How Being a PI Affects My Writing

Pamela Beason has now retired from investigation work to dedicate all her time to writing, which is much more fun than being a PI. She’s also a hiker, kayaker, and a scuba diver, so those experiences make their way into her Sam Westin mysteries. Her investigation experience as well as her appreciation for animal intelligence shows in her Neema mysteries. And the Run for Your Life trilogy? Well, that’s just about how everything in life can go so wrong…

The Summer “Sam” Westin Wilderness Mysteries
The Neema the Signing Gorilla Mysteries
The Run for Your Life Suspense Trilogy
and more…

For most of the last ten years, I’ve been a part-time private investigator as well as an author. When I tell listeners that, the most common response I get is, “That must be fun!”

Well, no. It’s not usually fun. The real world is not like television. Investigation work can be interesting. It can be dangerous. And it is often depressing: nobody hires a PI when everything’s going well. We are always dealing with people in trouble. And you’d have to be a psychopath to enjoy surveillance. Things always go wrong when you’re on a stakeout. Ever tried to be inconspicuous while staying poised to snap that vital photo? There are way too many nosy senior citizens and block watch groups ready to call the police on that mysterious gal sitting down the street in a dark car. And don’t get me started on trying to follow someone in a vehicle.

One of the scariest aspects of being a PI is that we work with attorneys. Both sides watch PIs to make sure we obey all the laws, ready to sue if we cross the line.

I cannot write about any real cases I’ve worked on, but my mysteries often include character types and situations from my work, and my investigation experience definitely affects my writing. Here are a few things I always keep in mind in both my real and fictional worlds:

There’s More Than One Side to Any Story – As a matter of fact, there are as many “sides” as there are people involved. Take a bar brawl, for example. Each combatant will have his or her own story, and everyone in the bar will have one, too. And the cops arriving on the scene might have a completely different idea about what is going on, because they’ve been told by the dispatcher, who was told by whoever called 911, what to expect when they arrive. Each person’s life experience colors his or her opinions. None of us is completely objective. In real life, it’s fascinating to interview all the different parties and try to separate perception from reality. I worked on one case where each person’s story diverged wildly from the others, and the guy who was arrested in the wee hours of the morning turned out to have an identical twin to boot, so they weren’t even sure they got the right guy. I finally cornered the arresting officer and asked point blank if he understood who had done what. “Not a clue,” he said.

In my novels, this sort of investigation experience helps me concentrate on characterization and point of view. If you are a writer or just want to have fun as a reader, pretend to interview each character in a scene, and you’ll be amazed with what you discover.

Criminals Are Individuals, Too – Like most people, I’d love to be able to identify a criminal on sight. In a few cases, we can, usually because those criminals are severely mentally ill. The scary fact is that many criminals are charismatic individuals whose company we would enjoy most of the time. I’ve interviewed their victims, whose stories tend to start out like this: “I liked WhatsHisFace a lot, right up until he robbed me/stole my car/stabbed me with a kitchen knife.” And when I talk to these criminals (usually in jail, thank goodness), I often find them charming, too, although they have screwy logic. One fellow with a beautiful smile told me he shouldn’t be charged with illegal possession of a weapon (he was a felon on parole) because he really, really needed his guns to protect himself from the bad guys who wanted to steal the drugs he was selling. And, he added, he’d turned his life over to Jesus (again), so everyone really, really could trust him now.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face when talking to these folks.

Criminals can be loyal to their families and friends, love their dogs, be fine musicians or artists or accountants, whatever–they are individuals. So whenever I create a villain for a book, I try to make him or her as “human” as possible, with some sympathetic qualities.

Law Enforcement Officers Are People, Too – Police/FBI/Border Patrol, etc–all LE personnel are just as individual as you and I. They can be good or bad at their jobs, well educated or not educated at all (that varies tremendously across organizations and locations), prejudiced against groups of people or political affiliations, hot-headed or sweet-natured. So I try to make my law enforcement characters real, too, by giving them flaws and families and individual belief systems.

In my Neema series, I tried my best to make Detective Matt Finn a real person, with a failed marriage and a tough work situation as the new “big city guy” stuck in a gossipy small town where all eyes are on him.

