Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Do’s and Don’ts of Interrogating a Suspect

Our guest today is Cathi Stoler, award-winning advertising copywriter and author of Telling Lies, her first novel, published by Camel Press, dealing with stolen Nazi art. Others in this series will include Keeping Secrets, exploring hidden identity, and The Hard Way, about the international diamond trade. Her short stories include Fatal Flaw, published online in April at Beat To A Pulp, and Out of Luck, to be included in the upcoming New York Sisters in Crime anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. In addition to Sisters in Crime, Cathi is a member of Mystery Writers of America. Find Cathi at www.cathistoler.com.

According to Detective Sergeant Joe Giacalone, Commanding Officer of a New York City Cold Case Squad, the guilty always sleep. Literally. The instant they sit down in the interrogation room, they put their heads down and fall asleep. And, while there’s no scientific evidence to explain this behavior, it’s become part of police lore and something not to be ignored.

Detective Giacalone shared this insight along with many others at a recent meeting of the New York chapter of Sisters in Crime. Wanting to make sure our group of mystery and crime writers would get it right, he described the interrogation process from setting up the room, or ”the box”, to arresting and booking the suspect.

The interrogation is the last part of the investigation, conducted after all the interviews and canvassing of witnesses is completed. The goal in this psychological game of cat and mouse is to get an admission or confession.

The box is small. Very small. With no windows, clock, posters or any distractions. The suspect’s chair is hard and he is seated with his back to the door … another psychological ploy that helps preclude the thought of being able to walk away a free man.

An interrogation is not a fishing expedition. It’s meant to test information the police already know. At this point, based on physical evidence and eyewitness reports, as well as means, opportunity and motive, they are sure they have the right person for the crime. The case investigator is the one who asks the questions and an associate takes notes. Once the suspect is taken into custody and Mirandized, the questioning can begin.

According to Detective Giacalone, it’s important to keep the suspect talking and not do anything that will close him down. The detective may ask open-ended questions such as: “Do you know why you’re here?” and let the suspect tell the story his own words, or ask close-ended questions, such as: “Where were you on such and such a date?” to establish a time frame. One strategy is to ask the suspect to repeat his story backward. It’s a good way to tell if he’s lying.

Investigators can lie and use trickery but cannot fabricate information. Telling a suspect that his fingerprints were found a scene is fine, but showing him actual false fingerprints is not acceptable.
Investigators are also careful to avoid words that could upset or stun a suspect.

Instead of saying “murdered”, “raped” or “killed”, they substitute phrases such as “something happened”, “someone got hurt”, or they’ll talk about “the incident”.

If you want to know more about how to conduct a true-to-life investigation for your story or novel, grab a copy of Detective Giacalone’s book: Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators.

Cathi Stoler

Monday, May 30, 2011

Old Cookbooks

In the old days, the cookbook served more than one purpose. It was not just a collection of recipes; it was a guide to good housekeeping, a handbook for good health, and a manual for having a good marriage. In other words, next to the Bible, it was every wife and mother’s mainstay.

For example—lemon juice will remove bloodstains, a bread and milk poultice is a painless way to remove a splinter; as the bread dries it will draw out the splinter overnight. Finally, a sure way to keep your husband happy is to sauté onions before he comes home. The savory aroma as he walks in the door will entice him to stay in for the rest of the evening. (But you’d better follow up with a good dinner using the recipes from the first half of the cookbook!)

We have come a long way from finding everything we need to know between the covers of one book. Now we have TV, radio, and the Internet. Now, a world of knowledge is at our fingertips—literally. But I still keep those old cookbooks around, just in case there is a worldwide power failure and I have to remove a coffee stain, make a quick tourniquet, or keep my husband from running out to the nearest nightclub.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, May 29, 2011


…I would taunt my prisoners in the holding cell in the Detectives Squad Room on the second-floor of all the Brooklyn Precincts I ever worked in. My goal was to break down the perp’s story till he gave up the truth. I confess that I was remarkably unsuccessful at extracting confessions by my methods, unlike my fellow detectives for whom the confession was the sine qua non of the ‘good detective’. As we all must know from having watched ‘Law & Order’ reruns without number, the police are allowed to lie to ‘persons of interest’ (TV, again), but I was not—and never could be—a Det. Bobby Gorn (Law & Order: Criminal Intent).

