Article: Police Mystery Thrillers: Getting it Right! By John Schembra

How to Write Police Mystery Thrillers: Getting it Right! By John Schembra

Article: Police Mystery Thrillers: Getting it Right! By John Schembra

Are you writing police mysteries thrillers? Want to get it right? I do, too, though I may have an advantage, having been a police officer for 30 years.

Although the home setting for my books is the San Francisco PD, sometimes protagonists must seek the help of other police or federal agencies. This presents a problem, as not all law enforcement agencies conduct investigations the same way.

Each agency has their own set of procedures and though general investigative protocols are the same, there are distinct differences in how they conduct an investigation. Evidence collection, interrogations, interviews, use-of-force issues, and so on. The list is long.

Research is critical. Your readers have diverse backgrounds which usually means there is always that person out there who knows if you make a mistake. Knowing how an agency conducts investigations, along with their everyday duties, adds realism and actually makes the writing simpler. 

There are benefits to getting the procedures right. It can make the difference in whether readers like your work or not. If they like it, your book could show up in a favorable review, and your fans can give it good marks in discussions with other potential readers. Unfortunately, if you get it wrong, it could mean a less than sterling review and none of us want that.

The best way to get what you need is to talk to a police officer from the agency you are writing about. In my case, it is San Francisco PD. I was lucky that my best friend’s son was an SFPD officer, and that son’s wife, also a sworn officer, was a forensics and crime scene technician. They were a big help whenever I needed a procedural question answered.

If the agency in your book is fictitious, model their procedures after an agency that most resembles your fictional one. Look for one with similar demographics, and size, and use their procedures. If you can, look up the agency’s website and contact (via email) the public information office. I have found they are very accommodating and willing to help.

Bottom line: getting it right is satisfying and enjoyable, and, I believe it makes the story easier to write. It is a perfect way to understand all-important details that will make your writing read as if you were there.



John Schembra spent a year with the 557th MP Company at Long Binh, South Vietnam in 1970.  His time as a combat M.P. provided the basis of his first book, M.P., A Novel of Vietnam, a work of fiction based in part on his personal experiences.  Upon completing his military service, John joined the Pleasant Hill Police Department, where he retired in 2001 as a Sergeant, after 30 years of service.  His second novel Retribution, a fictional story of the hunt for a serial killer in San Francisco, was published in the spring of 2007, and his third novel Diplomatic Immunity, was published in 2012. His fourth novel, Sin Eater, was released in 2016 and his fifth book, Blood Debt, was released in November of 2019. John lives in Concord, CA with Charlene, his wife of 47 years.

John Schembra

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