How Much Research Is Enough? And a Giveaway!

Brandt DodsonBrandt Dodson

Brandt was born and raised in Indianapolis and comes from a long line of police officers. He was formerly employed by the FBI and served as a naval officer in the United States Naval Reserve. He is the author of several novels and the creator of the Colton Parker series as well as The Sons of Jude series, featuring a fictional district in the Chicago Police Department.

He lives in southern Indiana with his wife and sons.

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win a signed copy of The Sons of Jude.

I write crime thrillers. In the course of my writing I’ve published short stories, stand-alone novels and have developed two series, one of them featuring Indianapolis-based PI Colton Parker and the other a fictional police district in the Chicago Police Department. The latter series began with The Sons of Jude, published this past September.

Having served four years with the FBI and having come from a long multi-generational line of police officers, you’d think that my need to do research would be minimal. I thought so too. But I was wrong. Particularly when it comes to locale.

In one of my recent Colton Parker novels, I decided to set the story in Las Vegas. Although I understand police procedure, I had never been to Sin City, so I decided a trip would be necessary. I took along a friend who had lived in the area.

That was a mistake.

We arrived early in the afternoon and drove our rental car to our hotel on the strip. After checking in and getting settled, I told Ben (not his real name) that I needed to get started right away. Most of my novels take place in the underbelly of life, so seeing the tourists traps wouldn’t do. Nevertheless, against my better judgment (which I’m beginning to believe eluded me for the better part of the trip) I let Ben take me along the strip because “You need to get a feel for the city”.

We began by touring a casino. We were standing at a table as Ben, an accomplished gambler, described the nuances of the game. Before long, I became aware of two men standing just behind us. I turned and noticed both of them were in plain clothes. One of them said, “What’re you doing?”

“Watching the game,” I said.

“Are you counting cards?”

I began ticking off the fingers of one hand. “One, I’m not playing. Two, I don’t know how to count.” I smiled.

“Do you have a room here?”

“No.”

“Then you need to leave or I’ll arrest you.”

I waited for a punch line that never arrived. He was as serious as brain tumor in a cancer ward.

We left.

Further down the street, Ben pointed out another hotel in which the elevators rise at a 45 degree angle. Like the devil on my shoulder, he urged me to “try these. They’re great.”

We did and they were. Unfortunately, we were confronted within minutes by another guard – this one in uniform.

Chiffon Scarf on white background“What’re you doing?” He asked.

“Uh … riding the elevator,” I said. At this point, I was beginning to wonder why the guards always confronted me for an explanation of our actions and never Ben.

“Do you have a room here?”

I mutely shook my head.
“Then you are trespassing, and if you don’t leave I’ll have to arrest you.”

We left and climbed into our car for the drive to the Central Division Headquarters of the Las Vegas PD. The police in Vegas would figure heavily in my story, and I wanted to get an idea of how they operated. In particular, I was interested in seeing the type of cars they drove, the uniforms they wore, and the weapons they were issued.

I drove our car (see a pattern here?) to the back of the building, parking alongside a 10 foot tall chain link fence that surrounded the yard where their patrol cars were maintained. Leaving the engine running, I got out of the car and climbed the fence to count the cars. Within seconds, an officer pulled alongside us.

“What’re you doing?”

I groaned and jumped down before answering the same question for the third time in less than an hour. He listened patiently, answered all my questions, and then told me to leave or he would arrest me.

During that short initial part of my research, I was threatened with arrest multiple times within an hour. Ben was not threatened with arrest once. Not even once.

In a recent meeting with author Lee Child, he acknowledged that his research is minimal. In fact, he said, he had never been to Georgia when choosing it as a setting for one of his novels. The extent to his southern involvement, in fact, had been to watch My Cousin Vinny, which was set in Alabama, but he figured that’s close enough. He could extrapolate the rest.

Will I continue to do research? Yes, when it’s warranted. But I will be far more careful and will allow my imagination to fill in the gaps.

And I won’t take Ben along. Ever.

A signed copy of The Sons of Jude by Brandt Dodson

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