Murder he wrote

"Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley publishes his first novel, a murder mystery set in Seattle. "

  • Thursday, September 28, 2000 6:00am
  • News

“Every morning, Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley peels himself from bed at 5 o’clock to sit in his kitchen and write in the silence of the morning. Then he jogs for a mile or two, creating the threads of a mystery in his head as he strides.The next morning he tries to capture those thoughts as he again sits in the kitchen.After five years of this routine, his dedication has finally paid off. Hawley has accomplished what every writer, every reporter, and apparently many cops, dream of doing: He’s gotten published.Hawley’s novel, The Double Bluff, is now available at Barnes and Noble bookstores, and smaller bookstores like Wind and Tide in Oak Harbor. It’s a murder mystery set in Seattle, the first of what he hopes will become a series about the Seattle Police Department.Though it may not fit the image of the small-county sheriff, reading and writing has always been a major part of Hawley’s life. As a boy growing up in Seattle, he turned to The Hardy Boys and other books for entertainment because his mother – who was disabled by a drunken driver – was too poor to afford a television, telephone or a car. Luckily, they always lived near a library.I think I took in so many words I felt a compulsion to spew them back out, he said.Hawley wrote his first novel in college and has finished four others over the years, though The Double Bluff is the first story he has had enough confidence in to share with the public.Yet he’s already written a second novel in the police detective series that begins with The Double Bluff. He’s also completing a novel that’s been 20 years in the making. The Mystery of the Mandarin Maiden, a hard-boiled detective novel in the style of the Maltese Falcon, is set in Pearl Harbor in 1941. Hawley says he’s always wanted to be a novelist. In fact, the former school teacher said he first got into law enforcement with the idea that he could gain experience and knowledge of the system which would help him become a mystery writer. I’ve turned out to be a better cop than a writer, and still am, he said. I’m keeping my day job.In many ways Double Bluff is the kind of novel one might expect from a man who worked his way through the ranks of a department to become the sheriff. It’s a murder mystery with a police detective as the lead character. The novel is heavy on the details of police work, from the chaos of trying to control a crime scene to a vivid description of an autopsy.There are also surprises. Hawley said he chose to have a woman as the main character, Detective Leah Harris, because it goes against type and gave him more areas to explore as a writer. Hawley stays away from stereotypes in creating Harris as a competent detective who is aware of sexism in the department, but doesn’t dwell on it or let it get in the way of the job.The other major character is Frank Milkovich, a burned-out, middle-aged Internal Affairs investigator who’s just putting his time in, waiting for retirement. He and Harris become unlikely partners in investigating a young woman’s grisly murder.The book takes place in the first 24 hours after a murder is discovered, which is what police call the red zone. Hawley said this is by far the most critical time in an investigation and the time when most crimes are solved. Technical details fill The Double Bluff, but the novel also has its pulpy moments, from the opening murder scene of the scantily-clad victim to a romance between detectives.I’m no Shakespeare, he said. This is not the great American novel. It’s supposed to be fun and a puzzle.It may disappoint some locals that the novel is set in Seattle and revolves around the Seattle Police Department. Hawley said he felt that he couldn’t set the story on Whidbey Island, or even a made-up island in the Puget Sound, because it’s too close to home.I get sued enough, he said with a laugh.Yet Hawley admits that many events on Whidbey Island were inspirations for events in the book. In fact, he said all the scenes in the book are accurate in that they were based on real-life occurrences that he either lived or heard about – though the novel takes them to an extreme.A detective in the novel, for example, tells a story about a police officer who accidentally blew a hole in the roof of his squad car with a shotgun he didn’t expect to be loaded. Hawley said that was based on what his father-in-law, a Seattle police officer, actually did.At the same time, no one in the Sheriff’s Office will probably recognize themselves in the novel. Hawley said he deliberately stayed away from basing any of the characters on real people – except himself.There’s a chunk of me in everyone, he said.Though hopefully not the murderer.Book signingMike Hawley will be at Oak Harbor’s Wind and Tide Bookshop for a book signing Saturday, Sept. 30, from noon to 2 p.m. He’ll sign books at the Seattle Mystery Book Store Oct. 22 and will appear at Barnes and Noble book stores all over the region this fall.For more information about Mike Hawley or his novel, The Double Bluff, check out his Web site at “

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