Not that I didn’t give it the ‘old college try’. When I joined the NYPD in 1967, I was already a college graduate, but not from City U’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was so police-oriented that it was called by the rank-and file the ‘John Jay College of Criminal Knowledge’. At that time, lying was not a big topic of conversation among the troops in the field—unless, of course, you were caught in it. For example, if you were in pursuit of a drug seller or villain armed with a gun and he threw away those items as he ran—as they were wont to do—post-arrest when testifying on the witness stand, you swear, “While in pursuit and never losing sight of the subject, I saw him discard (gun or drugs) and recovered same from where I saw him drop it.” In the 1970s, this canned testimony became so frequent in the Courts that cases in which it was uttered became known as “dropsy cases”. Judges even began to express their disbelief on the record, but rarely found for the defendant and suppressed the evidence. But taking a hint from the judiciary, cops, always alert to the prevailing winds, changed up. The bad guys stopped discarding the evidence (even when they did), and so were found in possession of the gun which the officer had previously spied in his waist band and recovered from his person after a foot chase. Judge, DA, cops--everybody was happy with the new turn of events. To all the players, except probably the defendant, this was thought as a ‘white lie’, I imagine (having been instructed in Ethics by the Jesuits) that served a good purpose.

You might be asking yourself at this point: How can the police purposely lie under oath on the witness stand? Isn’t that Perjury, a Felony? Yes, of course, but the other players in the so-called Criminal Justice System—the Judge and the District Attorney—don’t object to the practice so long as there is no blowback, no scandal (meaning: Newspaper Headlines). Callous? Immoral? Nah! It’s just the efficient administration of ‘Justice’.

You need to understand that the principal product of the System is Numbers. For the Judge on the bench in the lower trial courts, the goal is to get through his calendar of cases every day: any lag will jam up the assembly line. On average, on any weekday, in the New York City Criminal Courts in each of the five boroughs, a judge will have to move 100 to 150 cases on his calendar during his eight-hour shift. If he fails, the cases pile up for the judge on the next shift. The Administrative Judges higher up write the report cards on their underlings. Advancement to County, Supreme, Appellate Courts depends on your standing among your peers. The prime directive: Don’t Make Waves! Move the Calendar!

The District Attorney, an elected official, the County’s top law-enforcer, is judged by the electorate on his performance, which the DA defines as the number of cases his Office prosecuted—especially, the number of Indictments he has gotten the Grand Jury to vote, and, even more especially, the number of convictions resulting from those Indictments. This is the DA’s Batting Average. And just as in baseball, if the DA’s average slumps, the voters may put him on waivers. Enter Plea-Bargaining: the grease that keeps the machine on track. When a defendant in an Indicted felony case insists on a jury trial--because he’s innocent or just pissed off by the DA’s Pre-Triial ‘Offer’ (that is, the number of years the offender must spend Upstate)--the period from his arrest through Indictment, Pre-Trial Hearings, and Trial to Verdict, averages one year. In the alternative, consider how many cases the DA can ‘dispose of’ (a term of art) by plea in a year? Dispositions devoutly to be wished for.

Consider the poor police at the bottom of the pyramid. 250,000-plus arrests in New York City last year. Cops are evaluated by their superiors based on their ‘productivity’; that is, the number of arrests made and summonses issued, the base line being ‘the quota’ expected from each patrol officer monthly. Or else. The basic police assumption: if you arrest enough law-breakers, the citizenry will be better off. In the past, the Department didn’t keep stats on the results of all those arrests—that is, how many resulted in convictions in court . The Conviction Rate was a litmus test for the quality of those numbers. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

So, to answer the underlying question: Why do cops lie on the witness stand in Court?

