Mystery Readers Only

Guest Post by J.L. Greger: When Murder is All in the Family

By J.L. Greger

Dirty Holy Water
by J.L. Greger

Gang members, drug dealers, and robbers are the most common murderers in novels. Yet, the FBI has reported nearly a quarter of the 13,000 murder victims in the U.S. in 2010 were killed by family members. An additional 28% were killed by someone they knew. Does that surprise you?

Now here’s more surprising statistics from the Department of Justice for 1998-2002. Most family violence offenders were white (79%), and most were thirty or older (62%).

Should more authors of murder mysteries focus on family violence?

You have to answer that question. I can tell you once I decided to write about family violence in DIRTY HOLY WATER, I quickly realized I was creating psychological mystery. It was hard to distinguish victims from villains. What’s more the mystery seemed much more personal to me (and I hope readers) than most mysteries. Although I don’t know any convicted robbers or sex offenders, I (and I suspect everyone else) know at least one pretty obnoxious family member who given the right circumstances could be pretty violent.

Now read this opening excerpt from my new novel DIRTY HOLY WATER. Does Lurleen appear to be a victim or a perpetrator of family violence?

Lurleen Jansen must have been a pretty woman once. Now Sara Almquist could see little attractive about Lurleen, except her expressive green eyes. Lurleen had called Monday and almost demanded that Sara drive her to El Santuario de Chimayó this week. Sara had hesitated but finally agreed to the field trip because Lurleen needed a friend.

Although Sara had pushed the front passenger seat of her Subaru Forester back to the maximum, Lurleen looked like she was a piece of pimento stuffed in a green olive. Her face was red as she tried to close the clamp shut on the seat belt that strained around her green camouflage cargo pants and T-shirt. “Should have brought my seat belt extender along. Too much work to walk back inside for it.”

Sara felt a twinge of guilt. She considered volunteering to get the seat belt extender but knew she wouldn’t. Lurleen had been her neighbor in the adults-only community of La Bendita until Lurleen and her husband Pete decided about five years ago that the two- and three-bedroom houses of the gated neighborhood were too small to meet their needs. It wasn’t jealousy that kept Sara from looking for the seat belt extender in Lurleen’s large house. Her reasons were simpler—she knew it would be difficult to locate something small, like a seat belt extender, among the stack of boxes and piles of junk in the house. She was also afraid what she might find. Lurleen didn’t waste time cleaning her house and only hired someone to clean it when a new infestation problem appeared. Some sort of pest, usually bigger than ants, appeared every year.

Lurleen appeared to hold her breath and clicked the seat belt shut. “Pete’s being tight with me.” She smiled. “But I’ll get what I want.”

Before Sara could make a catty comment, such as you must have asked for the moon this time, Lurleen changed the subject. “Thanks for agreeing to take me to Chimayó to get some holy dirt for Matt. He’s talking less these days.”

Sara gave a soft sigh because Lurleen had reminded her why they were making this trip. Lurleen’s daughter Mitzi had become a foster parent for a one-year-old girl named Kayla almost twelve years ago. About that time, Kayla’s biological parents had another child Matt. He was born addicted to cocaine and quickly displayed developmental delays. The New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department, better known as CYFD, had decided the two children must be kept together, and Mitzi had reluctantly agreed to become Matt’s foster care mother, too. When she was five, Kayla had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Eventually Mitzi had adopted both children. Lurleen had been supportive of Mitzi and her two adopted children during the long adoption process.

Sara admired both women because it took guts to adopt special needs children. Although Sara doubted the holy dirt dispensed from a small pit at El Santuario de Chimayó had curative properties, she recognized faith was sometimes effective in helping patients.

Chimayó was north of Santa Fe, almost a two-hour drive from La Bendita. Since 1816, pilgrims had claimed the dirt there had healing powers. Now the adobe chapel built around the pit with holy dirt was probably the most important pilgrimage site in the United States.

Sara had visited Chimayó several times because the drive in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was scenic and a nearby restaurant was excellent. Sara also recognized Lurleen needed a chance to vent her feelings more than Matt needed the holy dirt. So, she drove north and mainly listened.

