Policeman With a Pen
law-enforcement career inspires crime novelist
Neal Griffin, an Eau Claire native, entered the crime-writing world three years ago with his debut novel, Benefit of the Doubt. His new release, By His Own Hand, set in the Eau Claire-inspired city of Newberg, came out in May. I the novel, a young unidentified Native American man is found dead in the woods, apparently a textbook suicide. While several officers are ready to close the case and head home, detective Tia Suarez and forensic investigator Olivia Sorensen are not so sure.
“All cops are storytellers by default.” – Neal Griffin, author
Tia Suarez was such a strong secondary character in his previous book, Benefit of the Doubt, that Griffin decided to explore her character further in By His Own Hand. Griffin said he admires anyone who serves in law enforcement, but in a typically male-dominated world, women who do so command additional respect from him.
Griffin retired from law enforcement in California in 2016. His 27-year career gave him a wealth of experience in field training and as a SWAT team member, a hostage negotiator, an ethics instructor, a narcotics investigator, a gang enforcement specialist, and a supervisor of a homicide unit.
“All cops are storytellers by default,” he said. Combine these attributes with a good writing habit, and you have the formula for a successful crime novelist.
Griffin says his books are based on nuggets of truth. He combines these nuggets with his knowledge about what “could have happened if” and a story is underway.
After 30 years of not saying what was on his mind, to develop realistic prose, Griffin must include flawed cops and sometimes negative thoughts his characters have about each other. He does this by taking the best and worst character traits of officers he worked with and giving them to fictitious characters who have their own personalities.
Griffin said his biggest reward for waking up every morning at 4am to write, even if he never sells another book, is “being able to challenge people’s assumptions about what they think they know about policemen.” With the myriad television homicide shows out there, we have all become experts at what we think police work entails. Griffin likes to delve into the real story of the unique relationship between cops and their communities. “Excellence in conduct is what police work should be based on,” he said.
A couple of Griffin’s favorite authors are Don Winslow and Mike Connelly. He recommends Killers of the Flower Moon, a true 1920s story about the Osage Nation and a conspiracy case investigated by the newly formed FBI, and Simple Plan, an introspective look at human greed. He also likes historical writing and is currently reading Grant by Ron Chernow.
So what’s next for Griffin? He is building a novel around one of the characters from By His Own Hand and will write about his adopted state of California. This novel will be more “true to the life of crime fiction” in that his character works for a real crime division in a real city, but that work is conveyed through the eyes of fictional characters.
If you’re wondering who did kill the young man in the woods, pick up a copy of By His Own Hand – you won’t want to put it down until you find out. Take best-selling author Tess Gerritsen’s advice, and “add Neal Griffin to your list of must-read crime writers!”
Neal Griffin’s novels are available through numerous outlets, including nealgriffin.com and The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire.