From Badge to Pen – Rob Riley

Born and raised in a very stable neighborhood on Milwaukee’s South Side, I was provided with a good home environment. Sports were everything to me. School was nothing. As a consequence, I more or less skated through the first twelve years of my formal education. I had a high school diploma, and the typical wide-eyed innocence of a recent graduate. Ambition? None. Belief in my self? Absolutely.

Yet I’d been intimidated by school counselors into trying college, which I did and instantly failed. I next found myself working in a foundry, facing the military draft, when a friend said I should come along with him and apply for Milwaukee’s Police Aide program. Police work? Never occurred to me. I went with him to the Fire And Police Commission and applied, and quickly found myself in a uniform I’d never dreamed I’d be in. At age 21 I was promoted to Patrolman, and within a few months I was working undercover, busting drug dealers. For seven of the next eight years I worked in that assignment, and at age 29 I was promoted to detective.

Reverting to conventional police work was a blessed relief, and during the next 22 years I investigated everything from homicides to auto theft rings.

I’ve always had a writer’s instincts, and always loved reading. My facility for writing quickly became clear. “He writes a good report,” my supervisors would say. I took it to heart, and at age 30 I took a correspondence course on writing short stories. I got nothing published, but continued to write for my own pleasure. I pointedly avoided writing about police work during that time; it was my escape from the job.

In 1994 I was ready to try writing novels. I joined a novel writer’s workshop conducted by an author named John Tigges, who lived in Dubuque, Iowa. Once a month for the next 13 years I traveled from Milwaukee to his home in Dubuque, and he and the others in the workshop coached me while I churned out 6 complete novels. Again, I initially stayed away from the police genre, and my first three books were “supernatural thrillers,” as I like to call them. And again, none were published.

Eleven years ago I had an epiphany while reading “Farewell, My Lovely,” a novel by iconic American mystery writer, Raymond Chandler. His main character, private detective Phillip Marlowe, spoke directly to me with each snide remark uttered during his encounters with the mean streets of Los Angeles; each time he shrugged and accepted that everyone he dealt with had a dark side, not just the criminals. That included victims, witnesses, professionals of all types, and of course, cops. All of Raymond Chandlers novels show certain truths about criminal investigative work more accurately than anything else I’ve read.

I was hooked.

I’d recently retired after 32 years of police service, 22 years as a detective, and it was time to engage my wheelhouse – police procedurals. My next three novels were about Jack Blanchard, a former Milwaukee police detective who’d become disenchanted with the badge, and struck out on his own as a private investigator. Blanchard knows his place; low key work, mostly for defense attorneys, and the occasional stakeout of cheating spouse, or someone scamming an insurance company. But his luck always turns bad, and he keeps being drawn kicking and screaming into high profile murder investigations.

 Portrait Of Murder is the first of three novels I have completed in the series, and the fourth is in progress.