(The rest of Chapter 1 of Dirty Holy Water).

Buy DIRTY HOLY WATER (paperback or ebook) at:

About DIRTY HOLY WATER: Life is complicated for Sara Almquist in this romantic and psychological mystery. She’s about to become engaged and leave for a vacation in India when she becomes the chief suspect in the murder of a friend. Only the friend and her family, well to put it politely, have a couple of dark secrets. Sara soon realizes the difference between a villain and a victim can be small – alarmingly small, especially in a dysfunctional family. 

The Kirkus review is: “A thought-provoking, disturbing, and engaging mystery with a likable, strong-willed female lead”  

Bio: J.L. Greger is a biology professor and research administrator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison turned novelist. She has consulted on scientific issues worldwide and loves to travel. Thus, she likes to include both science and her travel experiences in her thriller/mystery novels in the Science Traveler series. Award-winning books in the series include: 

The Flu Is Coming

Murder: A Way to Lose Weight


Riddled with Clues

A Pound of Flesh, Sorta 

Learn more at:

Writer's Notes

April Fool: When the Standard in Forensics Falls Short, By Scott Decker

Recounting Cover hi_res

By R. Scott Decker

I began my FBI agent career in 1990 chasing bank robbers through the streets of Boston—the quintessential work of Mr. Hoover’s Bureau. As a new agent with pre-bureau training in science, forensics found me a willing student.

Lead composition analysis—only the FBI offered it—was on the forensic menu. Comparing spent rounds with unfired slugs intrigued me. A match would provide compelling evidence, ensuring prison time for the guilty party. Working the streets of Boston, coming up against its most violent, being lied to, wondering if my newest informant was setting me up, the FBI Laboratory had my back, irrefutable science when I went to court.

One afternoon all hands responded to a bank robbery with shots fired on the South Shore. The bank manager had taken a bullet in the abdomen—he faced months of complicated surgeries. Next in line for a case, it was mine to solve. I put out the word and soon my telephone rang. Sean Dryer and Brian McNelley* had done the heist—Dryer was the shooter—a career criminal known for violence. Within hours I had outlined a search warrant and presented it to the US Attorney.

Our search turned up little, but we did find .38 caliber ammunition; surgeons had recovered a .38 caliber slug from the bank manager and I had dug a second from the bank lobby wall. I wrote a request to the FBI lab for a lead composition comparison and sent my evidence to Washington, D.C. While I waited, more information came in about Dryer. He was suspected in the robbery and fatal shooting of a money courier north of Boston. I retrieved the autopsy slugs and shipped them to the lab—more chances for a positive match.

While I waited for the answer, I scanned each day’s Boston Globe. There in the national section was an article about the FBI laboratory and a statement from its Assistant Director. He had ordered a forensic technique discontinued, a technique only his lab offered. An attempt at revalidation showed flaws; results could not be reproduced. From today forward, the FBI Lab was discontinuing its use of lead composition comparisons.

I glanced at the newspaper’s date—the first week of April, beginning with—All Fools Day! At first I thought the article was a joke, but the gag was on me. My infallible FBI Laboratory, the nation’s leader in forensics, had fooled us. Each case using lead composition analysis would be re-examined, the guilty requesting release from prison, new trials ordered. And I was back to square one, embarrassed for believing in a technique that had never been fully validated, knowing that as I read, Dryer and McNelley were undoubtedly planning their next caper.

*Dreyer and NcNelley are pseudonyms.



For 30% off, use this link:

My book, Recounting the Anthrax Attacks released from Amazon today (but pre-orders were beginning to ship ten days ago).


S Decker PSWA 2016Scott Decker, PhD, began as an FBI Special Agent on the streets of Boston, pursuing bank and armored car robbers. Following September 11, 2001 he transferred to counterterrorism, and investigated the country’s first lethal bioterrorism attack. In 2009, he was awarded the FBI Director’s Award for Outstanding Scientific Advancement. His first non-fiction book, Recounting the Anthrax Attacks: Terror, the Amerithrax Task Force, and the Evolution of Forensics in the FBI, won first place for non-fiction book in the Public Safety Writers Association’s writing competition.