People are often fascinated by the idea of being a private investigator, and they usually want to know what the requirements are and what the job is really like. So I finally wrote that all down in a little ebook that explains the skills you need and describes all the things that PIs do: So You Want to Be a PI? 

If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of becoming a PI, or if you’re writing or reading a book with a PI character, it might help you understand the realities of the investigation business.

All the best,

Pamela Beason

Book Review: Jimmy and Fay by Michael Mayo

Jimmy and Fay
The Jimmy Quinn Mysteries #3
Michael Mayo
Open Road/Mysterious Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-5040-3607-8
Trade Paperback

Jimmy and Fay reads like one of those old gangster films from the thirties, mixing noir and glamour with a touch of the illegal thrown in to keep it interesting. Jimmy Quinn runs a speakeasy in New York City; his girlfriend Connie Nix and right-hand man Arch Malloy keep the business going. Someone has made dirty photos of the film “King Kong” but anyone can see the woman in the photos in not Fay Wray. Even so, the studio is anxious to make the story go away. They will pay $6000 to the blackmailers and Jimmy is tapped to be the go-between for ten percent.

“Jimmy the Stick” is not your usual good guy battling evil. He’s short, has a bum leg, and sometimes uses his cane as a weapon. The story focuses on the seedy world of stag films, corrupt cops and blackmail. Real life gangsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano provide background for the world of Prohibition in 1933 New York City. Plenty of colorful slang and details from the time period add to the solid mystery at the center of this story.

The author writes on film for the Washington Post and the Roanoke Times, and is the author of American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media. This is the third in the Jimmy Quinn series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2017.

A Passion for Rescue

Colleen Mooney was born and lived much of her live in New Orleans before a job moved her to other cities.  She writes a cozy mystery series she refers to as Murder Light that is set in New Orleans. It’s called The New Orleans Go Cup Chronicles and the third book, Drive Thru Murder, was released in early April.

Since January 2017 Colleen organized a Sisters In Crime chapter in New Orleans, has been elected President and has a planned a Mystery Writers’ Conference for June.  She is currently working on her 4th book in the Brandy Alexander series.  She is also the Director of a breed rescue group for almost fifteen years and placed over 300 unwanted or abandoned Schnauzers. In her free time, Colleen sails, goes to a lot of parades, festivals and lives with her husband and three schnauzers in New Orleans. 

Feel free to email/contact at one of the following:


The last time I moved back to New Orleans, I stayed.  I volunteered to help with Schnauzer Rescue, a breed rescue group.  The lady I started helping retired and now I’m the Director of a great group of four volunteers. If there wasn’t enough for me to choose what in New Orleans to write about, the people I meet in rescue are an added resource.  I wrote this for our Schnauzer Newsletter when someone asked me how did I get into rescue.

My Brain on Rescue (Schnauzers)

I was the kid who spent all my allowance playing games at school fairs trying to win the gold fish, turtle, or whatever poor creature was the prize. I overheard my dad tell my mother after I brought home a sickly parakeet in a tiny cage, “Those games are rigged. Nobody ever wins.  How is it she always comes home with some poor sick looking creature?”

I always won fair and square. The ping pong ball landed in the goldfish bowl or the ring tossed circled the square with a picture of the bird.   I won the game and got to select which pet I wanted as my prize.  I always picked the sickliest one in the tank or cage because I knew no one else would choose it.  Maybe I could save it.   I didn’t share this with my parents because they were already complaining they had to buy a bigger turtle bowl, a bigger cage, a bigger aquarium—a bigger creature residence.  If they knew I picked a sick one they would have left it in the container I brought it home in figuring it was going to die anyway.  They weren’t mean, just frugal.

Of course, once I found two baby mockingbirds that fell out of the nest and were in the grass.  One was sickly and barely moving. The other one was hopping around and squawking.  I put them both in a shoebox and the next morning the sick one was still alive and the one hopping around the day before was dead.  The sick one lived for almost 20 years in a really big cage my dad made for it in our garage!

I didn’t get the rescue gene by accident.

My dad always brought home stray animals.  He had the rescue mentality.  Dad would come home from work looking all sad and say to my mother, “I saw a sad story today.” She would ask what sad story and he would proceed to tell her how some poor dog was abandoned, eating out of a garbage can, dodging traffic—whatever.  She would start wringing her hands and say, “Well go get it,” and he would then tell her the dog was out in the car.

