think of it, I'm always up for hearing about new writers or books, so get to it!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Proof of insanity?

Picture a man making these complaints:
  • his coffee is served cold 
  • he does not have enough butter for his bread
  • he is not given moisturiser
A hotel, right?  Probably not a good one, though, because these days there's almost always moisturiser in the bathroom.

Actually, no, it's not a hotel. 

Another clue?  Okay, his quarters are three rooms, one for sleeping, one for studying, one for exercising.

Ah, you got it - a college dorm!  Fancy, too, right?  Three living areas?  Way posh.  Shame about the lack of butter but hey, otherwise not too shabby.

Oh, wait.

Not a dorm.

Okay, the last clue comes from this gentleman's other complaints:
  • poor decorations and no view
  • his quarters are too cold, forcing him to wear three layers of clothes
  • he has to rush his morning shave and brushing of teeth
  • light and television switches are outside the quarters, so he has to ask for help to change channel or sleep
Am I allowed to use the word "douchebag" here?  I suppose so, it being my blog.  I'd use worse but who knows, some kid might wander by after googling the name of a man who murdered 77 people, most of them teenagers.

That's right, Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik isn't getting enough butter and he doesn't like the drapes.  Full story from the BBC here.

So my question in the title refers to whom. . .

Is Brevik insane for writing a letter to complain of these privations?
Is the Norwegian government insane for putting him in such nice digs?
Or is the BBC insane for writing a story about a mass murderer who'd like more butter?

Of course, no reason why it can't be all three.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jury duty for me!

I have jury duty tomorrow!  And it's at the federal courthouse, so there's an outside chance I will get to serve (if it's a civil case, rather than criminal).

It's been so long since I've been herded around like I'm a sheep, it'll be interesting.  Of course, we'll see if it's like the state criminal courts, where there's a LOT of waiting around.

In case it is, I'll bring my book.

And yes, I'll let you know when it's all over what it's like.

Fingers crossed!

** Update **

Well, ridiculous optimism appears to contain no power.  No go on the jury today, though an inside look at the way they do things in federal court was absolutely worthwhile.

The major difference appears to be that the judge conducts much of the voir dire, he gave the lawyers about 15 to 20  minutes each.  Far more efficient.  And while it took up all morning, I wouldn't say there was a whole lot of waiting about.  Here's roughly how the morning went:

8 - 8:30: we're in the main jury room, not the courtroom, and get a welcome and powerpoint talk by the jury coordinator, telling about the Western District of Texas and a little about the process.

8:30 - 9: a video, snippets of Supreme Court justices and former jurors talking about the importance of jury duty.

9:30 - 10:30 - after a break, we go into the courtroom and Judge Yeakel gives us a thank you and introduction to the case and parties.  He then asks the kinds of questions that, in State court, the lawyers ask.  He is considerably less long-winded.

10:30 - 11- the lawyers have their turn, seem prepared and knows our names even.

11:30 - 11:45 - we take another break while the strikes are made and the jury settled upon, and this is done quickly and without fuss.  We're done and dusted by lunch time.

I imagine the process was accelerated partly because there were just 26 of us in the panel - they were picking eight people for a civil trial. 

One I would have loved to have jurored.  Maybe next time?

Don't worry, I managed to cheer myself up with an offense report back at the office.  Some kid had stolen a pair of sneakers from a man's car.  A pair of size 16 sneakers.

Don't you pick those up and think, "Errr, yeah, I'm not stealing from this dude.  If he catches me...."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Crimes, both real and imaginary

I know, I know, it's about time I posted here, sorry.  Things have been crazy with the post-release of The Bookseller, and the edits for the next two books due (and which I should be doing now, thanks very much).

But from the imaginary crimes of Paris, to a heinous one I experienced last night.  Actually, two.

And, yes, you might argue that objectively they aren't as serious as murder or kidnapping, I suppose I'd go along with that but. . . well, here's what happened.

I was riding out with APD, as I do on a Thursday night, and we're in heavy but moving traffic.  Alongside us roars a dude on a motorcycle, chugging up the hard shoulder to avoid traffic.  You know, the kind of thing that makes your blood boil as you sit in your car and choke down the exhaust of the guy in front of you.

Except I'm in a police car now.

We put the lights on and off we go, bringing this terrorist to justice with a $160 ticket.  The motorcyclist shaking his head in disgust, no doubt thinking "Don't you cops have anything better to do?"

