Friday, November 2, 2012

Teaching the Detective, a guest blog by Tim O'Mara

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Most people might balk at the idea of a cop-turned special ed teacher, but since my husband is a trail attorney-turned special ed teacher, I perked up my ears when I first heard about Tim O'Mara's Sacrifice Fly. In this debut mystery, a former cop, bounced from the force when his knees blow out, has become a teacher in Brooklyn. He thinks his investigative days are over, until one of his eighth graders stops showing up for class...

Tim was inspired by his own time doing home visits as a Brooklyn teacher, and by his dealings with NYPD Youth Officers as a middle school dean. Today, he proves that detecting isn't just something the law does.

There’s something not quite right with the guy sitting across the table from me.

He knows it. I know it. But he’s not talking.

That’s why they called me. I have a rep for being good at getting guys like this to talk. To open up. If they go silent, it’s my job to pick up on the physical clues. Body language, subtle gestures, something in their eyes.

Right about now, I’m starting to think maybe they called the wrong man. This guy’s as smart as they told me he was. Probably smarter.

I decide to give him a test. A task. Something to do requiring a set of skills unique to the situation: some observable, others less so.

He begins easily enough. This guy may be quiet and hard to figure out, but he’s willing to please me. Most of them are. That’s what I count on. The quicker they give me what I want, the quicker they’re rid of me. That’s what they think, anyway.

I watch him for a while. I ease up out of my seat and walk to the back of the room. There’s usually not much to see from back here, but I give it a shot. I notice his back’s nice and straight. The head goes up and down more than it should, but that could just be a physical tick.
I move around to the side. Not in front of him, just enough to give me an angle to observe as he continues to work on what I’ve assigned. The head is still going up and down every three to five seconds. Too much. I look at his hands, his shoulders, his face.

And there it is. In the eyes. Poker players call it a “tell.” I call it squinting.

“You wear glasses?” I ask.

“No,” he says, careful to avoid my gaze, still plodding through the job.

“When’s the last time you had your eyes checked?”

He shrugs, and mumbles to the paper. “I don’t know. A few years ago?”

That’s too long, I think. Especially for a seventh grader.

I take a seat across the table from his parents. They’re nervous: part of them wants to hear what I have to say. The other part does not. That’s the way it is in my business. I teach special ed.
“It’s a vision thing,” I say and watch as they both let out a sigh of relief. I slide a piece of paper across the table. “Call these guys. They’re good at what they do.”

A few days pass and I get a phone call. Turns out I was right. The kid’s vision is twenty/twenty. The problem is visual tracking. It’s been a problem for a while, but the kid stayed shut, afraid he’d need glasses. He doesn’t. His eyes wander too much when he’s reading, either from the board or a book. The good news? It’s treatable with therapy. His mother tells me he’ll start next week and thanks me for my efforts.

“You’re welcome,” I say and then apologize for cutting the call short. I’ve got another kid waiting outside my room.

Did you have a teacher that inspired you? Brought out the best in you? Did you have a teacher that you swore was telepathic and had eyes in the back of her head? Tell us your about your most memorable educator, and two lucky commentors will win a copy of Sacrifice Fly.

Tim O'Mara has been teaching math and special education in the New York City public schools since 1987. He has written several short stories and is currently writing his second novel, Chin Music, another Raymond Donne mystery acquired by St. Martin's Press. For the past twelve years, he has hosted and produced a bi-weekly reading series of poetry and prose in New York's East Village. You can find out more about Tim and Sacrifice Fly at his website and on his Facebook page.


  1. Raymond Donne sounds like the teacher all kids want . . . committed, concerned, caring . . . I am looking forward to reading “Sacrifice Fly.”

  2. My most memorable teacher--so easy. Faye Logsdon, English teacher par excellence. I found her by accident--signed up for college prep english my senior year (now days would be considered an honors class). The first day of class she reviewed parts of speech. I'd always been lucky (or intuitive) enough to get parsing mostly right, but as I sat there listening, the light finally came on. I truly understood it.

    She was an amazing lady. How she ended up at a small high school in a small town . . . Who knows. We were definitely the richer for it.

    Sacrifice Fly sounds intriguing; yet another TBR book to add to my ever-expanding list. At this rate, I'll have to become immortal to finish all the reading!

  3. Sacrifice Fly sounds like a book I'm going to want to read.

    My most memorable teacher, hands down, was Dave Taylor, my homeroom teacher in Grade 9. He encouraged my love of math and physics and let me borrow from his library of books. He found something to encourage in every student in that class.

  4. Welcome, Raymond. I'm looking forward to reading SACRIFICE FLY. Love the title!

    My favorite teacher: Mrs. Salem. High school advanced composition and Shakespeare. Under her tutelage, I wrote my first serious piece of creative prose--a Shakespearean sonnet actually--that she copied for the class and read out loud, and also passed out to the other teachers. I felt the inkling to write then, but I ignored it for a long while to pursue "practical" careers.

    After college, I was hanging out in my town's bookstore/cafe (The Book Depot in Mill Valley, for those who know Marin), and there she was! By then, I'd already decided on a career move from finance to book publishing in NYC. I also planned to write fiction. When I told her, she said that she wasn't surprised, that I was always a writer. Validation from my favorite teacher! Talk about walking on air.

  5. This sounds like a treasure!! As a retired Middle School teacher, I know how great the emotional connections can be,

  6. Awww..I love this. Thank you.

    My English teacher in high school, Mr. Thornburg, and my Shakespeare professsor in college, Mrs. BLitch, are both in my acknowledgements of my books. I bet I think of them every day. And I made my hero (in PRIME TIME) an English teacher, you know?

    Thanks so much for this moment..and congratulations on the book!

  7. Mr. Shulstad, 12th grade advanced math. Taught us that math was fun, was for girls(too), how to THINK, to believe in ourselves, that anything was possible! RIP my friend.

  8. Coach Mike McWilliams (but really, just "Coach"). He was my advisor in high school, but he was my swim coach from the time I was about twelve. He took his job as "advisor" very seriously. Every time he met with our class he said, "Whatever you're thinking...Don't." Very safe advice for a gangly bunch of teenagers.

    As a coach, he helped me discover leadership qualities I didn't know I had (which was good since I was a lousy swimmer!), and taught me some very colorful language.

    This book sounds great! Thanks, Reds, for another great introduction!

  9. Whoops. I meant to say "sage advice," but it kinda works both ways...