Dad found the dogs and my mother fed them and took care of them—constantly complaining.  Don’t misunderstand, she loved animals, but she loved complaining a tad bit more so she was in heaven combining the two.

Growing up we had no idea why anyone would pay for a dog. We weren’t schooled in specific breeds only that dogs were were big, little, yappy, old, puppies, black, white, mean, and biting dogs. It was a total shock when I learned people paid a lot of money for some dogs (breeds) and even more money to have it vetted only to grow tired or bored with them and would give them away! They just didn’t give them away, they left them at animal shelters. The bigger shock was there wasn’t a line of people at the shelters waiting to adopt these dogs.

Rescue was a natural for me even before it was recognized. While I wish I could save them all I really sort of fell into breed rescue saving Schnauzers.  I knew my limitations and at the time they were financial.  Once the shelters knew I’d take a Schnauzer my name went on the underground Schnauzer Railroad.  They gave my name to other shelters and to anyone who brought in a Schnauzer. Soon people would call me to take their Schnauzer they no longer wanted and didn’t want to feel bad by taking it to a shelter.

Before I became known as Schnauzer Rescue there was the first one.  The one that got me involved with breed rescue was a little Schnauzer I found running along the highway. I named her Schnitzel.


If I look back at a single event that got me into rescue it was Schnitzel.  I found her running on the highway on my way home.  I brought her to the closest vet, which was my vet, to see if he recognized her or knew who she might belong to. I thought she was a puppy because even full grown she was only ten pounds. She was tiny and very cute.

The vet came out after his exam and said to me, “This is a sad story. She’s in heat.  I hope she isn’t pregnant because she has heart worms and really bad teeth.  She looks to be no more than 3 years old.  She’s covered in fleas, ticks, and tapeworms and she needs a groom.   Someone probably put her out on that highway either to let her get hit by a car because they didn’t want to treat the heart worms or maybe they wanted someone to find her and take care of her. I’d like to think it’s the latter but over here, it’s probably the former.”

I asked, “I’ll take her. Can you give her a bath and her shots? I’ll schedule the heart worm treatment when I come back to pick her up.  What time can you have her ready to go home with me?”

“We can have her ready by 2:00 pm today, but don’t you want to go home first and talk with your husband about her?” he asked.

“I will. Just get her ready. I’ll be back before you close.”

When I got home, I saw my husband working in the yard.  I brought him out a cold beer and said, “I had a bad experience on my way home and it turns out to be a sad story.”

He stopped working and asked, “What sad story? What happened?”

“I almost hit a little Schnauzer running along Highway 22.” I could see the worried look across his face as I went on, “She was so small, I was lucky I got her in the car and took her over to the vet clinic. Dr. Bill said she’s in heat, has heart worms, and might even be pregnant. He thinks someone put her out on the highway to get hit so they didn’t have to treat her for the heartworms.”

“Go call them right now and tell them we’ll take her,” he said and tried to shoo me along to make the call.

“I already told them to have her ready and I’d pick her up at 2:00 before they close.”

I named her Schnitzel because in German it means little chip. She was always small and never weighed more than the ten pounds she was when I found her, but she had personality in spades.  Holding her was like holding an infant whenever you picked her up because she was happy in the crook of your arm on her back.  Once I bought a baby sling at a yard sale and carried her around in it.  She looked like a Joey, a baby Kangaroo in a pouch.

She loved to go with me everywhere.  I took her sailing and once it turned cold and windy while we were out. I fashioned her a foul weather wind breaker out of a plastic West Marine bag cutting holes for her head and front legs. She wore it with her life vest when we were underway.  She loved sailing and had quite the sea legs – all four of them!

She was cat-like and walked around on the back of my furniture to get a higher position to see something.  She would jump onto my desk and curl up next to my computer while I worked.  She loved for me to dress her up for yappy hours at Jefferson Feed.  Here is a picture of her in her Chanel suit and pillbox hat at the January AFTER FIVE-BRING YOUR BLING event with her escort Meaux.   She was quite the fashion plate and everyone loved her.

In loving memory of Schnitzel
With us 1993 – 2006

Schnitzel was with us 13 years and she could have been as old as three when I found her.  I thought she was only one-year-old because she was so small. She was cute, fun and an entertaining little dog.