In fact, the officer I was with laughed and acknowledged that people do think that but he explained to me about the guy who'd pulled over onto the hard shoulder last week, so he could safely have his heart attack somewhere he wouldn't be a danger and somewhere the police and ambulance could get to him.

"That's what the shoulder is for," he said.  True that.

The second offense was even more cheeky.  With another officer, later at night.  Busy busy intersection, each direction having two lanes and a turn lane (I'd tell you which one, but I don't remember, sorry!).   Woman on a bicycle rides up next to us, inches forward, and when she spots a gap in the traffic she tootles across the intersection to the other side.

If nothing else, I was amazed because it was dark and there were a lot of cars out there.  My officer says, "No, she didn't just do that," and off we go.

This lady took her ticket with good grace, acknowledging how dangerous that maneuver had been. Afterwards, when I asked if he felt a little silly pulling over someone on a bike, the officer said, "No because I'd rather give her a ticket than scrape her body off the road."  Again, true that.

And as both officers pointed out, by pulling over those cheeky scofflaws they made every single motorist within sight smile.

On an unrelated topic, I wanted to bring together the real and imaginary crimes of the world by pointing you to an article I wrote for the Huffington Post, it just appeared on their website.

It's about some crimes and mysteries around the world that, if they'd been written in a novel, would have made fiction readers shake their heads with disbelief.  It's called:  8 True Crimes That Are Stranger Than Fiction

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Oprah & Me!

This deserves its own post :- gave me a rave review!

"a tale of a city that's gritty, utterly real and filled with surprises both horrifying and tender. Much like a baguette, this fabulous story is crusty on the outside, sweet on the inside, and once you've had a bit, you can't wait for more."

And who doesn't like baguettes?

Now, I've talked to people who are a little snooty when it comes to Oprah's Book Club and I'll say this: anything that gets people reading is fantastic in my book.  And anything that gets people reading my book is doubly fantastic!

Also, look at some of the other names on that list of "Unputdownable Mysteries": Patricia Highsmith, Kate Atkinson, Stieg Larsson, and Ruth Rendell.  Esteemed company, and damned fine writers.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The launch of The Bookseller - unholy success!

I have to say, it was probably one of the most fun nights of my life. 

When we arrived at BookPeople, the kids were thrilled to see my name on the movie-style sign above the main doors.  Yes, it was the kids who were the most thrilled.... ahem.

Inside, a friend started counting the number of people there and gave up at seventy (they wouldn't stand still!).  I was particularly pleased to have a judge named Lynch and a policeman named Constable, very appropriate for a crime novel.

I was also honored to have author David Lindsey and his wife Joyce there, and absolutely thrilled to see half a dozen people in the audience I didn't even know.  This one lady, who I got to meet afterwards, was in the front row ignoring the melee as she sat and read the book.   I kept staring at her, thinking, "Wow, wow."

I mingled and chatted with people before it all began, starry-eyed and pinching myself constantly because it seemed a little unreal.

I spoke for about fifteen minutes talking about my writing process, about my journey to bcoming published.

And spent about thirty minutes answering questions from the audience about the book, the characters, and whatever else they wanted to know.

Then I sat and signed books for friends and strangers alike, until...


...they ran out of books!  They sold every single copy of The Bookseller on the night!

With my lovely niece Emma (on her birthday, in fact) and my handsome nephew Noah.

On the way out, someone pointed out that a store employee had recommended the book.  Very cool indeed.

So thank you to all who came out to support me, I am forever grateful.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My big, BIG day!!

Today sees the release of The Bookseller

A novel that grew roots in a cafe in Paris and then took me six months to write.  A novel that took me another three months to successfully pitch to an agent.  A novel that was on submission to publishers for just over a year.

Twenty-three rejections from agents, a dozen more from publishers, years + months of work and frustration and. . . I loved every minute of it.

Why?  Because now it's on the shelves of book stores all over America (also, it is available in all e-book formats, in case you're wondering), and that includes the impressive, always busy, incredibly supportive BookPeople right here in Austin.  I walked into the store last night for another author's signing and look what I saw - my kids were so excited they ran over even before I did:

Look above mine, the name Michael Robotham mean anything?  It should.  Stellar writer, mega bestseller, and last night after his signing we had a beer together.

Oh yes, I'm name dropping.  Want another one?  How about Bill Landay, the author of NYT besteller Defending Jacob, which is one of crime fiction's smash hits of 2012.  And rightly so.  We met at a writing conference I went to this past weekend and here we are enjoying a Macallan 12 together.

