Interview with Wayne Zurl

Published 2016-02-04.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Good old-fashioned hard copies.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on Long Island, just fifteen miles from New York City, and lived there for forty-six years. I spent twenty of those years with the Suffolk County Police Department. These factors makes me quite qualified and happy to write about the protagonist in my series of police mysteries, since he and I share many similarities in life. He's a former New York detective who is now employed as chief of police in a small city in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee, coincidentally just down the road from where I now live.
When did you first start writing?
If you don't count the reams of reports I wrote while working in a large and busy police department, I began collecting money for writing non-fiction magazine articles shortly after I retired and left New York to live in Tennessee. After ten years of non-fiction, I decided to try writing crime fiction. My first of 27 novelettes, A LABOR DAY MURDER, was published in 2009. A NEW PROSPECT, the first of the Sam Jenkins mystery full-length novels was released in January of 2011. I currently have seven novels published or under contract waiting for release.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The most recently released is an anthology of five novelettes. Here's the dust jacket summary:

Five mysteries spanning more than four decades in the life of career police officer Sam Jenkins.
THE BOAT TO PRISON—set in 1963 when a teenaged Jenkins and his friends attempt to foil a plot to kill a Long Island union leader and keep Sam’s shop steward father from doing hard time.
FAVORS drops readers into a New York of 1985 when Lieutenant Sam Jenkins mounts an unofficial investigation to learn why one of his civilian employees isn’t overjoyed about her promotion to police officer and uncovers a history of unreported and unspeakable crimes.
ODE TO WILLIE JOE, ANGEL OF THE LORD, and MASSACRE AT BIG BEAR CREEK brings the reader up to date with three adventures of Chief Jenkins and the officers of Prospect PD, a police department serving a small town in the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee. UFO sightings, a serial killer on the loose, and the most brutal murders and feud between mountain folk since the Hatfields and McCoys pushes Sam to use every trick he’s learned in a lifetime of detective work to resolve these incidents on his “peaceful side of the Smokies.”
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love to read the many positive reviews from readers who I never envisioned as a target audience: women over fifty. It tickles me when a reader says that not only did they enjoy a good bit of cop fiction, but that they found so much of it humorous. That's just real life police work. If you don't allow a little humor into the job, you might end up trading in your Harris tweed sport coat for a straight-jacket.
What are you working on next?
I just signed the contracts for a new novel called HONOR AMONG THIEVES. This is what I suggested as the dust jacket summary.

Cops run into all kinds of characters on the job. But when Chief Sam Jenkins meets four people from his former life as a New York detective, it throws him for a loop.

The first was a low level gangster named Carlo “Carly Nickels” DeCenzo—lying on a slab in the Blount County morgue with Sam’s name and phone number written on a scrap of paper in his pocket.

Next there’s Gino Musucci, infamous New Jersey crime boss who says he wants to retire and relocate—to Sam’s town of Prospect, Tennessee.

And there’s Dixie Foster, Sam’s former secretary and the woman who wanted to steal him away from his wife. Sam wonders why she’s turned up after eighteen years.

With Carly’s murder still unsolved, another body shows up in a Prospect motel—that of a retired detective from Sam’s past.

And then Sam receives a letter from an old mobster who warns him about a contract on his life.