Colleen’s series has humor, local color and a cast of quirky characters that could only be found in a city that knows how to have a good time.  You would expect her protagonist with a name like Brandy Alexander to be a stripper instead of the girl next door with a serious passion for rescuing dogs. Brandy has a way of being at the eye of every storm that seems to go through the city and we’re not talking about the weather.  In the city known as The Big Easy, Brandy Alexander’s life is like a Category 5 Hurricane. You have to ask, is there anything in Brandy Alexander’s life that is not complicated? While Brandy may help solve the crime, it’s no surprise that she is often rescued by one the Schnauzers!

There’s no place like New Orleans to have a good crime!

Book Review: The Decorator Who Knew Too Much by Diane Vallere

The Decorator Who Knew Too Much
A Madison Night Mystery #4
Diane Vallere
Henery Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-195-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Interior Decorator Madison Night accepts an assignment in Palm Springs with handyman Hudson James, she expects designing days and romantic nights. But after spotting a body in the river by the job site, she causes a rift in the team. Add in the strain of recurring nightmares and a growing dependency on sleeping pills, and Madison seeks professional help to deal with her demons.

She learns more about the crime than she’d like thanks to girl talk with friends, pillow talk with Hudson, and smack talk with the local bad boys. And after the victim is identified as the very doctor she’s been advised to see, she wonders if what she knows can help catch a killer. An unlikely ally helps navigate the murky waters before her knowledge destroys her, and this time, what she doesn’t know might be the one thing that saves her life.

Madison Night is really not fond of surprises but they keep on coming, starting with a hit-and-run accident on the way to Hudson’s brother-in-law’s jobsite. That surprise doesn’t hold a candle to the one the next day when she discovers a body in the river at the jobsite but the real corker comes when the police can’t find any body.

Roiling the waters is our sleuth’s attraction to two very different men, Hudson and Tex, and I must say I don’t envy the choice she’ll have to make eventually. She did choose Hudson a few months ago but…

Madison is a woman who appeals to me because of her love of mid-century modern and all the trappings of the 50’s and 60’s. Doris Day is her muse, so to speak, and Madison does her best to recreate that world of charm and kindness. Madison is also middle-aged, not in perfect health and living with chronic pain from a knee injury which makes her unusually relatable for somebody like me who’s definitely not young and fit.

With a plot full of twists and turns and a certain edge to the story that makes it a little grittier than the usual cozy, I found myself making more than one guess as to the final denouement. I’ve read and enjoyed Ms. Vallere‘s work before and she’s solidified her status with me once again. Longtime fans and new readers will find much to like here.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Waiting On Wednesday (67)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Book Review: I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I Found You
Lisa Jewell
Atria Books, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-5459-1

Is there anything more evocative of a mystery than a stormy beach on the coast of the North Sea? Well, yes. Add in a man who huddles there wearing shirt and trousers for more than twenty-four hours while the rain beats down on his head. This is the scene that leads single mother Alice Lake, whose beach the man has selected to inhabit, out to give him a coat and ask him a question.

“Who are you?” she naturally asks. But he doesn’t know. He’s lost his memory. He’s lost himself.

In an act of kindness, Alice invites him into her chaotic home. Her three children, all from different fathers, and three dogs, all left behind for her to care for, greet the newcomer with varying degrees of welcome.

Since he lacks any other name, Alice’s youngest daughter bestows the name of “Frank”on the stranger. It serves as well as any as Alice and Frank try to discover just who he is and what he’s doing on Alice’s beach.

It’s quite a suspenseful journey.

Alice is a great character, complicated, compassionate, flawed, and ultimately, so worthy of love.

Her children, each very different from the other, are fleshed out real people. Each has a definite place in the story, when they so easily could’ve been thrown in simply for effect. And Alice’s friend Derry’s place is to help the story along.

The book is written in alternating points of view. There’s a present day young bride whose husband has gone missing, and a seventeen-year-old boy from twenty-two years ago whose sister was raped and murdered before him, her body carried out to sea and never found. And of course, both Frank’s and Alice’s.

Tension builds as Frank slowly recovers bits and pieces of his memory. The journey through his ordeal is mesmerizing.

Ms. Jewell’s storytelling and writing is wonderful. I’m already putting this one on my ‘best reads of 2017’ list, and I think anyone who picks it up will too.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.