Shortly after The Second World War I was born in Brooklyn, New York. Although I never wanted to leave a community with such an efficient trolley system, I had little to say in my parents’ decision to pick up and move to Long Island where I grew up.
Like most American males of the baby-boomer generation, I spent my adolescence wanting to be a cowboy, soldier, or policeman. Of course, all that was based on the exciting things I saw in movies and later on television. The Vietnam War and subsequent years in the Reserves accounted for my time as a soldier.
After returning to the US and separating from active duty, the New York State Employment Service told me I possessed no marketable civilian skills. So, I became a cop. That was as close to military life as I could get. In 1972, I was appointed to the Suffolk County Police Department where I spent twenty years—thirteen of them as a section commander supervising investigators. SCPD is one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in New York and the nation.
Now that I’m retired from the police service and the Army, I still like the cowboy idea, but I doubt my lower back could sustain too many hours riding the range.
When I retired, my wife Barbara and I and our only child, an aging Scottish terrier, left New York for the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. Today we’re still in the same house we built in 1992.
I wrote that little biographical sketch so the rest of this essay will make more sense.
I’ll admit something about my writing up front. I have more of a memory than an imagination. So, I follow the old writer’s maxim of ‘write what you know.’ I took a retired New York detective and made him a Tennessee police chief. That way, I can cover the professional and geographical aspects with very little research.
With the exception of a short story I wrote for a contest, which was a strange conglomeration of the old west and sci-fi; I only write police mysteries.
Basically, I dig up old New York war stories I think are worthy of retelling, embellish them, fictionalize everything, and transplant them to Tennessee. To paraphrase Jack Webb, I change the names to protect the guilty—and keep me out of civil court.
I don’t write autobiographical sketches, but my protagonist, Sam Jenkins, does share an uncanny number of similarities with me. At times I think he sat across the aisle from me at the police academy and followed me throughout life.
When I retired and we moved from the metro New York area to rural East Tennessee, I experienced a drastic culture shock. I no longer worked, but I wondered if I could function as a cop in such a culturally different environment. I thought it might be fun to drop a guy like Sam Jenkins into that can of worms and write about his adventures. So, thanks to me being his Dr. Watson, Sam begins his second law enforcement career as a classic, literary fish out of water—or as I call it, a pork chop at a bar mitzvah, at his little police force of only twelve other people—a big contrast to his former department of three thousand sworn officers and more than five hundred civilians.
Sam is, what we in the police business call, a dinosaur. He’s old school, having started out on the tail end of the wild and wooly days. He always struggles to remember the world has changed and although he hasn’t, he must.
So far readers have liked Sam. A couple reviewers have said he’s their new favorite character. Hearing that made me happy. One of his endearing qualities is that he’s a user. You’re probably asking, why that would be endearing. If one of his colleagues or acquaintances helps him get a job done after he’s unabashedly asked them for a favor, he’ll put himself forever in their debt. Once Sam Jenkins is on your hook, you don’t need too many other friends.
So, if you want to know if a sixty-year-old ex-New York cop can function in Southern Appalachia, if Prospect, Tennessee will ever be the same after Sam Jenkins takes the helm at their police department, and if he can survive his mid-life crisis, I encourage you to pick up a copy of A NEW PROSPECT or any one of my other Sam Jenkins Smoky Mountain mysteries.