Ever since Paul Bishop joined the Los Angeles Police Department 11 years ago, he has heard rumors about fellow officers who raced their police cars to Las Vegas or Tijuana and back during a single shift.
None of his co-workers could--or would--confirm the rumors. But the audaciousness of such feats appealed to Bishop, and he used one as the core of his first police novel, "Citadel Run" (Tor Books, $17.95).
"I investigated it, and it has really happened," said Bishop, a Camarillo resident who, until two months ago, was stationed at the San Fernando Valley's West Valley Division. "There are three or four different versions of it, but I think I've got it down to who and when it was."
In "Citadel Run," Calico Jack Walker, a 30-year street police officer on the verge of retiring from the Police Department, and his partner, Tina Tamiko, a Japanese-American rookie, accept a challenge to make a daring run to Las Vegas and back during their night shift. They even solve a crime en route, an attempted robbery at a casino.
The novel, which is based in the Van Nuys Division, where Bishop, 33, spent two years as a patrol officer, qualifies as crime fiction, he said. "But it's really a novel about the police. I was interested in getting down my thoughts about police work. I was looking for a little bit different way to do it than (Joseph) Wambaugh, Dallas Barnes and some of the other police writers have done."
Bishop said he always knew he would be a writer. He read voraciously as a child and always enjoyed telling stories. He started writing free-lance nonfiction articles in 1979 and helped start the now-defunct Mystery magazine, where he was senior editor. Later, he published The Thieftaker Journals, a small-press mystery magazine. His first novel, in 1985, was a paperback Western, "Shroud of Vengeance," written under the name of Pike Bishop.
Plenty of Experiences
Bishop said police work has given him plenty of experiences to draw upon. For nine years, he has been a detective in various units, including juvenile, sex crimes, auto theft, robbery and vice, all in the West Valley. He is now working in the analysis and surveillance unit of the Anti-Terrorist Division in downtown Los Angeles.
"Citadel Run" evolved from an assignment from a mystery magazine to write a true short story. The completed work sold to the first publisher he sent it to.
"This was the first time I had ever attempted to write about police work in any type of story," Bishop said. "Before that point, I was kidding myself by saying I was too close to it to be objective--when really I was scared of doing it in case my thoughts on it were found invalid or whatever, because you're going to get some judgment from your peers when you do something like that."
His colleagues at the West Valley Division have been supportive, Bishop said. And, he said, they were invaluable as sources of "war stories" and other information. At first, Bishop tried to make the novel as realistic as possible, but writing about routine police work turned out to be boring. Bishop said about 95% of police work is paper work. So he used some poetic license to spice up the proceedings. The characters in the novel are all risk-takers and, in fact, some of them seem downright adolescent.
'Peter Pan Complex'
"They all have a strong strain of that Peter Pan complex," Bishop said. "A lot of policemen are little boys who just don't want to grow up. I think the essence of the book is that, yes, OK, they're having a good time and they're screwing around when there's nothing much going on, but the second anything happens, they are professionals."
Because police officers often find themselves in tense situations, "when the down time comes, you have a tendency to party a lot harder than, say, your general CPA. And, again, it's the personality," Bishop said. "You're drawn to that type of job because you're like that. You're getting warrior types, Type A personalities.
"When the action isn't on, they're going to seek it. You're going to do something weird, crazy," he said.
Last summer, to satisfy his own thrill-seeking, Bishop spent a week in the saddle taking horses from their winter to their summer feeding grounds in Northern California. The year before, he went hang gliding in the Valley and parachuting in Perris Valley. Other police officers he knows are involved in racing cars, physical fitness competitions and running marathons.
But, in spite of their constant need for that edge of excitement, Bishop said, police officers believe they are accomplishing something socially meaningful on the job. "Their job provides them with a sense of 'I'm a warrior, but I'm also protecting my family,' be it a small family of wife and kids, or the whole city."