His new book is STEAL THE SHOW, and it's smart, compelling, fast-paced and oh-so-original. And today we're givng away a copy to a lucky commenter!
Like Hank, I work in the film and video business, but unlike Hank, I free lance. So I work on lots of different types of projects. I like this because I have to be good at everything, from hand-held, fly-on-the-wall documentary shooting, to lighting tabletop products shots, to shooting fiction films.
I've also shot and directed a lot of cop shows, and made friends with police, FBI, and DEA agents. Most of these guys are born storytellers. You can bet that the stories I heard and the crime scenes I visited have helped my writing.
Now, I have to tell you, that a lot of the criminals in these cases did not fit into the super-genius category. For instance, one guy killed his girlfriend, then got rid of the body by placing it in a 55 gallon metal drum. He burned her remains over a number of days, then emptied what was left into a nearby stream. Pretty smart, right?
Except he still had to get rid of the metal drum. So he waits until night, finds a construction site, and places his drum alongside two dozen others.
Problem was, the next morning the supervisor comes in and notices there's one green drum among two dozen blue ones. (In the dark, the killer couldn't see the color difference.)
The bottom of the drum contained bone fragments (which the killer neglected to hose out). A forensic anthropologist was able to match the fragments to the missing woman's height, weight, and age.
But what's worse, the killer, once he finished, went to a bar and told the dead woman's brother-in-law that he had killed her. Did that last fact make it into the show? No. Why not? Because, as the producer explained to me, for the show to work, these criminals need to be perceived as smart, even though they often weren't.
Hey, it's TV. Reality can take a backseat.
Before I went on location to shoot and direct these shows, the production company's researcher would send me scripts, treatments, police reports, all about the crime. One show was about identity theft, and I came across something extraordinary:
A wealthy man, let's call him Klemson, meets a handyman, who we'll call Blake. Blake does a few odd jobs for Klemson, meanwhile casing the guy. Blake discovers that Klemson, an older guy, lives alone, and his children are far away. Klemson has money. And he trusts Blake.
So Blake has an idea – kill Klemson, hide the body, but keep Klemson's checkbook. That way "Klemson" can write checks to Blake. Maybe not the most original crime in the world, but it works. For a while.
Then Klemson's family begins to wonder where he is – he hasn't answered his phone in a week, and he always lets them know when he's going away. The family calls the cops. Going through Klemson's canceled checks, the cops find some of them are to a mortgage company. But Klemson's mortgage was paid in full. The mortgage company tells the cops that the check went to a property owned by Blake.
So now the cops question Blake, who says that he did odd jobs for Klemson, and asked that Klemson write checks directly to Blake's mortgage company. The cops show Blake a photo of Klemson. Is this the guy?
Now, Blake thinks he's being clever and says no, that's not him. It was a different guy. This way, Blake hopes to throw the cops off the trail. The cops hand Blake over to a police sketch artist, and after an hour or so, the sketch artist shows the cops the picture.
And it's a picture of Blake! No kidding, this guy describes the perp to the sketch artist, and unconsciously, comes up with a sketch of himself.
I'm reading this, and grab the phone to call the researcher. Is this for real? Absolutely, the researcher assures me. Then I call the producer. This has got to be in the show, I say. Why? Because it's fantastic, yet at the same time rings true. I can believe it, but it's still amazing.
No, the producer says, that could never be in the show. Once we depict these criminals as stupid, the show falls flat. Forget about it.
But I can't -- details like this are what makes these stories so interesting. I'll be using this piece in my writing someday, when I find the right place for it.
HANK: I must say, nothing as hilarious as the too-dark-for-the-drums story. So how about you, Reds? And if you're rushing to get ready for your fourth of July celebrations, in honor of Steal the Show, you can just tell us your favorite summer movie to be entered to win Tom's wonderful book!
Tom's new book is STEAL THE SHOW--and what a great cover, huh?
****Not every private eye would try to adopt an abandoned baby, but Willis Gidney’s case is special – he was abandoned too. And having barely survived DC foster care, Willis can’t quite seem to let the system take over, especially with a child like Sarah. The DC authorities have a very different idea about fatherhood -- it does not include unmarried private eyes. That means Willis needs money for a lawyer, so he takes a job he shouldn’t—breaking into a film pirating center for a code-writing hacker named Rush Gemelli. Willis thinks this is a onetime venture, but Gemelli blackmails him into joining up with his father, Chuck Gemelli, the head of the motion picture lobby in Washington. When Chuck’s former partner is murdered, it seems like someone may be playing Gidney for the fall guy.
Add to that the unwanted attentions of a crazed actress, a foster care case worker from hell, and the Vietnamese and Salvadoran gangs out to kill him, and it’s all Gidney can do to keep from getting his movie ticket punched—permanently.
Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy-winning director/cameraman who also writes mysteries. His first book, DRINK THE TEA, won the PWA/St Martin's Press Competition for Best First Novel. His second book, STEAL THE SHOW, comes out this July. His blog tour continues this week at AllisonLeotta.com, International Thriller Writers, and Murderati .