Is this any way for a cop to spend his time on the “peaceful side of the Smokies?”
Who are your favorite authors?
There are several established writers who I admire for different reasons.
James Lee Burke can write descriptions of places and people like few others. He’s a real master—poetic in many cases.
Robert B. Parker has taught me to minimize my writing—believe in an economy of words. He can tell a good story in the fewest words possible.
Nelson DeMille, the guy I like to call “the other writer from Long Island” can turn out a seemingly endless supply of quality “smart-ass” dialogue for his main character, Detective John Corey.
Raymond Chandler came up with a great supply of outrageous metaphors in his hard-boiled Philip Marlowe stories and novels. Loren D. Estleman picks up the tradition in his Amos Walker detective novels.
And Bernard Cornwell writes historical fiction like no other. His battle and action scenes are so intense and fast-paced, I need a drink when I finish one. Or is that just a rationalization?
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I've spent a year restoring a vintage bay boat and am now back into fishing. We book a few "big water" charters each year and spend other times out on the lakes in Tennessee. After a long hiatus from lots of time on the bays around Long Island, we're back casting, trolling and bottom fishing for everything from lake trout and salmon to king mackerel.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first short story I did was for a friend's website and was limited to 200 words. I ran over a little, but still made the cut. It's called STREET JUSTICE.
Jamal Willie Walker raped and murdered a six-year-old girl in a cracker box home on the seven hundred block of Taylor Avenue.
We traced him from North Bellport in Suffolk County, where the crime occurred, to the third floor of a six family tenement in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
I kicked in the door and my partner covered the room with his revolver. As the door snapped open and slammed against the wall, Walker grabbed an old pearl handled, “tuxedo” Colt automatic from the dinette table.
“Two against one, Jamal,” I said. “Pull that trigger and no matter what, you’re dead.”
His eyes widened. He believed me.
“Whoa, Man. No trouble here. Ain’t my day to die.” He raised his hands, still holding the pistol.
My Smith & Wesson stared at his chest and I looked down the barrel. “Paul,” I said, “Go outside and make sure those uniforms are covering the fire escape in case our friend bails out that open window.”
“You gonna take his gun?”
“Close the door on your way out.”
“Lemme cuff him for you,” he said.
“Make sure those patrolmen cover the back. I’m good here.”
Paul gave me a questioning look.
“Go ahead,” I said. It wasn’t a suggestion.
My partner left and I waited fifteen seconds. “Jamal, you burned that girl with a cigarette before you raped and strangled her.” I shook my head. “Bad move . . . Sayonara, sport.”
What kind of personality does Sam Jenkins, the main character in your books, have?
Sam is what cops call a dinosaur. He started his police career on the tail end of the wild and wooly days and has never updated his methods—He doesn’t have to. He gets results his own way. And he’s his own man. Peer pressure always was and still is meaningless to him. Politicians try, but can’t influence him. In A NEW PROSPECT he says, “I don’t worry about pissing off the politicos. What are they going to do, fire me from a job I didn’t want in the first place?”
Besides that bit of an abrasive personality, his good qualities include a fierce loyalty to his family and friends. If you do him a favor, (and he’s always asking for them) he’ll buy you lunch and do two favors in return.
What kind of a background does Sam have?
Sam grew up in New York and after five years of active duty with the Army during the Viet Nam War, took a job with a very large police department on Long Island. Like everyone else there, he started his career in patrol. He advance to a detective squad, got promoted to sergeant and worked in the Organized Crime Unit, was promoted to lieutenant and served as a section commander in a few specialized units. After that, he retired to Tennessee with his wife Kate and their old Scottish terrier, Bitsey. Then he became chief at Prospect PD.
Would you say Sam is an introvert or an extrovert?
Sam is an odd cross of the two. He hates parties, weddings, and Bar Mitzvahs, or anything where more than six people gather. He doesn’t like to be the center of attention, but when he walks into a room, he’d like everyone there to stop talking and see what he wants. That must be a holdover from his Army days. If an attractive woman asks him a question, he’d probably preface his answer with, “You’re absolutely beautiful.” And have no expectations other than the opportunity to tell the truth. He’s also a pretty clever and humorous guy.
You and your character Sam Jenkins share much of the same background - you both worked as police officers in NY, spent time in Vietnam, and moved to the mountains of Tennessee. How much of you is in the character Sam?
No one would believe me if I said Sam was a totally autonomous character—and he’s not. Sometimes I tell people we grew up in the same neighborhood, joined the Army together, and sat in the same class at the police academy. Coincidentally, my wife Barbara and Kate Jenkins volunteer at the public library, entertain the residents of local nursing homes, and play mahjongg, too.
I use Sam to fulfill the old author’s maxim of write what you know. All the back-story references I use to develop Sam’s character require no research to make them believable if I know them to be true. If Sam speaks as I do, writing his dialogue is a snap. And a middle-aged protagonist can have all the aches and pains and complaints his biographer experiences and no one can question their validity in my presence without an argument. I won’t mention the advantages of having an imaginary friend.
Do you find your novels require a lot of research, or does your 20 years on the force provide most of the detail you need to make your stories seem real?
I’d like to tell you that I spend months feverishly combing the Internet for ideas and technical information, but in truth, I do very little research for my stories. Most everything is based on a case I investigated, supervised, or just knew a lot about. Often, to make things more interesting, I composite two or more real incidents to get one piece of more exciting fiction. Making Sam’s professional reference points the same as mine, allows me to send him off to solve the legal problems in Prospect, Tennessee like an old-timer would. We’re both dinosaurs who barely know how to use a cell phone. If I need any up-to-date information on 21st century forensics, I call the real life Jackie Shuman who works as a crime scene investigator for the county sheriff and ask if they still use the Harrison test for gunshot residue, spray ninhydren to develop fingerprints on paper, or whatever.
What message are you trying to get across with your books?
If there was one central message in any or all my books, it’s that Sam Jenkins is his own man. He’s honest and unaffected by peer pressure. He can’t be bought. Politicians can’t influence him and he’d rather do the right thing and lose the job he reluctantly took than compromise his ethics. I think more people should remember the old Army motto, “Death Before Dishonor.” Well, maybe death is a little drastic. How about, “Unemployment Before Dishonor?” He has a couple of pensions to collect even if he gets fired.
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Latest books by This Author

