My copy: 9780898798234
As a crime novelist-in-training (so to speak), I’ve had a soft spot for the Howdunit Series of books for writers. Some I picked out of a resale pile, others I bought online wherever I could, but I’m always eager to read, take notes, and pass them along to writing groups I’ve been with. This one’s no exception.
Just the Facts, Ma’am: A Writer’s Guide to Investigators and Investigation Techniques is written by Greg Fallis, a Criminal Justice Ph.D. with 20 years of experience as an investigator and lecturer. This works in the reader’s favor because he’s been in the trenches, but teaches as well, so a layperson can easily understand what he’s writing about. The book is not full of law enforcement jargon (at least, not without adequate explanation) and the information is organized efficiently.
Keep in mind, this is going to be bare bones. Someone going into the police academy would need a lot more info than this book provides, but it does give some good basics to work with. Just the Facts, Ma’am covers a little bit of everything in law enforcement, including crime scene investigation, surveillance methods, interrogation, technology, undercover work, resources, and methods in small doses. The book’s main focus is showing the reader where the investigator is in all this and what makes a good one.
For example, in the chapter on crime scene investigations, the emphasis is on the first responding officers, what they have to do and in what order. This is the part CSI usually doesn’t show–the scene’s been taped off during the commercial break and the “stars” come in after. It’s interesting to read the about the many layers of procedure in securing the scene, what must be done about the injured, corpses, witnesses, etc.
I like that the book begins with the qualities of investigators, public and private, and the differences/similarities of them. The book also says a lot about the respective branches of law enforcement and the realities of resources, staffing, titles, etc. of the various levels, federal and state. The last 50 pages include case studies, which I found useful because it allowed me to use what I’d just learned in the rest of the book to promote better understanding of how all these investigative elements come together in hopes of solving the crime.
Let’s face it, as fun as they are to watch, the dozens of forensic/cop shows out there make the job look too easy. This book is a good intro to what we don’t always get to see in these shows (or in fiction novels), but won’t drown you in information.
After all, if you as an author drown the reader in legalese and info, why should they keep reading? Too boring.
Naturally, the book is geared more toward explaining the particulars of public investigation rather than private. One drawback is that there’s very little insight into how females handle the job during surveillance or undercover detail (one complaint was that Fallis didn’t ask female investigators he knew about how to handle peeing on stakeout, but he gave good tips on how men could do it. I re-read it, and it’s true…guess that’s for another book).
Since this book was published in 1998, many of the websites and some of the technology will be out of date, but I still find it useful. Just the Facts, Ma’am gives a good idea of the terminology used and the responsibilities of different branches of law enforcement, a gateway to more research possibilities.
I’d recommend this one to anyone as a “for dummies” basic reference (maybe give you something to talk with cop friends about–hee hee), writers, criminologists, and maybe just that person who wants to get a better idea what cops really do. I’m sure lawyers wouldn’t mind jurors reading something like this so they could understand more what happens with crime scenes before they’re called in to jury duty.
There are plenty more books in the series, and I’ll review those as well when the time comes. Time to put this one in the donate pile for the next writing group.