First, because they believe the perp is guilty and it’s up to them to get him off the street. The good cops I’ve known believe that, and the system within which they function encourages their belief. The statute making Perjury a crime is as little enforced as that which criminalizes Adultery. I can count the number of cops indicted for Perjury on one hand and have fingers left over. When it happens, it’s a hammer employed by a prosecutor to compel one cop to testify against another. For example, Patrolman Bill Phillips testifying about dirty cops like himself under a grant of immunity before the Knapp Commission Investigation into Corruption in the NYPD, in 1971; Office Charles Schwarz in the Federal prosecution of Officer Justin Volpe for the sodomy of Abner Louima in the bathroom of a Brooklyn Precinct in 1989.

Secondly, to comply wit the unspoken desires of prosecutors, who only want a sure thing, a case guaranteed to end in a conviction. What they DON’T want is the truth in detail of how the arrest came about, what the cop saw, did, heard, if it isn’t according to Hoyle, if it violated a Constitutional right of the defendant, no matter how plainly guilty he is. Cops know this from experience with the assistant DAs who prosecute the cases in the trial courts. They have seen the ambitious ADAs figuratively slap both hands over their ears rather than hear a detail that undermines the way it must legally happen. Next time, the cop will tailor his story so as not to offend those sensitive ears.

Thirdly, because they’re bad cops and lie to cover their sins, knowing that there’s no downside to lying within the System.

(Next time, Bad Cops…)

Robert Knightly

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blowing Off the Blog Today

I'm hard at work on my suspense novel. No time to blog. Please continue to enjoy Annamaria's tango clips.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Sexiest Dance

Setting a historical mystery in Buenos Aires means I have to do a lot of research. If that sounds daunting, don’t you believe it. It’s often pure pleasure — as with studying about Tango —the music, the dance, the culture that surrounds it. Lately, I have been watching a lot of dancing on YouTube. Today I want to share a few short films with you.

The first is from the movie Scent of a Woman, in which Al Pacino plays a blinded military officer. It's a good flick. Check it out if you haven’t seen it. Here is the scene where Pacino, in the Plaza Hotel in New York, dances the tango to “Por Una Cabeza," a melody by the incomparable Carlos Gardel:

This next is an amazing performance of a style of Argentine tango dancing called Milonga, characterized by the beat of the music and the double-time rhythm of the steps. The best and most delightful way to understand this is to watch this mesmerizing video clip. Get this:

Another style of Argentine tango music and dancing is Vals, where constant turning is the mode. This gorgeous young couple dance it in a Twenty-first Century style, but the picture on the wall behind them is of the great Gardel. These kids know and honor the past of the art they practice so beautifully:

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, May 23, 2011

Whatever Happened to the Whistle?

I don’t hear it anymore. Is it because everyone is glued to their cell phone or iPod and don’t feel the need to make music anymore? What a shame.

"You know how to whistle, don't you?
You just put your lips together and blow."
When I was a kid we used to have whistling contests, to see who could whistle the longest and the loudest. I even won, sometimes. But recently I’ve lost the knack. I purse my lips, blow, and nothing comes out. But I began practicing, and like the trumpeter who lost his lip, it came back! This morning I was walking to the Post Office, pursing my lips and puffing away, when--presto! I heard myself whistling--a lovely rendition of The Saints Come Marching In. It really bucked me up.

Didn’t the Seven Dwarfs whistle while they worked? They were a cheerful bunch. (Grumpy was the exception.) I remember an old radio show called “The Whistler” that started off with a very spooky whistle that sent chills up my spine.

But never underestimate the power of the whistle as an instrument for good cheer. Once, long ago, when I was very young, (about 22), I was walking to work on a rainy Monday morning feeling lonely and depressed. I stopped for a traffic light and a truck stopped beside me. The driver leaned out of the cab and gave me a wolf whistle. Wow! I don’t care what my feminist friends say, that whistle perked me up and made my day. (Of course, the guy was probably half asleep or blind, but that didn’t matter.)