Festival of Felonies
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 11. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 62,590. Language: English. Published: March 31, 2020 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Short Stories
A collection of small town, police procedural mystery stories from best-selling author, Wayne Zurl.
Sins of Eden
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 15. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 69,160. Language: English. Published: December 11, 2018 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
A routine missing person’s case sends Sam Jenkins and John Gallagher into the world of industrial pollution, environmental activists and profuse ambiguities.
A Bleak Prospect
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 10. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 86,100. Language: English. Published: April 24, 2018 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
A serial killer is preying on the young prostitutes of east Tennessee and only Sam Jenkins has the information to catch him.
Graceland on Wheels
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 12. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 69,530. Language: English. Published: December 5, 2017 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
A collection of six crime novelettes that take you on a trip through the more off-beat regions of law enforcement.
The Great Smoky Mountain Bank Job
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 16. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 68,310. Language: English. Published: September 26, 2017 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
Six police mysteries investigated by career cop Sam Jenkins. From an old robbery-homicide that made national news in 1968 to a grisly murder reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO to a suspicious death in a nursing home, Jenkins and the officers of Prospect PD handle them in stride. Add to those, the murder of an aging movie star, the attempted murder of a retired detective and a bank robbery th
Murder in Knoxville
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 14. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 66,120. Language: English. Published: July 18, 2017 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Themes & motifs » Crime
Sam Jenkins is the new police chief in town and everyone wonders, will Prospect, Tennessee ever be the same?
Honor Among Thieves
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 8. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 72,790. Language: English. Published: March 14, 2017 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
Old-time mobsters, dead bodies, and a former love complicate Sam Jenkins’ life as he attempts to enjoy his new police job on “the peaceful side of the Smokies.”
A New Prospect
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 7. Price: Free! Words: 82,480. Language: English. Published: November 21, 2016 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural
(4.00 from 2 reviews)
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. 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 Can of Worms
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 6. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 82,590. Language: English. Published: September 27, 2016 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Police Procedural, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
Against his better judgment, Police Chief Sam Jenkins hires Dallas Finchum, nephew of local corrupt politicians. Now, Finchum is accused of a rape that occurred when he attended college three years earlier.
A Touch of Morning Calm
Series: Sam Jenkins Mysteries, Book 5. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 87,650. Language: English. Published: July 12, 2016 by Melange Books, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Mystery & detective » International crime
Chief Sam Jenkins runs headlong into Tennessee’s faction of Korean organized crime when a mobster tries to shake down two former call girls attempting to establish a legitimate business. Soon, bodies begin piling up—all with a Korean connection—in Sam’s town of Prospect and nearby Knoxville.
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