And for sheer coolness, at the same event, I also shared a pizza with David Rich, first-time novelist but script writer for McGyver, for heaven's sake.  I know, we shared a dang pizza!

Also, I like this picture, below.  It's me and a friend, Jamie Mason, holding up our new books at a signing table.  Please note the long line of people waiting for our autographs who obscure the photo.  Okay, fine, so our books weren't out in time to sell at last weekend's conference.  But people did come by and say hello, and we managed to give them cards and large, goofy grins.

But back to now.  This is the only night of the week I'm not doing something related to my book launch.  Instead, I'm taking Henry (aka mini-Me, as you can see from the pic below) to his soccer practice.

I'm glad, too, because this week has been about the book, the launch, and I'm looking forward to sitting in a chair next to my friend Andy, watching the kids play the beautiful game for an hour.  It'll be sunny and I'll have no place else to be and nothing demanding my attention for those sixty minutes.

And the thing is, I'm having so much fun right now that when that peaceful moment is up, I'll be back at it, planning, emailing, worrying, enjoying.  Mostly enjoying.

Okay, so in case you are new to the blog and want to learn more about the book, let me provide some links.
Tomorrow my mum flies in for the launch, we're expecting between sixty and eighty people to show up.  If you happen to be in or near Austin, please come by because the more the merrier.

Oh, and Happy Release Day to me!!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Euphemisms and excuses.

Plain speak is good, but euphemisms are way funnier.  And excuses can be even better to those of us in the business who have heard, well, pretty much every single one there is.  I've come across a few lately, used by defense lawyers or probation officers as they work hard to paint their client's actions in a positive light., or used by those charged to explain their own actions. 
  • "He's a natural leader."   To explain: a series of bullying and otherwise aggressive acts;
  • "He's a follower."  To explain: membership in a gang;
  • "Those were not my pants."  To explain: discovery of marijuana in pocket;
  • "They're my shorts, but I loaned them to my cousin and didn't check the pockets."  To explain: as above;
  • "He's a hard-worker and motivated to provide for his family."  To explain: the ability to break into and steal from nine cars in one night;
  • "He's gifted for his age."  To explain: how a twelve-year-old was able to boost and then drive a car;
  • "He was looking forward to shop class the next day."  To explain: the screwdrivers and hammer found on the suspect at two in the morning in a parking lot.
Of course, given the difficulty of their jobs, I give much leeway to probation officers and defense attorneys in their use of the imagination.

Now, if you'll excuse me there's a defense lawyer here to see me.  He's a natural leader, so if the meeting doesn't go well please send flowers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Look what arrived!

The books not the kids! I've had the pleasure of their company for a while.

(My wife's away so I had my kids take pics of me holding some books. Apparently they won't grow up to be photographers . . .  or surgeons.)

But that's okay, they are much cuter than me anyway.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mysterious disappearances... should we keep looking?

And by "we," I mean someone else.  I'm kinda busy lately.

But what made me ask the question was this article at CNN about Jimmy Hoffa, another tip led to another fruitless search for his body.  Should we spend the public's time and money looking, after almost 40 years?

You tell me.

It did get me wondering about other mysterious disappearances, though, and a little research dug up (hehe) a few I didn't know about.  And as a mystery writer, you can bet some of these got my imagination running, as I simply love to incorporate history into my stories -- Nazi-hunting and turn-of-the-century romantic poetry feature in The Bookseller:

  • Between 1139 and 1337 B.C., the Egyptian Nefertiti vanished during the 14th year of her husband Akhenaten's reign.  Apparently, no records of her exist after this time so those in the not-know have offered reasons for her disappearance:  maybe death due to plague, possibly she assumed a new identity, or might have ruled with, and eventually succeeded, Akhenaten on the throne. . . Fragments of a shabti (a funerary figurine) have been found with her name on them, but her mummy has never been found.  Calling Indiana Jones...
  • The body of rebel slave Spartacus has never been found (I'm guessing it's a little late), even though he was presumed killed in battle in 71 B.C., although no one really knows for sure.
  • A few years later, in 53 B.C., a group of Belgian waffles, I mean warriors, led by Ambiorix managed to cross the Rhine and disappear without a trace.  I mention this only because it makes me think of Asterix, who would never do something so silly as disappear without a trace.
  • Leaping forward to more modern times (lots of people disappeared at sea in the interim, but is that really mysterious?  Really??) brings us to 1826 when William Morgan upped and vanished, right before his book critical of Freemasonry was published.  His book about rum, on the other hand, was a great success and led to... oh, what, that was a different Morgan?
  • You've probably heard of this one: 1872 – Captain Benjamin Briggs (aged 37) , his wife Sarah Elizabeth (31), daughter Sophia Matilda (2), and all seven crew members were missing when the Mary Celeste was found adrift in choppy seas some 400 miles east of the Azores. Their disappearances are the core of "one of the most durable mysteries in nautical history," says the Smithsonian Magazine.  And they should know.
  • In 1910, Dorothy Arnold (because if your name is 'Dorothy,' you had to be born in 1910) was a 25-year-old socialite and perfume heiress.  Lucky her, right?  Except she vanished after buying a book in New York City. Apparently, she intended to walk through Central Park but was never seen again.
  • Ah, yes, because this is my blog I have to mention a serial killer: Bela Kiss (great name, eh?), aged 25, a Hungarian who murdered twenty-four young women prior to his enrollment in the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War.  Upon the discovery of his crimes he was traced to a Serbian military hospital, but escaped a few days before investigators arrived. Although there were several reported sightings of the killer (notably in New York in 1932), his true fate remains a mystery.
  • In 1926, Agatha Christie, the British crime writer and huge inspiration to me, famously disappeared and, although she reappeared sometime later, the actual reason for her disappearance remains a mystery.  Kudos for coming back, unlike everyone else in this list...
  • ... but maybe these guys will: in 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe (24 & 28) escaped from Alcatraz prison and disappeared. Authorities presumed that they drowned, but no bodies were ever recovered.  Of course they'd be knocking 100 years old by now, so not much chance of them pulling an Agatha at this point.
  • And then there was D.B. Cooper, who in 1971 collected a ransom of $200,000 and then parachuted from the rear stairs of a Boeing 727 at 10,000 feet.  He was never seen again, though I believe some of the money was recovered.  Some of it.  Pretty daring considering 200 grand wouldn't pay off a student loan, these days.
As to the question of whether we should keep looking for the disappeared who are, pretty clearly, dead by now, what do you think?  We should consider their families who ought to have closure more than we consider the cost of the occasional FBI agent with a shovel in his hand, shouldn't we?

In the meantime, I may have come up with a storyline involving a long-disappeared serial killer who is driven to commit murder by his discovery of the the tomb of Nefertiti...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Books, books, books...

Who doesn't love 'em, eh?

I have some good news for the criminals of Austin, so I'll start with a message to them: first, if you're reading this on a laptop or iPad, please return it to its rightful owner.  Thanks.

Next, I ask this not just because it's the right thing to do, but because you'll have plenty of time over the next few weeks to exercise your felonious habits.  By the way, do you suppose Felonius Monk wore felonious habits?  Or do just nuns wear habits?

Sorry, trouble concentrating today.  (And yes, I know it's Thelonious Monk.)

Right.  Felonious habits.  Oh yes, see, over the next few weeks my normally razor-sharp and unforgiving prosecutorial mind will be distracted by the most important even to me for the past seven years: my book launch.

Which means that there will be plenty of opportunity for the light-fingered to steal a leopard from the zoo, the greedy to embezzle money from an old people's home, and for the tempted Jew to eat a large rasher of bacon.  I simply won't be watching.

In the next few days, a man will arrive with a large box containing my book (my publisher gives me some free copies), particularly exciting since I want to hold one in my arms and cradle it like a baby.  I'll post a picture, yes.

Does that mean I'm taking a leave of absence from here?  Absolutely not.  I'm still riding out with the cops, so if any good stories flow from that I'll post them here.  More likely, though, you'll be hearing a little less about my criminal activities (there's a phrase that someone could take out of context) and more about my writing life.

Any questions?

And just to whet your appetite (and mine), here's the official flyer for the book.

 (I just realized this isn't really legible, I'm trying to figure out how to correct that - the file is .pdf and I turned it into a .jpeg, so any advice on how to do this is welcomed!)

Anyway, as you might imagine this makes me feel like a real writer.  Imagine how I'll feel when I get my hands on the book itself!

Oh, next week, I thought I'd address some of the myths and dilemmas of being a writer, like 'Sewing leather patches onto a tweed jacket is easy,' and 'I just met you, why wouldn't I give you a free book?'

Unless I see you before, have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gun-toting bobbies? Not on your nelly...

You may have read about the tragedy in Manchester, England, where two police officers (both women) were killed.

Inevitably, when this happens in the UK there is a call from some quarters for police officers to be given guns.  The opposing cry then rings out loud and clear: "No bloody thanks!"