Robin Hathaway

Friday, May 20, 2011


One of the troubles with being a lover of books is that the books pile up, even when you're married to a librarian with his own public library to store books in. Everyone in Lambertville brings his excess books to the library, after all, hoping to find them a good home. But the public library is already full of books. Very few of the donations are put in the collection, and those that are must displace other books, which are thereupon deaccessioned. Which is to say, put on sale. Or worse, recycled.

I can see you blenching at the idea of destroying books. I tell you what, it depends on the books. Some books should have been pulped at birth. It may be that I myself wrote a couple of them. But I digress; I was talking about home storage.

I've never counted the number of books we own. Since the total is a moving target, such an activity would be a waste of time. I do have standards, however. Have the piles on the floor reached my knees? Worse, has Harold begun to stuff books into cardboard boxes? I hate cardboard boxes, unless they're coming in the door with shoes and dresses in them, to be emptied and put out with the recycling, or to be sealed up again with the original contents and sent back to Shoebuy or L.L. Bean or wherever. In no case are cardboard boxes to be filled with books and placed around the house as permanent fixtures.

A few weeks ago I noticed that cardboard boxes full of books were multiplying in dark corners of the house like an infestation of rats. Time to take action. Time to deaccession those books which we can bear to part with. Time to buy more bookcases to hold the rest.

So I went on Overstock.com and ordered three bookcases, just the right size to fit in our back hall as long as no one needs to use a wheelchair to get from our bedroom to the upstairs bathroom, which no one does so far, thanks be to God. They were handsome and inexpensive, made of coarse particle board with a microscopically thin veneer of mahogany, and they came, as you might expect, knocked down. The veneer was cracked and chipped in places but the Chinese manufacturer had kindly included in the plastic bag of parts a felt-tip pen the color of the veneer to fix it.

Shall I tell you of the other defects in quality control? Shall I complain about how the dowels were too narrow to fit snugly into the holes drilled for them, or how one of the cam thingies was not even threaded, or how two of the holes in one of the side pieces were drilled wrong? No. Instead of that I'll brag about how we put the three bookcases together in three days, working alternately and in tandem, switching off parts among the three until all the faults and defective bits (except for the chipped veneer) had been shifted to one last joint, which the resourceful Harold put together with new dowels, Gorilla Glue, and a huge clamp. Now to go load the bookcases up with books.

Probably they won't all fit. Tell you what. If you'd like some books, send me a stamped self-addressed cardboard box.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Smallest Assassin

Our guest this week is a writer I met this past March at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe. The last time I enjoyed a thriller about a bacteria, it was War of the Worlds. I welcome out guest blogger for this week: Colin Nelson.

Annamaria Alfieri

People think the death of Osama bin Laden stopped one of the biggest killers in the world. He’s nothing compared to one of the oldest, most widespread killers in the history of humans—the disease of small pox.

Found in the remains of Egyptian mummies and all over ancient Asia and China, the virus has probably killed more people than wars, famine, and drought have done. Epidemics in Europe during the Middle Ages affected the course of western history. Outbreaks of small pox started the decline of the Roman Empire and, once transported to the New World, succeeded in wiping-out most of the native population. During the early 1700’s in Europe as many as 400,000 people died annually—about the population of Minneapolis.

The war on small pox started with the practice of inoculation against the disease. Medical practitioners took the practice from Istanbul to Western Europe and then to the United States by the mid-1700’s. The process involved pricking the skin of a person and infecting them with a small amount of pox. It caused them to become slightly ill but also made them immune to the more serious disease when it struck.

During the American Revolution the Continental army attacked the British city of Quebec. They came close to succeeding until an outbreak of small pox stopped them. The British army had been inoculated, avoided the plague, and repulsed the American’s attack for good.

Edward Jenner didn’t actually discover the vaccine used against small pox, but he was the first scientist to attempt to control an infectious disease—and he was successful.

