Thursday, June 30, 2011


Carla smiled. “Why’d they kick you off the force?”

“Got drunk one night and wiped out a newsstand with my cruiser.”

Her mouth formed an O. She had nice lips, nice teeth.

“It was three in the morning. No one got hurt,” I said. “I blew through a couple thousand dollars in magazines, though.”

That’s it. That’s how Joe Kozmarski, my fictional private investigator, entered his profession. By getting fired from his former job as a cop.

This week on Criminal Minds, we’re discussing how our fictional detectives got started. Joe is no accidental detective. His dad was a cop. Joe always wanted to be a cop too. But he had bad habits, bad enough – and in such large numbers – that other cops decided he wasn’t cop material. The drunken encounter with the newsstand was the last straw.

(A Bad Night’s Sleep, his most recent mystery, released last week from St. Martin’s Minotaur. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “fast, furious, and fun.” And it’s true.)

So, why, upon being fired, did Joe become a private investigator? In short, because he had unfinished business – not in the sense that he had cases that still needed solving (he was only a patrolman) but in the sense of personal business. Joe had issues. His good-cop father, now dead (and disappointed with Joe when he died), haunted him. His mother, very much alive (and unsure about Joe), reminded him what he owed to his father . . . and to her . . . and to himself. His ex-wife, who hated and loved him both, let him know that he could be a better man. So, Joe needed to do some good. Unfortunately, Joe was – and still is – pretty bad at doing good.

Now, in A Bad Night’s Sleep, Joe battles cops who are far badder than he ever was. Will he redeem himself? Not a chance. Will he dig far into the corruption and danger that permeate Chicago? It seems likely. At the end, will he emerge wiser, stronger, and more deeply scarred? Count on it.


Meredith Cole said...

Love the image of the cruiser hitting a magazine stand... great creation story, Michael.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I can see those magazines flying through the night sky.

I've only ever left jobs with a nice face to face conversation or email. That feels rather pedestrian now.

Loving Joe's background more!

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Meredith. I imagine a late-night snowstorm, but with the scattered pages of magazines and newspapers.

Michael Wiley said...

I generally go for the pedestrian too, Rebecca.

I once left a job by accusing the director of corrupt practices -- and the director telling me that I was "young" and would "understand the world better" when I was older (an understanding that I still don't have) -- but no late-night cruiser-crashes for me either.

Gabi said...

Complicated characters are the best and Joe's among them. Great post.

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Gabi. Not everyone agrees that calling someone or something "complex" is a compliment, but I do.

Kelli Stanley said...

Great post, Michael, and A BAD NIGHT'S SLEEP is one hell of a great book!!

And I love Joe's "origin" story ... :)

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Kelli. I suppose we all have to start somewhere -- and the middle of a newsstand is as good of a place as any.