Wayne Zurl grew up on Long Island and retired after working for twenty years with the Suffolk County Police Department, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in New York and the nation. For thirteen of those years he served as a section commander supervising investigators.
Prior to his police career, Zurl served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the reserves.
In 2006 he began writing crime fiction. Seven of his Sam Jenkins mysteries have been produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. His first full-length novel, A New Prospect, traditionally published by Black Rose Writing, debuted in January 2011.
Zurl left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Barbara.
Connect with Wayne at Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/waynezurl or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001483038544.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Wayne. Can you tell everyone what your latest book, A New Prospect, is all about?
Sam Jenkins never thought about being a fish out of water during the twenty years he spent solving crimes in New York. But things change, and after retiring to Tennessee, he gets that feeling. Jenkins becomes a cop again and is thrown headlong into a murder investigation and a steaming kettle of fish, down-home style.
The victim, Cecil Lovejoy, couldn’t have deserved it more. His death was the inexorable result of years misspent and appears to be no great loss, except the prime suspect is Sam’s personal friend.
Jenkins’ abilities are attacked when Lovejoy’s influential widow urges politicians to reassign the case to state investigators.
Feeling like “a pork chop at a bar mitzvah” in his new workplace, Sam suspects something isn’t kosher when the family tries to force him out of the picture.
In true Jenkins style, Sam turns common police practice on its ear to insure an innocent man doesn’t fall prey to an imperfect system and the guilty party receives appropriate justice.
A NEW PROSPECT takes the reader through a New South resolutely clinging to its past and its traditional way of keeping family business strictly within the family.
The story not only shows how the protagonist solves a murder, but asks: Can a middle-aged man come out of retirement and effectively lead a small police department and can a life-long northerner who relocates to the south function professionally in an unfamiliar culture?
Q: Is this your first book?
Wayne: A NEW PROSPECT is my first full-length novel in the Sam Jenkins mystery series and is the prequel to the eight novelettes which are currently being produced as audio books and published as eBooks.
Q: Why did you decide to write a police detective novel?
Wayne: Under the author’s rule of “write about what you know” I had no choice. I worked as a cop for twenty years in New York and now I live in Tennessee. I can cover both bases.
Q: Can you tell us all about your main character?
Wayne: Sam Jenkins is a middle-aged retired detective lieutenant from New York who moved to east Tennessee. He’s a veteran of active and reserve duty in the Army and amazingly (for a cop) has been married to the same woman for many years.
When buying a restored 1967 Austin-Healy doesn’t exactly satisfy his mid-life crisis, Sam learns about an available police chief’s job in nearby Prospect, Tennessee, he applies and with his credentials is hired immediately.
Sam has a unique sense of humor that most readers seem to love, but many of the local people he deals with just don’t understand. And he’s a throwback to the days of cinema cowboy heroes–he’s uncontrollably compelled to do the right thing.
Q: Interesting that you live in the mountains of Tennessee. Would you like to tell us what you love the most about the area?
Wayne: The Great Smoky Mountains are a popular tourist attraction. The National Park here is the most visited park in the country. It’s like being on vacation all year long. But Tennessee contrasts drastically with New York and Long Island where I lived and worked for much of my life. The slower pace and unique atmosphere makes retirement enjoyable.
Q: In your opinion, what is the key ingredient for writing great police detective novels?
Wayne: I have to use several words to identify that ingredient, but they all boil down to one concept. Here they are with brief descriptions:
Authenticity. You have to construct your characters carefully and realistically. You can’t have a twenty-six year-old person with only 2 1/2 years on the job cast as a detective sergeant in a homicide unit. That could never happen. Give your cops realistic crimes to investigate. Local cops don’t get involved with espionage or political intelligence cases. Likewise, federal agencies do not investigate state penal law violations.
Believability. I heard four experienced screen writers discussing what makes a good story and script. The consensus was that an author should stop just short of going over the top to maintain the believability of their story. I agree. Don’t have a 120 pound female cop kick the stuffing out of a 250 pound motorcycle outlaw unless she’s a well practiced self-defense expert. Her limited defensive tactics training in the police academy does not make her invincible.
Reality. Be sure your story could really happen. Police/detective/crime stories are not fantasies. Sure, I know some fans love all the James Bond-like over the top action, but I believe that belongs in a thriller where a vast amount of suspension of disbelief is needed. I’ve seen good cops do outrageous things to get the job done, but I’d rather not have my detective pop open the crystal of his watch, deploy a parachute canopy attached to his wrist, and leap off a twenty story building to catch a fleeing felon.
I think those three words equal credibility. It’s easy to write a police mystery that’s fast paced, interesting, surprising, exciting, and still be down to earth. Look at guys like James Lee Burke, Robert B. Parker, Joe Wambaugh, and Elmore Leonard.
Q: Finally, I like to ask authors this question. What is your passion? What is it that you’re more passionate about than anything else?
Wayne: I hate questions like this. They make me look too far into my head for an answer. I guess you should read a few Sam Jenkins stories to see what principles or causes he and I hold dearly. And I hate to get overly serious so, I’ll say I can really get passionate about good food and I think the three most emotionally stimulating things in the world are vintage British sports cars, classic wooden sailboats, and good-looking women over forty.
Q: Thanks for the interview, Wayne. Do you have any final words?
Wayne: Sure. I love to have the last word. I’d like to invite all your readers to try a Sam Jenkins mystery. It’s unrealistic to say, “If you don’t like it I’ll give you your money back.” But I can tell you reviewers have said things from, “Sam Jenkins is my new favorite character.” to “I didn’t know a police mystery could have so many genuinely funny moments.”