B.J. Smith writes fiction, essays, poetry and technical prose. As a daily newspaper reporter, he covered education, police and courthouse beats at various times. He also edited nationally syndicated opinion, health and home-repair columns, and proofread crossword puzzles (a task that inspired his first crime novel, by the way).
A cyclist, hiker, University of Iowa grad, U.S. Navy veteran, former PR guy – and onetime soda jerk, busboy and dishwasher – he publishes a blog at https://smithcompound.blog.
He and his wife, Susan, live in Longmont, Colorado. They enjoy bicycling, hiking and snowshoeing in the mountains.
Q. What's the story behind your Detective Red Shaw books?
The idea for the first Red Shaw book, "Blood Solutions," came from my years in journalism. After college I was a reporter for a couple of daily newspapers, then I landed at a news/features syndicate in Des Moines. As an editor there, one of my responsibilities was proofreading a weekly crossword puzzle. It wasn’t my favorite part of the job, but it sparked the idea that became my first crime novel.
My second Red Shaw novel, "North of Grand," grew out of my longtime interest in bicycling. I've spent a lot of time riding for fun, exercise and transportation, including several times across the state of Iowa in an annual pilgrimage called RAGBRAI and some other excursions in Colorado, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Cycling, especially long distances, gives a person a lot of time to think.
The beginning of "North of Grand" was triggered by frequent sightings of bike storage lockers in Boulder, Colorado, but the Des Moines lockers in the book are purely imaginary. (I did tell the transit authority there that I was going to do that.)
Q.Besides the writing and proofreading, what elements of journalism influence your books?
There were times in both Ottumwa and Clinton, on the daily-newspaper jobs, where I reported on crimes, a manslaughter trial, routine police beat news, in addition to my usual work as a general assignment reporter. I think I absorbed some of the police procedural stuff just by being around it and meeting some of the cops, not to mention loving to read detective stories and watching old TV shows like “Dragnet” and “Mannix.” I’ve also known a lot of physicians, my father and a sister among them, and I’ve dealt with psychiatrists and lawyers and other people who find their way into crime stories.
The Detective Edward "Red" Shaw novels offer what's been called "a fascinating window into an otherwise forgotten corner of the American Midwest. Des Moines in this series is neither the boring insurance town it used to be, nor just the hipster paradise it's become, but a gritty frontier town where no one is who or what they seem." Another reviewer described Shaw, the protagonist created by a former Iowa daily newspaper reporter, as "a neat balance between the hard-boiled detectives of past noir thrillers (think Sam Spade) and the somewhat less cynical, less worldly, but no less intelligent and capable detectives of more modern fiction."
Who killed cyclist Zachary Costa and stuffed him in a bike locker? Detective Red Shaw and his partner, Detective Phil Vega, probe the toxic world of amateur bicycle racing and a tangled web of cryptic social media messaging, drug trafficking and murder to find out.
A brutal crime in the woods of southern Iowa has deadly repercussions years later in the state’s capital city, where a string of gruesome murders tests the considerable skills of Detective Edward “Red” Shaw.