Writer's Notes

What’s Going On?

By Thonie Hevron

PSWA Award singleI’ve just returned from the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) Conference in Las Vegas. It’s a member-driven conference focused on those who write in the field of public safety. Active and retired personnel from police, fire, EMS, and dispatch make up the bulk of the population. Civilians who write crime fiction and technical public safety articles/books are also a large component of this diverse group. City cops—from Chicago PD to rural sheriff’s departments, FBI, military enforcement from all branches, probation and parole, fire officers—paid and volunteer as well as emergency medical personnel are active members. The breadth of experience is remarkable.

We gather annually to share our information. This year’s event spanned four full days for those who wished to attend Thursday morning’s optional “improve your writing skills” workshop taught by three published authors. This included a critique of previously submitted manuscripts. During the conference, attendees participated in numerous panels and attended presentations on topics such as “Anatomy of a Murder,” “Investigating the 2001 Anthrax Attacks,” “Writing True Crime,” “How to Write for the Web” and craft topics like “Editing Your Work” and “An Examination of Point of View”. Several time slots were set aside for meet and greets with editors, other authors and three publishers.

Aside from the plane trip from hell (check out my Facebook page), arriving a day and half late—and missing my own panel on “Promotion,” I still had Saturday. The cut-rate airline new to our regional airport has a very limited schedule which necessitated leaving the conference early. Hence, I only had one day in Las Vegas. Sigh. Still, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I pitched my fourth novel to a publisher I’d never heard of before but was interested in my story. The networking alone is fabulous. Because of PSWA, I’ve had facetime with an FBI profiler, SWAT masters (both in city and FBI), homicide and vice detectives, several of whom had been undercover. I can’t pass up tapping these guys on the shoulder, asking them to read my work for authenticity—in exchange for Beta reading, critiques and blurbs (who’d a thunk anyone would want my name on their book?).

So when I got word that I placed second in the annual PSWA Writing Contest for unpublished novel, I was bowled over. Imagine these esteemed members choosing my book, With Malice Aforethought. Second! Whew!


News about With Malice Aforethought

My publisher, Billie Johnson of Oak Tree Press, is recovering from a serious health issue. She and another staffer are working on the back log of projects already in progress. Oak Tree isn’t accepting any new submissions until January. At this time, I have a signed contract but haven’t sent my manuscript in. I’ve decided to use the next month or two to polish some of the uneven parts of the story. My time frame to get it to Oak Tree is September 1. From there, I’ll keep you posted as I find out more.


More Street Stories

Too Many Lost This Year

By Thonie Hevron

Too many law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty in 2013. One is too many but thirteen is unfathomable. And we’re only in mid-March.
Patrolman David Ortiz of the El Paso, Tx Police Department End of Watch March 14, 2016Patrolman David Ortiz El Paso Police Department, Texas
Peace Officers Down Memorial Page offers statistic that are difficult to believe. Taken from FBI statistics drawn from every police agency in the US, they are a sobering reminder of the inherent peril in this work. Few men and women can do this job with the alertness and cognition it requires–twenty-four hours a day. Cops are never off duty. Badges and guns may be put away but a warrior mindset must always be present. It’s like a sneaker wave at the beach–nine times out of ten, it’s okay to turn your back, but the tenth wave can kill you.
The effects of a career last a lifetime–PTSD is almost a cliche but honestly, we live with it day in and day out. Every cop, every emergency worker (I know because my husband is a retired fire fighter) has ghosts that will forever haunt us. There is no laying them to rest, closure is an illusion. Turning away has been my coping mechanism–remembering the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment when an incident went right ( I’ll never forget a hug from an officer and close friend when only he and I–in dispatch–were on duty. He had a particularly dangerous pursuit that ended safely with a solid arrest due to the fact that we both did our jobs well–that hug was a highlight of my career), acknowledging the adrenaline spurt and excitement is satisfying enough.
Standing in the rain directing traffic around flooded streets during two El Nino events, smelling the airborn toxins as I drove up to a burning house, being nervous as hell doing CPR on an old man who fell off a ladder are memories that make me who I am. All of us have these memories and worse–I was a civilian Community Services Officer for seven years before I traded the uniform for  the climate controlled chaos of dispatch. I saw but a small slice of the life on the streets.
Those of you who wear or have worn the badge, get it. Those of you who don’t, count your blessings that there are those people out there who love this job. It can’t be done well if they don’t.
All know this could be their last day, but do it anyway.

