Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Born Ultimatum

I have enjoyed the company of Florida lawman and crime writer James O. Born over the last few years, both through his novels and during a personal encounter with him at ThrillerFest 2006 in Phoenix.

At the time of ThrillerFest, I’d just read his second novel, Shock Wave, which featured his alter ego, Bill Tasker, working with the FBI and ATF to track down a missing Stinger missile. I enjoyed the level of realism and humor in that tale. For the ThrillerFest conference, Born had brought a selection of weapons, and he proceeded to demonstrate how he and his colleagues at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) are trained in the use of pistols, shotguns, and nightsticks. He gave a scary demonstration with fellow crime-writer Shane Gericke of how to shoot to disable a perpetrator (not much like what you see on television or in the movies). After the demonstration, I introduced Born to my friend Damien Thompson, a British journalist with the Telegraph newspaper, who’d traveled with me to cover the Arizona conference. I listened and sucked back a number of beers while Born was grilled by Thompson about his work both as a novelist and a lawman.

Naturally, one of the topics of conversation was the level of realism in Born’s work. After returning home to Britain, I noticed that my fellow Rap Sheet contributor, Anthony Rainone, had asked a similar question in an interview for January Magazine:
Give me a specific example of something from your actual law-enforcement experiences that you spliced in one of your books.
In Shock Wave, there are a number of scenes, and one comes to mind the most. Years ago, I was on a surveillance of a guy that escaped. Five guys had tunneled out of a prison in Florida ... [They] went into the chapel and came up on the other side of the fence. They disappeared. Largest manhunt in history at that time. We literally beat the bushes, and after a couple of weeks, we captured three and one was killed. Still, one guy is out there. The FDLE is told to find this guy. He’s in prison for murder. He almost killed a guy on the way out. So, we’re doing everything possible to find him. We had a lead that he was possibly going to show up [at a particular apartment] in Miami. We go down there. Two of us, were on it, partners on the SWAT team. We grab the assignment because it’s overtime--it’s Sunday. Big money. So, I’m sitting there [on the stakeout]. I have an MP-5 machine gun on my lap--[because] he’s one of the most wanted guys in the country. I have a newspaper over [the machine gun], and I’m actually reading the paper. I’m sitting in an empty parking lot on a Sunday morning. Three younger Latin guys come up and rap on my window. I roll it down and ask them what they want. “Nothing. You want something?” they say. So I tell them to buzz off. They rap on the window harder. I roll down the window again--and it was almost exactly like the [scene in Shock Wave]. The guy says, “In this neighborhood, you either want something, or you got something.” They knew or had already figured out I was a cop, but they didn’t know why I was there. “You either want something, or got something.” I said, “Oh, I got this submachine gun.” And I pulled it out. How often are you confronted, where you actually have a submachine gun? And they stepped back so quick that one guy tripped on the curb and goes down. And they ran. Now, is that the official, proper way to do things? No. But it shut them up, sent them on their way, and we were able to complete our mission. So that stuff I put in there. And there were several situations where we had to question members of the [Ku Klux] Klan, or whatever groups the Klan has become. And what those guys say to me, I put in my books. I could’ve picked any group, but I chose the Klan guys because I know what morons they are. Every time someone talks in my books, I can picture [from real life] what they are saying and what they are doing. And I try to put in that detail, so that when you are reading, you can get the [actual] feel of [the characters].
I bumped into Born again last summer at ThrillerFest in New York City, and asked him to sign my copy of his fourth novel, Field of Fire. It was a departure for this author. After a trio of books featuring Tasker, it seems he’d decided to focus instead on an ATF agent named Alex Duarte. Born was going all federal on me!

And now he’s coming back with a second Duarte novel, Burn Zone, due out next month. An e-mail note from Born’s publishers gives me some information about what to expect from this latest book:
It was supposed to be a low-level bust for ATF agent Alex Duarte, with the hope that he could work it up the ladder to someone important. He just didn’t know how important. In New Orleans to check out a mysterious Panamanian named Ortiz, who likes to trade guns illegally and import marijuana by the truckload, Duarte suddenly finds himself in the middle of something bigger than he has ever known. Because guns and drugs are bad enough--but there are other things that are much, much worse.

A shadowy colonel who is not what he seems … a white supremacist intent on becoming “the man who changed America” … an attractive FBI agent with a lot of pull and a lot of secrets … Duarte knows he’s in deep with these characters. He just hopes it’s not over his head.
For those of you who already love James O. Born’s work, look for Burn Zone on Valentine’s Day. The author is embarking on a U.S. book tour to publicize his work; details are here. And if you haven’t had a chance to read this author’s fiction yet, Chapter 1 of Burn Zone is available right here. Just don’t count on being able to read that first chapter alone, without plunking down for the full book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ali, thanks so much for mentioning me in the same sentence as James O. Born. Jim is one of the most gifted crime writers in America, and will go on to be one of the great ones in the business.

Shane Gericke