Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I'LL COP TO IT: Guest post by Jim Doherty


When a policeman writes a police procedural novel, people are bound to wonder if the main character is a self-portrait.

So I’ll cop to it.

Dan Sullivan, the hero of my first novel, An Obscure Grave (available in both trade paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon), is basically me. I mean, after all, he’s a third generation Irish-American cop, a devout Catholic, grew up in the Bay Area, went to Catholic schools for twelve years until he entered Cal. Of course he’s me. With, y’know, improvements.

Which is to say he’s handsomer, braver, stronger, wittier, does better with the ladies (not that much better, but still). And, lately, lighter. More to the point, he, like me, started his career as a part-time reserve cop in Berkeley, CA. And a lot of his experiences grew out of actual experiences I’ve had in more than twenty years of law enforcement.

I developed him in a series of short stories (some of which, those set in and around Berkeley, I hope will be collected in the next Sullivan book) that’ve appeared in various magazines and anthologies (the two most recent in the Fall 2017 issue of Mystery Tribune and the July 2018 issue of Mystery Weekly), and told myself I’d write a novel about him “when I thought the time was right.”

Which meant it inevitably became fairly easy to find excuses for putting off the daunting task of writing a book-length piece of fiction. After all, I was pursuing a real-life crimefighting career, and also pursuing Miss Katy Kozlowski, the lovely lady who eventually became my wife. And when I finally caught her, we had a house we had to fix up into a home, and two careers to juggle, and a mortgage to pay off, and so on, and etc. No, really. A whole lot of so on, and scads of et cetera.

The impetus behind my finally writing the book was learning about the CWA’s Debut Dagger competition during a presentation given by Mike Jecks, then the CWA Chairman, at Magna Cum Murder one year. The Debut Dagger is given to the most promising unpublished first novel. Unlike the MWA’s First Novel Edgar, or the CWA’s own John Creasey Dagger, actual published novels are ineligible for the Debut Dagger. But novels that win the Debut Dagger usually wind up being published.

I realized that all the horror stories I’d heard about trying to get a novel published without an agent, or trying to get an agent without being published, were intimidating me, but this competition was a way to get around that. So I worked up an entry, and sent it off, and,, against all odds, it was one of the finalists, which gave me an excuse to go to London for the CWA Daggers ceremony. I lost, but all those folks who say it’s an honor just be nominated are right. It is. More importantly, I now had a manuscript with a pretty impressive pedigree. Not that it sold immediately. But it did sell eventually. Pro Se Press, a small publisher specializing in genre fiction, finally picked it up.

By the way, I’d like to give a shout-out to Mike Jecks (author of the Puttock and Furnshill medieval mysteries), who was, as I said, the CWA chairman, and to Kay Mitchell (author of the Inspector Morrissey novels), who was the Debut Dagger Coordinator that year. Thanks, guys! Without you I might still be finding excuses to put the damned thing off.

Like Hillary Waugh’s classic Last Seen Wearing . . . , An Obscure Grave is about a missing persons case in a college town, a missing persons case that turns into a murder investigation. Dan Sullivan’s a pretty square peg in the round hole that is Berkeley, CA, being devoutly religious, politically conservative, and working his way through school as, of all things, a part-time cop. He’s pulled into the periphery of the investigation to take care of some of the scut work, so the full-time detectives can do the actual investigating. Taking phone calls on the tip line. Following up on some of the less promising leads, stuff like that.

But when one of those unpromising tips seems to bear fruit, Dan becomes more deeply involved in the case, now convinced that the missing person, DeeDee Merryweather, a girl Dan knew personally and even crushed on a little, has been murdered, and that another student, also an acquaintance of Dan’s was her murderer, But a part-time semi-amateur volunteer’s not in a position to turn seasoned homicide investigators from the prevailing theory of the case, that DeeDee was kidnapped. The only way he can prove his theory is to find her “obscure grave” in the massive expanses of the Berkeley Hills.

That title, by the way, derives from Shakespeare. Specifically from The Merchant of Venice (Act II, scene vii, “It were too gross to rib her cerecloth in the obscure grave”). Y’ever notice how all the best titles seem to derive from either Shakespeare or the Bible? I was pretty proud of it, but, just as the book was about to come out, I found that I wasn’t the first one to use it. Back in 1985, Sara Woods adopted the same title for the 43rd novel in her series about crime-solving barrister Anthony Maitland.

Well, nothing’s new under the sun.


An Obscure Grave is available for $2.99 on Kindle (or free if you’re on Kindle Unlimited) here:

And in trade paperback for $15.00 here:

Or, if you just have to have it in hard cover, and Lord knows I certainly won’t try to talk you out of that, it’s yours for a mere $29.00 here:

Make sure to give it rave reviews.

Even if you hated it.

Just pretend you wrote it yourself and say what you’d want me to say about it if I was the one reviewing it.


“This is a well-researched, addictive collection of true case studies, some sensational, others little known, all intensely interesting. And one, ‘The Mad Doctor and the Untouchable,’ will no doubt become a terrific movie.” 
Detective Sergeant Joseph Wambaugh, LAPD (retired), MWA Grand Master, author of The New Centurions, The Blue Knight, The Onion Field, and Hollywood Station, on Jim’s true-crime collection Just the Facts 

An Obscure Grave hits with the power and fury of a twister racing across a trailer park. Jim Doherty has created a complex mystery in his first full-length novel to feature his hero, part-time cop Dan Sullivan. More please!” 
Detective Paul Bishop, LAPD (retired), author of the Fey Croaker series, the “Felony” Flynn series, and Pulp Factory Award-winning novel Lie Catchers 

“Gritty, realistic story by someone who knows the heartbeat of an officer in trouble.” 
Detective O’Neil DeNoux, Jefferson Parish, LA, Sheriff’s Homicide (retired), Police Book Award and Derringer Award recipient, author of the Dino LaStanza series, the John Raven Beau series, and the Jacques Dugas series 

“Police and FBI are stumped by the disappearance of a U. Cal. Berkeley campus beauty. Has she been kidnapped? Is she alive or is she dead? Working only on the fringes of the case, Officer Dan Sullivan ferrets out all the answers with the help of a local clairvoyant. Great story. Great writing. Great read.” 
Sergeant John Mackie, NYPD (retired), author of the Sergeant Thorn Savage, Manhattan South Homicide, series 

“Doherty’s first novel, An Obscure Grave, takes Officer Dan Sullivan back to his early days as a reserve officer working his way through college at Berkeley, and treats us to a deep and satisfying dive into homicide police procedure with added forays into film noir and detective fiction. We should all look forward to more from Jim Doherty and Officer Sullivan.” 
Commissioner Louisa Dixon, Mississippi Dept. of Public Safety (retired), author of Next to Last Chance and Outside Chance. 


Anonymous said...

Dan Sullivan was a live sheriff in San Juan County New Mexico. His father, Dan Sullivan was also sheriff. Guess the name runs in law enforcement. his nickname "Rusty" came from his Red hair.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

A very impressive group of endorsements! Congrats on the publication of your novel. It sounds terrific! Police procedurals written by policemen like yourself are the real deal.