My last post mockingly used the term "quaint" and it's appropriate here, too, maybe.  That modern-day police in a busy, crowded nation dash off to emergencies with a truncheon as their only weapon (okay, some have tasers now) seems anachronistic.

I think people fail to understand, certainly in this country, how different the culture is when it comes to guns.  There simply aren't many in circulation and the idea of individuals owning them and arming themselves would be anathema.  There's no way in heck a Second Amendment would fly over there, it'd be shot down (hehe) before making it to the floor of Parliament.

You may or may not know that I was a crime reporter in England.  My beat, for more than a year, was the town of Colchester, population about 100,0000, and also the surrounding villages.  In all that time, I wrote about ONE shooting.  It happened when a wannabe gangster tried holding up a gun shop.  It didn't end well for him.

But I spoke to the police on several occasions about carrying guns and not one that I spoke to ever wanted to.  I liked that.  And, apparently, they still like it that way.

Tragedies will happen, lunatics will always hurt people, but as we've seen here in Austin, and recently, sometimes arming an officer won't save him. Don't get me wrong, cops here absolutely need to be armed - the bad guys are, for sure - but I think that's my point.  Despite the homogenization of the world through technology and the other spreading tendrils of globalization, my homeland is hanging on to one of those "quaint" traits that make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Am I out of touch?  I've been gone a long time, so tell me if you think I've turned into a starry-eyed foreigner with rose-colored view of the motherland.  Oh, but before you do, maybe check out this article by the BBC on the subject, I thought it very good.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I shall turn my thoughts away from cops getting shot because I'm about to head out for my weekly ride-along.  Hhmmmmm, what more cheery England-related topic is in the news?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Oh you English, how quaint you be

Even though I've been in the States for almost twenty years, I keep up with English news and sports all the time. I prefer the sports, frankly, and the news seems a little less... biased? Amateurish?

(And yes, I'm totally ignoring the phone hacking scandal and the newspaper with the boobs on page three every day.)

So imagine my surprise when I turn to the trusty BBC for my daily dose of news and sports and find something that, over here, might appear on the pages of The Onion.

There are two parts to this story, but the headline itself made me go, "Huh?"

John Terry, Anton Ferdinand: QPR & Chelsea discuss handshake

(QPR = Queens Park Rangers, and for those who don't know, QPR and Chelsea are soccer teams.)

No, I didn't alter anything, that's what it says. To discuss a handshake - not one between Arafat and Netanyahu (partly because one of them's dead) or Hillary Clinton and Sheikh Mohammed Blow-'Em-Up, but between two guys who make a living kicking a ball.

And the first three paragraphs heighten the silly stakes:

Senior officials from Chelsea and QPR are in talks to defuse the growing tension surrounding Saturday's west London derby at Loftus Road.

QPR defender Anton Ferdinand will meet with manager Mark Hughes on Thursday having indicated he will not shake John Terry's hand before the match.

In July, the Chelsea captain was acquitted of racially abusing Ferdinand in last season's corresponding fixture.

So let me explain, if it's not obvious, why this is so silly:

1. A man was charged with a crime for calling another man names. A crime.

2. High-level talks are being conducted, and reported on in the media, over an up-coming handshake. Or lack of one.

Both events are, in my humble opinion, ridiculous. And to the credit of my adopted nation, neither would happen here.

First of all, this wonderful, beautiful, magical thing called the First Amendment protects my right to call people names. I might get a biff in the hooter but I'm not going to face the prospect of men in dark suits hauling me off at gunpoint.

This wonderful amendment, which apparently the English should take a look at, also means that we don't get a situation where some politician (or group of them) decides that one batch of rude names is okay, while the other batch constitutes a crime. Let's face it, where do you draw the line? And what's the harm in a rude name or two? After all, the person yelling the racist/age-ist/sexist epithet is the one who comes out looking like a loser, anyway.

As for the handshake thing, good grief. I tried to ponder the situation in terms of US sports, imagining if a member of one team P.O.ed a member of the opposing team. They next time they might on the field of battle, this would happen:

Football (or, as I call it, throwball): the insulter would get insulted right back, probably by a man who weighs more than a bus, and while he wasn't looking he'd get a helmet in the kidneys.

Baseball (or, as I call it, throwball): the pitcher would chuck the ball at the insulter's head, who would then charge the mound, and in nine seconds both teams would be slugging it out while an assistant manager stands next to the melee, spitting ta-baccy and side-footing dirt onto everyone.