Writer's Notes

What the Heck is a Beta Reader, Anyway?

What the heck is a Beta Reader?

I’m taking a break. Mostly, because it took so long to get this story down, I struggled with the last half. Eventually, the beginning became a problem, too.

The first half was easy to write because I had a clear picture of what I wanted to happen with Nick and Meredith. The storyline was less important. Then, as you may have read months ago, I connected (on Facebook) with Mike Brown. Mike and I worked together at Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO). Although my tenure was three short years (1991-1993), I remembered Mike Brown’s reputation as an experienced, educated and common sense-supervisor. When I asked him to take a look at my outline for authenticity, he was enthusiastic and helpful.

Be careful what you ask for.

FBI Profiles of Evil

Tactfully, Brown told me the story premise was all wrong. WITH MALICE AFORETHOUGHT (WMA)is set in northern Sonoma County, California. It’s a rural, sometimes remote region patrolled by the county sheriff. As a veteran of SCSO Violent Crimes Investigations (VCI) sergeant, Brown had responded to these hills for a homicide investigation just as my hero in this story, Nick Reyes, does.

So when Mike Brown said my story couldn’t happen, I listened. Enter the readers “suspension of disbelief.” To put it succinctly, a fiction author writes a situation that cannot happen in a way that makes the reader think, “This could happen.”

Lincoln 9“Suspension of disbelief” is very different from authenticity. Suspension refers mainly to situations, where authenticity is the real deal procedurally. For instance: CSI, the TV series, has frustrated so many law enforcement professionals because of their unbelievable situations.

The premise of my story just didn’t work. So I swallowed my pride, tossed the first third and set about re-structuring the story. It meant giving up carefully crafted scenes that any reader with a background in law enforcement would know weren’t the real deal. Knowing early enough to do a re-write was a blessing in disguise. WMA turned out better than I could have hoped. Still in need of polishing for authenticity, I’ve turned to my peers for their expert advice.

Above is a dramatic example of what Beta Readers can do for a story. I have chosen five retired law enforcement professionals to read my book for realism. Three were authors I met through Public Safety Writers Association—Pete Klismet, retired FBI Profiler and author of FBI DIARY-Portrait of Evil; Dave Freedland, retired Deputy Chief of Irvine Police Department and author of LINCOLN 9, and John Schembra, retired sergeant with Pleasant Hill Police Department and author of RETRIBUTION. All three men have something to offer both as writers and cops.


My last two Beta Readers are not authors. Tim Miller, retired CHP Air Operations sergeant from Napa is reading for helicopter veracity and finally but not least, Mike Brown.

I’m on pins and needles until I hear from them.

For the next month, I’m not writing although I have already plotted out the next story in my mind. I’m catching up on closet organization, yard work and other things I’ve let lapse for writing.

When I get the first manuscript back from one of the Beta Readers, you can bet I’ll drop my trowel and get to work making changes.



More Street Stories

FBI K-9 dog Ape killed in line of duty in New York state

FBI K-9 dog Ape killed in line of duty in New York state


by Maren Guse

HERKIMER, New York — A tactical K-9 dog named Ape, who started his career with the FBI just a few weeks ago, was killed in the line of duty during a standoff in Herkimer on Thursday.

Ape was on duty accompanying FBI agents who were attempting to arrest 64-year-old Kurt R. Myers,


of Mohawk, who had been holed up in an abandoned building on North Main Street in Herkimer after a rampage that left four dead and two injured.