By the 1950’s small pox had been effectively eradicated from Europe and North America, thanks to public sanitation efforts and the widespread use of the vaccine. By 1980, after a world-wide campaign, the World Health Organization announced the official end of the disease in the world and recommended that countries cease vaccination—which meant that today no one has immunity to the disease. (Even for those of us who received vaccine years ago, the protection has decayed.)

Everyone in the world is vulnerable.

With that scary thought in mind, I’ve written a suspense novel about terrorists who steal samples of small pox from a repository in Russia and intend to infect American school children with it—creating hundreds of “weapons of mass destruction.” It’s called Reprisal. It takes place in Minneapolis where several Somali boys have disappeared in the past few years. In my book, they’ve been kidnapped to be used by the terrorists to carry small pox back into the schools and start a pandemic.

What really scares me—and readers also—is that the “enemy” here is something you can’t see, touch, feel, or smell…how do you defend against it? Also, once the population learns about the spread of small pox, I think the panic will be worse than the disease itself.

Colin Nelson

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dialogue vs. Description

Recently I was on a panel and someone in the audience asked, “How much of a novel should be dialogue and how much description?” The question sparked a heated discussion.

The male, thriller/noir writers believed strongly that description should be kept to a minimum. The traditional and historical mystery writers, primarily female, claimed description was an essential part of their books. “Sometimes the setting itself becomes a character,” one female author said.

Both sets of writers have their point. An atmospheric suspense or historical novel needs more sense of place than an action-packed adventure story. It’s a matter of emphasis, I guess. But speaking generally, the modern novel has less description and more dialogue than, say, the Victorian novel. The reader has less patience today and too many solid pages of prose can put off the most avid reader.

Movies have influenced how we write, too. We are now accustomed to jumping from scene to scene without transitions, the way it is done in films. In the old days the author led the reader by the hand from one scene to the next, describing everything along the way.

What do you think? Do you like more or less description? More or less dialogue? Or, don’t you care, as long as it’s a good story?

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Beware the Tread of the Cat

This past weekend in Albany there were two fun events: the Annual Tulip Festival (Albany, after all, began with the Dutch) in Washington Park, our smaller version of Manhattan’s Central Park, both the product of Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision. Crowds frolicked on the Park’s tree-dense grassy acres, attentive to the rock bands and fed by the united nations of cooks in their gypsy caravans and the tribe of artists hawking their wares, while the children screeched ecstatically in their Bouncey Houses. To the untrained eye, all were having a good time without exception. But not so at the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Times Union Center (Albany’s version of New York’s Madison Square Garden). One attendee, the Albany Times-Union’s reviewer, panned the Circus as a “waste”.

Never mind the reviewer’s cracks about the acrobats, trapeze artists and clowns, but when you say that tigers and elephants are boring, I am offended, but begin to get the measure of the man. His name is Barnes and he was unmoved by the nine tigers “. . . on trapezoidal platforms, snarling and swatting at the trainer’s stick before rolling over on their backs or putting paws the size of snowshoes onto a pylon.”

What more can you ask of these magnificent cats? I cry out from memory stored up year after year as a child in Madison Square Garden thrilling to just the sight of these great cats (must’ve been their grandparents and great-great-grandparents, of course). Adding insult to injury, he blackened the name of elephants everywhere, labeling them “. . . big, sad lumberers as placid as a pond and about as interesting to watch.” Oh, yeah? I’d like to see him walk a mile in their shoes from the railroad cars through downtown in the dark, holding the tail of the fellow in front! Actually, there is a poem that nicely sums up this ghastly incident:

Breathes there the man,
With soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said
“Look, Daddy, the Tigers!!!
Mommy, the elephants!!!”

Barnes further noted, “. . . one of the tigers defecated in the middle of his act.” Mr. Barnes' regular beat is reviewing restaurants. This, I suspect, is revealing of where he is coming from.

Once in Las Vegas, I saw Siegfried and Roy perform on stage with their white tigers (not, however, the night his tiger dragged Roy off the stage by his head). So I feel constrained to offer a word of caution to Mr. Barnes: Watch Your Mouth. The Big Cats have acute hearing.