Basketball (or, as I call it, throwball): the insulter would be complimented for his imaginative use of language, but in a back-handed way which would lead to louder compliments, eventual chest bumping, and lots of shoving. Meanwhile, two fat blokes from the crowd would be egging the players on while the referees buzz around at waist-level trying to calm things down.

There is simply no way in the world anyone would even suggest inter-team talks to hash out a resolution to the Mysterious Case of the Missing Handshake.

I mean, really, what's next? Slapping each other with gloves? That, my friends, is called boxing and now that I think about it, perhaps it's the perfect solution: one ring, two men, four gloves. Now quit your whining and get ready to rumble!

Seriously, does anyone else think this is ludicrous?

Also, you should get some sports that don't involve throwing the ball.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What's it like to try a case? Picture this...

I'm often asked what it's like to try a case in front of a jury, in terms of the step-by-step process and also what's it's like for me.  As a writer, you'd think a flowery description would satisfy those interested in my answer.

But even a writer knows that a picture can be worth a thousand words.

So here it is:

First, I eyeball the jury panel...

Then I try to weed out the less analytical ones,

and retain the intelligent, ones who express themselves well.

Once that's done, we start opening statements and I tell them about the case, using visual aids.

Then the defense lawyer stands up and gives his opening statement...

My case-in-chief starts, and I present the evidence that's been collected by the cops (watch closely or you'll miss it)...

.... and put questions to my stoic but deeply affected victim....

... and present rock-solid scientific evidence.

When I'm done, the defense puts on their witnesses.

Finally, I give my eloquent closing argument, hoping the jury will remember my victim and be all...

But I first have to listen to the defense lawyer giving his closing,

which makes me feel totally...

but I'm a professional, so I force myself to give it some...

Then my part is all over, and I wait for the the verdict...

If it's a 'Not Guilty,' I feel kinda...

.. but at most you'll just see...

Whereas, if it's a 'Guilty' verdict, I wanna be all...

But this is serious business, so I remind myself,

But whatever the verdict, I go home and get one of these...

... and then mix one of these.

 Because pretty soon, I'll be doing it all over again!

(Note:  Much credit to Nathan Bransford for inspiring this blog post, which I deem a poor knock-off of his, which is utterly genius and called The Publishing Process in GIF Form)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A rare moment

As I prepare to head out for my weekly ride-out with APD, a moment from last week.

We respond to an accident, a car crash during rush hour on a busy street running through east Austin. When we get there, both cars have pulled into a small parking lot. Both are damaged but driveable.

I see two men standing and talking. Ten feet away, a younger man is texting on his phone. My immediate assumptions:
  • no one was hurt
  • the two men were in one car, the young man in the other (probably caused it by texting...)
These assumptions are bolstered when one of the pair sits on the front of his vehicle to get some partial shade, and says to the other, "It's hot, man, you wanna sit?"

Remember what they say about assumptions?

The officer asks what happened and the second man stands up. He says he'd been trying to turn left across two lanes and thought some lady had gestured him through. He says, "I didn't look good enough, I just pulled out and hit this guy's car. My fault, man."


It gets better.

The "victim" tells the guy who hit him (the young man's father, by the way) that his cousin owns a body shop. "Give him my name, he'll give you a discount."

As the cop writes a ticket for the offender (who accepts it with an apology for taking up the officer's time), the two men chat and laugh in the baking heat.

We all go our separate ways but the officer realizes he forgot to give the guy who caused the crash some paperwork, so he calls him and we go to where he's waiting. The officer hops out of the car and hands it to him, then comes back.

"He apologized again, for wasting my time." He shakes his head and smiles. "Now that's how adults act."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Circular reasoning - it's easy!

We have a fairly new roundabout near our house, in a shopping center that we use frequently.  Now, I'm well aware that I grew up using roundabouts in England and Europe, and that they're not so common here.

But bloody hell.

Here's what it looks like:
-- O --

It's really pretty easy.  You drive up to the damn thing, see if the road is clear, and then enter slowly, missing the concrete curb and not driving over the grass.  Like I do.

Serious question: do they not put these on the tests over here?  Three times I've almost been whacked by some idiot sailing right into the roundabout as I'm going around it.  And what chaps my grits the most, is that when I honk and look horrified (the latter being automatic and unintentional) I either get blank "WTF did I do?" looks, or straight outrage at being in their way.

Look, I know they are new to your culture.  But don't you think, if you come across some traffic furniture you are unfamiliar with, the prudent option is to slow down?  Maybe even stop while you figure it out?

