28 March, 2012

Mystery Musings: Police Academy

                    "Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy.
                               And they were each assigned very hazardous duties but I took them all away
 from all that and now they work for me."
Okay, so there weren't three little girls, it was just me, at my first CPA class last night. That's CPA as in Civilian Police Academy.

CPA is sponsored and taught by our local Police Department in order to help local citizens better understand -- and work with -- the Police.

Wasn't sure what to expect, but I had a blast.  After being "held" in the lobby (all 8'X8' of it) fifteen of us (6 women and 9 men ranging from 20-something to 60-something) were ushered into the patrol briefing room for our first taste of police procedure.

We were greeted by two of our three police commissioners, the Chief of Police, the Deputy Chief, and a Captain.  On the table in front of each of us was a background check form -- not a sample -- an actual form we had to complete. Followed by a "mug" shot for the photo ID we'll be wearing for the next 12 weeks.  And I thought my passport photo was bad!  If I'd know, I'd have washed my hair yesterday morning.

The Chief spent the first hour giving us an eye-opening overview of what the Department actually does. You need to understand that I live in (and, more importantly, my mystery is set in) a small, quiet commuter town (think Stars Hollow from the Gilmore Girls). With a total staff of 43 officers, the Department covers 165 miles of road. In 2011, the force answered 16,000 officer service calls and an additional 18,000 dispatch calls. Last year the town had no homicides, no robberies, 2 rapes, and 22 burglaries.  More interesting is the increase in domestic violence (116) and brief of peace (67) incidents, up sharply from six years ago.  Domestic violence is up 119%, breach of peace up 570%, due largely to the current economic climate, we were told.  DUIs, on the other hand are down 42%.

This is not exactly fascinating stuff from a mystery writer's viewpoint, but the anecdotes we heard were priceless, and stored away for future use. The officers were more than willing to answer any and all questions.  And I came with a list!

And the tour?  Wow!  Maybe I'm naïve, but I'd never actually seen an actual police holding cell (we have 4, all built for munchkins) with their 24-hour recorded video surveillance.  We also saw the 50-foot indoor shooting range (which we'll be able to experience live later), the detectives' cubicles - one has a Red Sox score board clock, and the dispatchers at work.

Facts to file away for future books:
  •  Criminals are dumb. Why else would they repeatedly punch themselves in the face and claim police brutality after being told the videotape is rolling?. 
  • Our local police department uses both guns (40-gauge Glocks) and tasers. They may take their pistols home, but not the tasers.
  • Police departments are phasing out Crown Victoria's in favor of Taurus patrol cars. 
  • New York City cabbies can no longer purchase used patrol cars for taxis.
  • Electronic fingerprinting is used at the Police Department, but not in the field.  There, expect an ink pad.
  • Women are  harder to fingerprint than men due to the size of their fingers and shallower ridges. 

Next week: Training procedures.

07 March, 2012

Tastely Tuesday: Irish Coffee

I'm hard at work on manuscript revisions, staying up late trying to fit everything into a twenty-four hour day. But since this is March, I have a solution to the problem: Irish Coffee.

It has all four food groups required by writers: coffee/caffeine to keep you awake, sugar to keep you going, cream to protect your stomach from all the caffeine, and whiskey to keep you smiling.

The origin of the Irish Coffee is widely disputed. The original, according to my Irish sources, was invented and named by a chef at Foynes, in County Limerick, known today as Shannon International Airport. As the story goes, the chef added whiskey (Irish, of course) to the coffee served to disembarking passengers on a miserable, rainy night. After the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, the chef told them it was Irish coffee.

Many Americans associate the drink with the Buena Vista on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. In 1952, then owner Jack Koeppler, and international travel writer Stanton Delaplane, set out to re-create the highly touted brew served in Shannon. Judging from the number of glasses they sell every night, the experiment was a huge success.

Whatever the truth, Irish Coffee should be part of everyone's repertoire.

As I mentioned, Irish coffee requires only four ingredients; coffee, cream, sugar, and whiskey. The final taste is affected by the strength of the coffee, the type of whiskey you use, the way you add the cream, whether you use brown or white sugar and, of course, the proportions of each ingredient.

Irish coffee is often served in a 6-ounce stemmed glass, but I favour an 8-ounce, tempered glass mug with a handle: more to drink and after two or three, you'll be thankful for the handle.