Robert Knightly

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cooking Recipe Time

Sometimes there's nothing to be said except to put up a good recipe. Here's one of my best:

Kate's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

(All quantities are approximate. I really don't know how I make my famous gumbo, but it is renowned all over Lambertville, and has even been praised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where they know good gumbo from bad.)

Cooking oil (olive oil is good, but whatever you like to cook with will do)
3 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed, dredged in flour
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 big red bell pepper, chopped
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 or 2 links of smoked andouille, if available, chorizo, or other spicy smoked sausage, sliced about 1/4 inch or so thick
1 large bag of sliced frozen okra
pinch of pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
handful of chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste
chicken broth enough to cover, maybe a quart or so
cooked white rice

Brown the chicken thighs on all sides in 3 tablespoons of oil in your gumbo pot--a good-sized casserole, dutch oven, or whatever deep, heavy-bottomed pot you have--and set aside.

Cook and stir the onion, celery, and bell pepper in the oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage slices in a frying pan until they are a bit brown and some of the fat is tried out.

Now throw the chicken and sausage in with the vegetables, add the pepper flakes, bay leaf, and parsley, dump in the okra, pour the chicken broth, stir it all up, and bring the whole thing to a simmer.

While this is happening, Make the roux:

Stir 3 tablespoons of flour into 3 tablespoons of oil in a flat, heavy-bottomed pan. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture is brown and pasty. Be careful not to burn yourself. It gets very hot.

Let the roux cool a bit, then whisk some of your gumbo broth into it. Stir that into the gumbo.

Simmer the gumbo, stirring occasionally and adding more broth or water if needed, until the chicken meat falls off the bones, maybe an hour or so. Shred the chicken meat and take the bones out. Add salt if needed. Serve over hot cooked white rice. (Rice takes 20 minutes, so be sure to get it on cooking 20 minutes before the gumbo is cooked.)

People like this. Try it.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Latest Publishing Rumor

It may have come from a single blogger. Perhaps he or she was quoted in the New York Times. Soon it may be gospel:

People using e-readers prefer shorter books.


I tested the waters by asking around. Most of my totally unscientific research sample on the subject laughed out loud at this notion. “The first eBook I ever read was War and Peace,” one respondent declared. “What possible difference could the length of the book make?” said another. “You can’t see how long it is when you download it.”

For myself, I thought perhaps the e-version of a long book may be more attractive than its printed counterpart. For instance, I would not want to lug Kristin Lavransdatter or The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe onto the subway each day or to pack one of them or any other two-and-a-half pound book for a tour of the Greek Islands. But I could have both of those massive works AND forty other tomes on my iPad and it would be just as easy to carry.

In addition to the “shorter sells better on Kindle” rumor, I have heard talk that e-readers may bring back the novella as a popular form, not because it is shorter, but because publishing novellas has been tricky in terms of how much people are willing to pay for this form and how much it costs to print, store, and distribute a single novella in hard or soft cover. Setting a reasonable price for a novella and distributing it only in e-format could easily be profitable. But it does not then follow that shorter is better for all readers of eBooks.

So what do you think, e-readers out there? Is length a factor in what books will succeed in e-format?

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, May 9, 2011

Romance + Retribution = Overload

This year, April went out like a lamb; May came in like a lion.

Seeing two contrasting historic events, so sharply juxtaposed, in such a short space of time, took our breath away. The warmth and pageantry of two lovers united, followed, so quickly, by an arch enemy--destroyed, was too much to grasp. Like viewing a double feature of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet on the same night, too many conflicting emotions were evoked for us to handle.

The transport from Westminster Abbey to the compound in Pakistan was so swift, we felt elated and deflated, giddy and depressed, at the same time. Witnessing a beautiful wedding, and experiencing all the joyful emotions such an event inspires, followed instantly by getting an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, depleted us, wrung us out, left us limp.

Modern communication methods can compress so much drama into so little time, the human psyche can’t absorb it all without feeling exhausted, drained—faint.