Special Agent Ann Todd, with the FBI Office of Public Affairs, says Ape will be returned home to Quantico, Virginia.

Ape was a 2-year-old Czech German Shepherd. He was born on November 17, 2010.

Ape had just started working with the FBI on February 25 after completing training in October.

A memorial will be held for Ape at Quantico, says Todd, and his name will be added to a memorial wall.

“Ape was doing what he was trained to do and made the ultimate sacrifice for his team. His actions were heroic and prevented his teammates from being seriously wounded or killed,” says Todd.

Officials speaking at a news conference on Thursday say police entered the building around 8:00 a.m. They say Myers immediately opened fire on the officers from the doorway of a small room, killing an FBI K-9 search dog. Police returned fire, fatally shooting Myers.

State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said during a press conference on Thursday morning that K-9s are “much more acute than people in locating suspects, especially in certain types of premises. I think that’s what happened here, and as unfortunate as it is that the K-9 lost his life, it could have easily been an officer.”

More Street Stories

FBI National Academy update November 7, 2012


FBI National Academy

By Craig Schwartz

Update 11/07/2012

We are now halfway through our session at the National Academy, and it has been a painful week for one of our class members. One of our international students had to leave abruptly early this week when she learned that her fiance, a rescue diver, had perished during a water rescue in her home country. We are all thinking of her and praying for her now,and hope she will be able to return and graduate with us. Several of my classmates have suffered tragic losses during the short time we have been here, and even though the FBI puts on an outstanding program, we are all looking forward to getting home to see our families.


The classes are good here, but the I enjoy getting to know my colleagues from around the country and world most of all. I posted photos of a trip several of us took to Gettysburg last weekend for a tour of the battlefields. Our tour was led by Jim Kralick, the retired sheriff of Rockland County, New York. Sheriff Kralik worked in law enforcement for 50 years and now lives his dream. He owns and operates a stable and campground next to the Gettysburg Battlefield. He leads horseback tours of the historic site and is a wealth of knowledge. For our tour he took extra time to talk about leadership lessons from both the Union and Confederate sides of the battle that happened from July 1-3, 1863.

Physical Challenge

Wednesday’s at the NA are enrichment and physical challenge days. We are halfway through our Yellow Brick Road Challenge and I am over halfway to my Blue Brick swim challenge. I hit 26.5 miles in the pool tonight, with 7.5 to go. Our PT challenge today was a cardio day with three stations: running the stairs 3 times in the parking garage; 6 sprints up a short but steep hill, and one station running the infield of the track while a partner tries to hold you back with a large rubber band around your waist. We’ll do the full 6.1 mile run and Marine Corps Endurance Course in early December.

Enrichment LectureHalyburton, Cherry and Schwartz post

The enrichment lecture for the day was a presentation by two former military aviators, Commander Porter Halyburton and Colonel Fred Cherry. Cdr Halyburton was a young Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade when he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965 and captured. Colonel Halyburton was an Air Force pilot who was also shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. He suffered serious injuries when he ejected from his plane. Both men were held as POWs for over 7 years, suffering brutal conditions and treatment at the hands of their captors. The North Vietnamese eventually put them together to try and break them. You see, CDR Halyburton is a white man from the South and Colonel Cherry is an African American. The North Vietnamese made Halyburton care for the wounded Cherry, thinking the racial tensions they saw in the United States at the time would destroy the morale of the two men. It did not, and they are the subject of a book titled Two Souls Indivisible. Their presentation was inspiring both for the way they behaved while in captivity and for the way they have chosen to live their lives since. Cdr. Halyburton said it best when he said “Attitude is everything”, and stressed that our attitude is the one thing we are able to control in life.

Lt Craig Schwartz
Lt Craig Schwartz

Craig Schwartz, Lt. with Santa Rosa Police Department is blogging from the FBI National Academy in an effort to keep Santa Rosa citizens informed of the valuable training he has received. I include his post to show an example of the level of professionalism in which law enforcement administrators and line personnel must train.

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