 I'll even help:

I mean, if roundabouts help (and I think they do) then we'll only be seeing more of them.

And that means, they'll be getting more complicated.

So unless you want to kill or be killed, I respectfully suggest, dear drivers of Austin, that you acquaint yourselves with the roundabout.

Because this beast might be headed our way....

(Thanks to the town of Swindon, England, for providing this monster so that I can make my point.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kids on a Plane

I've been reading news stories about an airline policy that forbids men from sitting next to unaccompanied kids on flights. A couple of times, men have been asked to swap seats with women because their neighbor is a child (or two) traveling alone. One story here, another here.

One of the men (a nurse, the other was a fireman) says the experience was humiliating because the whole cabin was watching, no doubt wondering why this chap was being asked to move away from a child.

Now, I have kids and I'm usually in the "better safe than sorry" camp. But this is a bridge too far. As the fireman put it later:

"[The attitude of the airline] is 'we respect you but as soon as you board a Virgin airline you are a potential paedophile', and that strips away all the good that any male does regardless of his standing in society, his profession or his moral attitudes," he said. Remember, fireman. Saves kids from burning buildings.

I like London mayor Boris Johnson's remarks on the issue: "Even as I write, I can imagine the lip-pursing of some of my lovely high-minded readers. How would you like it, they will say, if some weird chap was plonked next to your kids? And they are right that I would worry about some strange adult sitting next to my children, chiefly because I wouldn't want the poor fellow to come to any harm."

(My wife and I were on a plane with my three kids, getting them to stay seated was like Whack-a-mole. A nightmare for those around us, I'm betting.)

Anyway, how likely is molestation on a plane? According to this 2009 story it does happen, but the examples it gives involve men asking to switch seats so they can be next to kids. How about we just ban that practice? In fact, if a single guy asks to be seated next to an unaccompanied kid, just chuck him off the plane.

"Here's a parachute, now get lost."
"Well, at least I get a parachute. One, two, three... wheeee!"
"Sucker. It' was a backpack, not a parachute."

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Stop picking on the 'tutes!

We have all manner of discrimination in the U.S., based on race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation. . . and while you might think we have enough to argue about right there, how about a new target?


Okay, so it's not happening here in America, but check this out: in Australia, a prostitute sued a hotel because they refused to let her rent one of their rooms for work purposes.  She didn't just sue for access to the room, either, but for the equivalent of $30,000.

You see, prostitution is legal in that part of the world.  As the Guardian reports, " discrimination based on lawful sexual activity is outlawed. Prostitutes have been heading to towns such as Moranbah, where they base themselves for short periods to cash in on an Australian mining boom fuelled by Chinese demand for raw materials."

'Raw materials,' is that what we're calling it now?

Smutty jokes aside (don't worry, I'll come back to them) this is a fascinating case.  I can see how someone might sue for not being allowed a room when they are doing something lawful, you know, like having sex.  But here she's essentially forcing the hotel to rent her office space.  And presumably, other guests aren't too happy about her customer base, or perhaps the grunts and groans of business-in-progress.

Be interesting to see if the decision is appealed, after all I assume it being in Australia the original ruling came from a kangaroo court. But what do you think?  Should the poor young lady (or old hag, who knows?) be put out of her legal business because hotel owners and guests disapprove?  I mean, what next?  Hotels banning sex altogether?

Australia.  They're upside down.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

DWI eradicated

Almost completely.  And yes, I'm serious.

Oh, wait, I'm not being clear: DWI has not been stopped in Austin, oh no, it's alive and well in our fair city.  But it has been eradicated from my docket of cases.

You see, I was having lunch with a friend yesterday and he was asking about the kinds of mischief kids get up to.  I told him there's a lot of vehicle burglaries, some home burglaries, and a whole heck of a lot of pot smoking.

And that got me thinking about the kinds of crimes I used to handle in adult court, that I don't see much here. You would expect there to be less rape, robbery, and murder simply because kids don't get into that stuff as much, and so it is.  But the biggest change is DWI.  Now, you may think that this would be normal - after all, kids can't even get licenses until they are, what, fifteen? But consider:
  • most kids we see are aged fifteen and older
  • juvenile delinquents just loooove getting their hands on (and in) other people cars
  • most of the kids we see drink, and many are there for substance abuse

So in the nine months I've been in juvie, how many have I had?  One.  Not even one conviction, just one kid charged with it.  There was no conviction in that case because the blood test came back a big fat zero for alcohol, and while he was found with MJ on his person, there was no way to prove he was intoxicated while driving.