Robin Hathaway

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Cool Place to Live, Right Here in New Jersey

Here's a video about my beloved home town. Harold appears in it, standing in the Lambertville Free Public Library holding up a book and advising the viewer to read.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Uncle Priest, the Bootlegger

I have no memories of him. He went back to Italy as soon as Mussolini fell, but the stories about him are legion, some to admire and some to hate. One of former: he came to the States to avoid arrest by Mussolini for his anti-fascist activities. The latter: he prevented my mother from finishing high school and training as a nurse because that was an immodest profession for a young woman from a good family.

Here is my favorite. You be the judge of whether it makes him a good or a bad guy.

When Zio Prete (Uncle Priest) came to New Jersey stay with his oldest brother, my maternal grandfather, Prohibition was still on. He didn't have a position as a clergyman in the Diocese of Paterson, so he busy-bodied around the family until he found his temporary calling in the US. Among the immigrant community in Northern NJ, he found a couple of old schoolmates who like him were from the classier but impoverished prominent families of Naples. One whom I will call Federico Aquila was an undertaker in the New World. The other, let's use the name Cosimo Castoro for him, owned a hillside in North Haledon with a marvelous peach orchard, where he also grew grapes, made mediocre wine, and delicious grappa.

Who actually plotted the scheme carried out by these three is shrouded in the veils of time, but Zio Prete, the idle political refugee soon found his intriguing and highly remunerative temporary calling on this side of the pond. Castoro supplied the hooch: bottles of strong grappa. Aquila supplied the smugglers’ transportation: secreting the contraband alcohol in coffins and driving them around in a hearse. And Zio Prete lent solemnity to the funeral cortege as it wound its way around Northern New Jersey passing by various speakeasies on its way to the "cemetery."

With the end of the war, Uncle Priest took his share of the loot back to Naples and word has it that buying a beautiful apartment and a Lancia touring car and hiring a chauffeur and a housekeeper were among the good works he did there.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, May 2, 2011

Selling in the Rain

Last weekend I took part in the Philadelphia Book Festival—an annual literary extravaganza sponsored by The Free Library of Philadelphia. It consisted of renting a tent and trying to hawk my books, clad in many layers of clothing to keep off the rain and swilling down gallons of hot coffee to keep off the chill.

“Do you like mysteries?” I cried out to the occasional passersby. The trick was to make eye contact, which was difficult when he or she was hunkered down under an umbrella, gaze fixed on the ground, trying to avoid lake-sized puddles. If someone did raise their eyes and came within scanning distance of my wares, I would begin to babble about the merits of my sleuths and quote the price, pointing out how much lower it was than the one printed on the cover flap. If my prey gave a flat “No.” to my sale’s pitch I would let them go without flinching. After all, I was a hardened writer/bookseller. Rejection rolled off me like water off a duck’s back. Although, I must admit, when they accompanied their refusals with an ugly facial expression, I experienced a slight twinge in the vicinity of the heart.

Unfortunately, as the rain poured harder, the visitors grew scarcer and they tended to run, rather than saunter past my tent. I had to shout my sales pitch and wave my posters to get their attention. Then a bolt of lightning or a crash of thunder would send them scurrying off. Finally an announcement came over the inter-com that the Festival was closing early. Shortly afterward, a nice man, a member of the Library staff, came by and dropped off a plastic poncho for me to wear while loading my books in my car, and an apology for the weather (as if he was to blame!)

The best part of the day was when a bunch of us soggy vendors from MWA gathered back at my house for warmth, food and drink, and discussed the pros? and cons of selling in the rain.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, May 1, 2011


. . . Is a term coined by New York City police officers to describe what happens with some frequency (otherwise they would not have felt called upon to invent the word) when arresting officers testify under oath in Court at hearings and trials about how they came to arrest the ‘perpetrator’ and what he said to them—freely and without duress, even after being given the ‘Miranda Warnings’ (arising from the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona, in 1964)—to the effect that they don’t have to answer the questions of the police while confined in a Precinct Squad Interrogation Room being grilled by multiple detectives in shifts, continuing for as long as three days (a client of mine) rather than being taken to Court for Arraignment before a Judge within 24 hours of arrest, as the law requires.

