TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS and Thoughts of Gary Shulze

TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS and Thoughts of Gary Shulze

by Rick Ollerman

My latest book, TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS, was dedicated to Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze, the former owners of that fine Minneapolis independent crime fiction bookstore, ONCE UPON A CRIME. Unfortunately, we lost Gary to leukemia just last week, just days before I was due to hold a signing at the store on a date that Gary chose himself. I never imagined he wouldn’t be there to see it.

The book itself isn’t particularly Gary-like, other than that he appeared to like the thing. He sent me an e-mail saying how much, and that certain lines stayed with him, and he quoted a few of them back to me. This was a first for me, and another example of how words can matter. They don’t have to be forgettable words on a page, or miniature devices in service of a larger plot. The words, the sentences, the smaller units—all of them can matter.

A few years ago I wrote an introduction to the only collection of short stories for New York Times bestselling author Andrew Coburn. Shortly thereafter, his wife sent me an e-mail, as did his daughter, telling me what it had meant not only to Andrew but to the whole family.

Both instances had me in tears. Knowing words matter and being shown your own words matter are two very different things, not least because one of them often brings tears.

When I write my books I try to look for emotional touchpoints, those scenes in a book where a character has to make a gut wrenching choice, or another loses their life maybe through no fault of their own. TRUTH has a number of these as the main character, a policeman name Jeff Prentiss, tries to come to grips with a crumbling life that has been made that way by his own choices. In some ways moral but not necessarily legal, Prentiss’s actions have hurt those around him while at the same time, he hopes, have kept them safe.

I wanted to explore morally ambiguous questions by dumping them all on Prentiss and his inability to choose his battles wisely. For instance, on the witness stand, after it’s been discovered that one of his men found damning evidence outside the range of a search warrant, Prentiss tells the court they know the defendant is a murderer, they found the proof. If the warrant was violated, keep the murderer in prison and prosecute him. But the system, our system, doesn’t work that way. Why are the lawyers the only ones speaking in the courtroom that are not sworn to tell the truth?

There’s a tug in many of us, I think, to see his point of view if maybe even agree with him to some point. But it doesn’t do his career much good. As the union fights for his job, he agrees to lay low in a department in the next door city of St. Petersburg. Prentiss is still Prentiss though, and he still can’t manage to keep out of his own way.

Stalking, so the FBI tells us, is the only kind of accurate predictor we have of murder. What would you do if the woman you love is being stalked with all the classic symptoms of the escalating criminal? Go to the police? They can’t stop it. Restraining orders will make these extreme cases worse. And—possibly worse—you make yourself known to the authorities, just in case— you know….

In addition to asking “what if” questions like the ones above, when I’m plotting a book I also like to ask “why” questions, too, like: why is pornography legal but prostitution isn’t? Another one is why do cops sometimes hold long and deep grudges against people who have, at least ostensibly, already paid their debts to society?

These things are at the heart of the crimes Prentiss finds himself in, all the while trying to keep his job and making sure no one looks too closely at his family life. Pornography is legal if the participants, or actors are paid, and if they are creating a product to sell. There’s room for abuse in there, and I try to find it.

There’s another character in the book that was based on a real life cat burglar. This man was guilty of hundreds of crimes, some of them famous, but for the most part under the radar of the authorities because they had no idea there was one man behind them all. When he was finally caught, they had no idea what they had, and when he agreed to confess in exchange for immunity on other cases, crimes the police could finally clear up, he rattled off tale after tale of his exploits, many of them small masterpieces, and many of them involving celebrities. In other words, he’d made the better deal.

That doesn’t mean things worked out well for the real life burglar any more than they do for the character in my book. In real life, a gas station hold up, a crime about as far away from cat-burgling as you can get in the thievery world, the cops would roust the cat burglar, arresting him, making him pay bail, and all around making his life hell. Is this right or wrong, or just the way things have to be?

Gary with wife Pat Photo courtesy of NRP

Throw in some ties to organized crime and these elements all come together to produce TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS. It may not have been the only book ever dedicated to Gary Shulze, I don’t know. Both he and Pat got a kick out of Reed Farrel Colman’s book where he named a couple of cops Shulze and Frovarp after Gary and Pat. I’ll always remember the two of them standing on either side of me as they flipped pages and read aloud the passages that parodied the two of them. It was a wonderful moment.

Gary knew his crime fiction and we could talk seemingly forever about the old guys, the paperback original era guys, in particular (his favorite was Lionel White, whose books I would say could be seen as a precursor to Westlake’s/Stark’s “Parker” series). I think I like Peter Rabe a bit more than he did.

But talking crime fiction with Gary was a bit like talking old paperbacks with Bill Crider: the wisest course might just be to fade a bit into the background and listen.

One more book never hurt. It was Gary’s and Pat’s motto for the store. That love of the literature came through in every discussion with the man. More than just a t-shirt slogan, it was and is a way of life, one Gary Shulze so eloquently led. I am proud to have known him and enjoyed his friendship. Most of all, I hope I was able to show a little of it by dedicating my book to he and Pat, never having an inkling of what was to come not such a long time later.

However long it was, it was much too soon.

Rick Ollerman was born in Minneapolis but later moved to more humid pastures in Florida. He made his first dollar from writing when a crossword magazine printed a question he’d sent. Later he went on to hold world records for various large skydives, appear in a photo spreads in LIFE magazine and The National Enquirer, can be seen on an inspirational poster during the opening credits of a popular TV show, and has been interviewed on CNN. He was also an extra in the film Purple Rain where he had a full screen shot a little more than nine minutes in. His writing has appeared in technical and sporting magazines and he has edited, proofread, and written introductions for numerous books. He’s never found a crossword magazine that pays more than that first dollar and he now lives in northern New Hampshire with his wife, two children and two Golden Retrievers.