The basics steps to make Irish coffee are as follows:
1.    Warm the glass. Fill the mug with hot water and leave it there while preparing the cream.
2.    Prepare the cream. The object is to get the cream to float on top of the coffee. This is easiest if you thicken the cream by whipping it with a whisk, ever so slightly. Splurge and use heavy cream or "double" cream if you can find it. Do not, under any circumstance, use an aerosol can of whipped cream. Place a spoon in the mug (this helps absorb some of the heat and prevents shattering).
3.    Fill the mug 2/3 full of good quality (not flavoured) coffee.
4.    Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of brown sugar and stir. The sugar helps the cream float, so even it you usually skip sugar, use it here.
5.    Add 1 ½ ounces of Whiskey (Bushmill's Original or Jameson's are good choices).
6.    Top with prepared cream. This is the critical step. You must pour heavy cream over the back of a spoon so that about ½ inch of cream floats on top of the coffee. You actually drink the coffee through the cream. You are not meant to blend the two layers together.
7.    Optional: If it's St. Paddy's day, add a drizzle of green Crème de Menthe over the top. Not as bad as it sounds.


01 March, 2012

Mystery Musings: Irish Mysteries

March means one thing to most people: St. Patrick's Day. And while I'm all for celebrating the saint people associate most with the land of my ancestors, there's a lot more to Ireland -- mystery writers, for instance.

How many Irish mystery authors  -- or authors who write about Irish protagonists -- can you name? One? Two? Four?  I'm sure a couple quickly pop to mind: Rhys Bowen (Molly Murphy series), John Connolly (Charlie "Byrd" Parker), Andrew Greeley ("Blackie" Ryan & Nuala Ann McGrail), Ralph McInerny ( Andrew Broom & Father Roger Dowling).

One of my favourite cozy authors is, Sister Carol Ann O'Marie who's protagonist -  Sister Mary Helen - reminds me of the nuns who taught me in grammar school.

In my next couple of posts, I'd like to suggest some authors you might not have read, or even heard of.

Though he was born in Holyoke, MA, Mark McGarrity, wrote a popular series of mystery novels set in Ireland under the pen name Bartholomew Gill.

Starting in 1976, and up until his death in 2002, Gill featured an endlessly resourceful police detective named Peter McGarr (and his wife Noreen) in sixteen mysteries. The last, "Death in Dublin" was published posthumously.

The McGarr mysteries are known for their clever plots and vivid depictions of contemporary Irish life. Along the way, McGarr encounters the country's poor itinerant ''tinkers,'' the shady underworld of Irish heroin dealers, Irish immigrants in New York, and the Irish Republican Army. Chief Inspector McGarr is set apart from other cops by his knowledge of Irish esoterica could be astounding. In one book, the plot hinges on the name of an obscure expert in ethnomusicology; in another, ''Death of a Joyce Scholar,'' a murder occurs on Bloomsday, June 16, and Inspector McGarr bones up on ''Ulysses'' in order to trace the killer's steps and solve the crime.

Gill's dialogue is terse, smart Irish give and take; his ability to create moods and settings so intensely real keeps the reader on edge, and he never hesitates to highlight the unflinching brutality and amorality of both sides of the law.

Many, if not all of this series, are available on Kindle, so why not open a bottle of Guinness and delve a little deeper into Ireland this March?

  • McGarr and the Politician's Wife (Also published as: The Death of an Irish Politician)(1977)
  • McGarr and the Sienese Conspiracy (Also published as: The Death of an Irish Consul)(1977)
  • McGarr on the Cliffs of Moher (Also published as: The Death of an Irish Lass)(1978)
  • McGarr at the Dublin Horse Show (Also published as: The Death of an Irish Tradition)(1979)
  • McGarr and the P.M. of Belgrave Square (1983)
  • McGarr and the Method of Descartes(1984)
  • McGarr and the Legacy of a Woman Scorned (1986)
  • The Death of a Joyce Scholar (1989)
  • The Death of Love     (1992)
  • Death on a Cold, Wild River (1993)
  • The Death of an Ardent Bibliophile (1995)
  • The Death of an Irish Sea Wolf (1996)
  • The Death of an Irish Tinker (1997)
  • The Death of an Irish Lover (2000)
  • Death of an Irish Sinner (2001)
  • Death in Dublin (2002)