Police, usually one of those interrogating detectives, often feel the need to ‘testilie’ in describing how the defendant (we’re in Court now) ‘confessed’ to the crime.

Over time it has become the sine qua non of the good detective to extract incriminating statements from his ‘collar’ (police-speak for the arrestee). The law does permit police to lie to the suspect (who has become ‘a person of interest’ in TV- and Press-speak): for example, “Your partner next door is right now throwing you under the bus, making a deal with the DA”; or, “Tell us what happened, you were just defending yourself, right?” I suspect cops now take their language cues from TV’s “Law and Order”, much like the Mafia’s ‘made men’ began to ape The Godfather’s dialogue (if media Mob Commentators can be credited). What are the cops not permitted to say? “Just tell us how it went down and you can go home”; or, “If you don’t talk right now, we’re calling ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) to take your girlfriend’s kids into Foster Care.”

Having been a criminal defense lawyer for 18 years with the Legal Aid Society of New York City, I personally knew a tough guy gang-leader from the Ravenswood Houses (a NYC Project in Queens) who folded when presented with the police version of ‘Sophie’s Choice’. Who held the moral high ground in this exchange is not in dispute.

As a retired NYPD lieutenant with 20 years on patrol and many partners still on the Force or working as investigators in District Attorney’s offices in all the boroughs, I hear the stories: the female detective in a Queens Precinct who simply invents out of whole cloth ‘confessions’ by her arrestees; the detective who arrests anybody, suspect or not, in a high-profile case “because the bosses are breathing down our necks.” This is what goes on, daily, I believe. Assistant District Attorneys refuse to acknowledge it. They must rely on police testimony in virtually all of their trials. They are loathe to believe they are presenting perjured police testimony. I knew one Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan who refused to indict a case because he was convinced his police witness was lying. He was soon looking for another job. Judges are well aware that the police will lie under oath on the witness stand, yet have not ever, in my memory, referred such conduct to the Borough District Attorney to proceed criminally against the policeman. Instead, they will label the cop or his testimony "incredible”, decide the case accordingly and leave it at that.

This whole unsavory business of police perjury came up the other day in Manhattan where I was a panelist on an MWA program at the New York Public Library, entitled “From the Autopsy Room to the Courtroom: How Medical Examiners and Lawyers Speak for the Dead.” There was myself, the sole defense lawyer, two former prosecutors, a NYC Medical Examiner and our moderator, a serving NYPD lieutenant—all of us authors of ‘mysteries’. To be candid, I raised the subject myself in my off-the-cuff remarks. You see, I don’t ‘speak for the dead’ (the de rigueur description of the jobs of police and prosecutor). No, I speak for the living, the lonely soul described as “the Perpetrator” by the cops, “the Defendant” by the DA, and “the Wrongly-Accused” (sometimes) or “the Innocent” (rarely) or “the Not-So Guilty” (mostly)-- by me. I must confess I wormed my way onto this panel, owing to some perversity in my character, no doubt. And that must explain my intemperate remarks about the police in our alleged Criminal Justice System—remarks so not in keeping with some of my fellow-panelists’ dearly-held naïve beliefs.

It was a large audience, about 125 who overflowed the room. I admit I thought I did a creditable job as panelist, getting some laughs and being complimented at the end by a woman who called me “delightful”. I feel certain she was neither a prosecutor nor a cop who, I was informed, found me highly objectionable. I’ll just have to put that out of my mind and get on with it. I can well believe the audience was loaded with cops and DAs since only three hardcovers were sold by the book vendor (one was mine and I bought another).

In the interest of more candor, I confess that my series hero, NYPD Detective Harry Corbin, is forever “speaking for the dead” (which is okay since he’s a cop).

Robert Knightly