Care to explain this to me?   (Although don't get me wrong, I'm delighted we seem to have very few intoxicated children driving on our roads.)  Could it even be the one area where kids are more sensible, more mature, than adults/  Doesn't seem likely, but who knows. . .

And while we're on the subject, I came across an article about the different penalties for DWI across the world.  South Africa gets the award for cracking down hardest:
  • In South Africa, drinking and driving results in a ten-year prison sentence or the equivalent of a $10,000 fine and, in some cases, both.  (Compare to Texas, where this is the potential penalty for a third DWI conviction, and even then prison time is rare.)
 The Scandinavians, who I always think of as a little soft on crime, come in next:
  • Finland and Sweden automatically sentence drunk drivers to one-year jail sentences including hard labor. In Norway, a drunk driver is jailed for three weeks with hard labor and loses their license for a year. If they do it again, they lose their license forever.
 Less harsh, and more amusing:
  • Turkey: punishes drunk drivers by taking them 20 miles from their town and making them walk back with a police escort. 
  • Poland: drunk drivers are subject to jail, fine, mandatory attendance at political lectures. (Evil bastards.)
  • Malaya: if a man is caught driving drunk he is jailed. If he is married, his wife is jailed, too. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oh, media, how could you?

Dear Media,

I turned on my TV this morning, as I do every day while I drink my first cup of tea. I like these times when we're together, slowly warming up to the day. Of course, you get up first, by the time my kettle boils you've been up for a while, gathering news, readying it for me, sorting and condensing so I can go into the world knowing a little, just a little, of what's going on. I appreciate that, and I always have.

But lately things have been getting weird. I don't know, it's almost like you're not really trying any more. As if our morning routine has become a burden and other things (dare I say other people?) have caught your eye and drawn you away from me.

Why do I bring this up now? Because I'm not a nag and haven't wanted to pester you with my own insecurities over recent months. Maybe I should have because this morning you went too far.

It started out okay, when you covered the Olympics in London, which I think of as necessary fluff (after all, the events themselves haven't started, what else can you do?). After that segment, though, you cut to the news.

Let me repeat that: The News. Definition: "a person, thing, or event considered as a choice subject for journalistic treatment; newsworthy material."

As you cut back to the news studio, I steeled myself, ready for distressing reports from Syria and Afghanistan, maybe an update on the Colorado shooter. Perhaps even some economic news, I knew some housing reports were due.

You know, News.

You ignored me, though, you paid my needs no attention and I might almost think you did it on purpose because you know I am not interested in this stuff, and more importantly you know that we both know, this isn't News.

You told me that a 22-year-old girl cheated on her boyfriend.

That was your lead story for the News. And you lingered on it, too, showing me photos and film clips as though you had a war reporter on scene sending back vital footage of an actual event. I couldn't believe my eyes. Why would you do this to me, why would you betray me in my own living room, my tea barely cool enough to sip? This was our special time, our time to commune and you knowingly, intentionally, on purposely, violated what I thought was a beautiful relationship.

I'm not naive, I know that people, many people, are interested in this particular 22-year-old girl. But did you think the Internet didn't have it covered in the gossip blogs? Did you not think your own network would cover it on some entertainment show?

Even now, do you really think it is News?

Let me try and remain rational, logical, composed. Because I want us to get over this, get past it. But I don't want you doing it again, I don't want to turn my TV on in the future and find that, behind my back, you've constructed a story about a drunken movie star tossing dwarfs in a rundown London pub. Or even tossing off dwarfs. Those things aren't News.

You see, no one is affected when a 22-year-old cheats on her boyfriend (or tosses off a dwarf), except the boyfriend and the family of the dude she cheated with. Which adds up to about five people. In the world. So how is it news?

Here's the distinction as I see it:
  • if something happens and lots of people are affected, or some are affected in dramatic or unusual ways, then it is News.
  • if something ordinary happens and hundreds/thousands/millions of people express an interest because the person is famous, it's Entertainment.
Am I making sense? You know I'm an open-minded guy, I am willing to experiment with you, let you experiment with me. But a 22-year-old being attracted to a 41-year-old man isn't unusual. At all. In any way.

I can assume by your coverage of this "story" that loyalty is important to you, as you know it is to me. Life partners have bumps over the years and I'm willing to work with you to get past this.

But please, don't do this again. Especially when I'm trying to drink tea, it just isn't civilized. And it certainly isn't News.