April 2, 2013

When a Detective Writes Romance @BookstoGoNow#RLFblog

Byzantine Gold

Romance Lives Forever welcomes Chris Karlsen back to the blog for an article on writing romantic suspense books as a retired detective.

When I retired after twenty-five years in law enforcement, I thought I was pretty much done with all things police related, other than watching a couple of shows on television. I could finally write the romance story I’d had in my head for three decades. Since it was a romance and not a thriller or mystery, it never occurred to me that I’d wind up applying skills directly and indirectly learned conducting investigations. How wrong I was.

My first two books, Heroes Live Forever, and Journey in Time, were part of a paranormal series. Heroes had a reincarnation aspect to the story. The hero and his best friend are aware of what is happening when they enter into the experience. The heroine has no memory of her previous life and connection to the hero. In order to convince her that the outrageous tale he tells is true, as I wrote the scene, I put him across the interview table from me. I mentally returned to my detective time. I asked myself what questions would I ask a victim/witness/suspect. What answers would they need to give me to convince me they were telling the truth? To convince the heroine, they had to convince me first. If I believed it, I could make it believable on the page.

By the time I started Journey in Time, I knew I wasn’t done with my police experience. This story required knowledge of evidence, along with another exchange involving an outrageous tale to convert a doubter to a believer. In this story a modern couple has been transported back to Fourteenth Century England, an England preparing for war with France. The hero in this book is the best friend from the first novel. He is a product of reincarnation. He has lived in this time and place before, and retains his memories from the period. The heroine is a modern London attorney who has been caught in the time portal with the hero. This time it is his turn to sit across the interview table in my mental interrogation room. I put myself in her place and questioned him relentlessly. I searched for the answers I needed him to give to make me believe that I am indeed part of a terrible and dangerous situation with no clue how it happened or how to return to the modern world. Unless they find a way out, he will die in battle. History cannot be changed, including his death. She would be alone in the alien medieval world.

In that story, there’s a scene where the king orders the heroine to stay as a “guest” of a wool merchant, who’s a favorite of the queen. It turns out the man is a vicious brute who attempts to sexually assault her. She fights off the initial assault but is badly beaten in the process. The hero locates her and brings her back to court and the wool merchant back to stand trial. The merchant falsely accuses her of a crime. His testimony is nothing but lies in an effort to defend the beating he gave her. The heroine must present her side of the case before the king and entire court. I used my experience testifying in criminal trials and had the heroine ask the questions a prosecutor would’ve asked me or the defendant. I had the heroine use evidence that I’d use, if this had been my case to present to a judge or jury. Lacking the technical equipment and scientific means we have at our fingertips today, I relied on the most obvious physical evidence available that could be seen and touched. I didn’t want the trial to be an easy time for her. In my head, I laid out the crime scene and visualized what she could take from there back to court. I went over the scene again and again, like a detective does looking for anything I might’ve missed.
My last two books, Golden Chariot and Byzantine Gold, are from a different series. They’re romantic thrillers. Golden Chariot involves the murder of a Turkish government agent, artifact smuggling, and the kidnapping of the heroine, a nautical archaeologist. She has a loose connection to a private collector who purchases looted relics on the Black Market. The Turkish agent sent to investigate the first agent’s murder must also investigate the heroine further. Between my detective background and my research, I was able to put together enough of the foreign legal process to make the investigation relatively accurate. It should be noted that much is different with regards to due process and the judiciary system. I was also able to use the heroine’s ignorance of how a foreign agency employs due process to create a great deal of fear in her.

Toward the end of the story, she is kidnapped and taken to a contract killer’s compound. I had a very basic, I stress very basic, idea of the tactics needed to extract her. Here my background came in handy but not as a result of my personal experience but with who I knew. I had a friend who headed up a SWAT team for a major city. He was also in the Marine Corps Reserves. After the invasion of Iraq, he was deployed to both Baghdad and Fallujah. His job was to teach young Marines urban crisis entry. He had retired from both the police department and the military when I was writing Golden Chariot. I called upon him to help me with the tactics, including the use of explosives and how the extraction team would deploy once they gained entry into the compound. Phone calls, emails, and drafts went back and forth. He was a great help and I was and am incredibly grateful for his patience and assistance.

Byzantine Gold involves the contract killer from Golden Chariot, in addition to a terrorist cell. The killer is hunting the hero, bent on revenge. In a scene early in the story, he plans to shoot the hero. I fired several different types of weapons over my career. I was able to use my knowledge of range capacity, in addition to types of weapons the killer might employ build that scene. I also used my experience in a later scene involving a sniper type attack.

In the end of Byzantine Gold, there’s a tactical operation where the terrorists are involved. As I mentioned, my tactical knowledge is limited. But once again, I was able to call upon a friend who is more than a friend, I asked my husband. He spent three years in the military and thirty-one in law enforcement. While we sat in a hotel bar in Chicago, he helped me lay out the schematics for the operation on cocktail napkins. While I was talking about terrorists and how they’d approach, I noticed the man next to me giving me a rather strange look. I half expected Homeland Security or the FBI or someone from one of the alphabet agencies to rush into the bar and drag me off for questioning. I quickly inserted a code word for terrorist.

In conclusion, I can only say that when I began writing, I was firm in my conviction that in no way would I relive my career through my characters. I did not want to write cop stories. I love to read them and have several favorite authors who write fantastic ones. They weren’t for me. I laugh now as I see in every story a part of the last twenty-five years coming through my character’s lives. Fortunately, it has been to our mutual benefit.

About the Author

Chris Karlsen
I was born and raised in Chicago. My father was a history professor and my mother was, and is, a voracious reader. I grew up with a love of history and books.
My parents also love traveling, a passion they passed onto me. I wanted to see the places I read about, see the land and monuments from the time periods that fascinated me. I’ve had the good fortune to travel extensively throughout Europe, the Near East, and North Africa.
I am a retired police detective. I spent twenty-five years in law enforcement with two different agencies. My desire to write came in my early teens. After I retired, I decided to pursue that dream.
I currently live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband, four rescue dogs and a rescue horse.
I’m close to finishing the first draft of book 3 in my Knights in Time series. After that, I hope to start book 3 in my Dangerous Waters series, which the series Golden Chariot and Byzantine Gold are from.

Previous Books

Heroes Live Forever (book 1 in Knights in Time series)
Journey in Time (book 2 in Knights in Time series)
Golden Chariot (book 1 in Dangerous Waters series)

Books Coming Soon

Knight Blindness (Knights in Time series)

Find Me Here


  1. Hi Kayelle,
    I hope everyone enjoys the article. Thank you for the opportunity to talk with your followers.
    Chris Karlsen

  2. Replies
    1. Hi Ella,
      Thank you for Tweeting:) I still haven't tweeted. I plan to start soon.

      I don't have to relive my career but "cherry picking" aspects of my experience is quite convenient:)
      Chris K.

    2. Thanks Ella. This was a cool look into how experience plays into our writing, wasn't it?

    3. Hi Kayelle,

      Just thought to add a funny little tidbit, of the 6 ladies in my critique group, I am the only one who hasn't written a cop story. All the others have at least one romance with a cop hero. (smiles)


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