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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

In the interest of time (as in there is less waiting this way!) I am cutting and pasting a few choice selections I have recently blogged about.  Since I'm the author, I'm thinking it's okay to use my own work. 

 

A lot of people are interested in what sort of training I had in art before I was trained by the FBI in forensic art:

 

I come from a long line of artists.  According to my maternal grandmother, my grandfather, who dabbled in cartoons, was courted by Walt Disney himself to do artwork.  My grandfather, a well-respected sports editor for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner at the time, declined. My grandmother was a portrait artist, as was my mother.  Some of that talent trickled down.  I took some art in college, and when my department figured out that they could tap into that skill, I was sent to San Jose PD to study with their police artist before being sent to the FBI Academy.

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

The FBI course covered composite art (sketching from a witness description) and forensic art (working from corpses or skulls).  In addition, we learned age progression and photo retouching.  We were doing “computer” Photoshop before it was even a twinkle in Adobe’s eye.

 

This is, of course, where Sydney Fitzpatrick, my protagonist in THE BONE CHAMBER, gets her expertise.  

 

 

One of my first forensic sketches was for a neighboring police agency, which was trying to identify a “floater,”  a body that had been in the water too long.  The victim’s identifying fingerprints had sloughed off, and all but a few strands of hair were left on her head from her time spent in the water.  She had been shot between the eyes and stabbed numerous times in the chest. What they needed was to show a likeness of the woman to the public in hopes of making an identification, but showing a photo of a corpse was out of the question, especially one in this condition.

 

My job was to go out to the morgue to create a sketch (minus the fatal wounds).  The sketch I could do, but coming up with her hairstyle when there were about three total strands left on her head was going to be tough.  I had to deduce a hairstyle based on the length.  One on the back was long, one on top was medium and one in front was short, which told me that she probably wore a layered style.

 

I completed the drawing, but no ID was made. About two years later, after the detectives had run out of leads, they ran my sketch on a TV crime show, hoping to turn up a new lead, and the girl was identified by her grandmother.  The grandmother lived several cities away, which was why no one locally had ever been able to identify the girl.

 

I used my experiences on this case (minus the two-year delay) in scenes from FACE OF A KILLER, where Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick has to go to the morgue to sketch a floater found in that book.

 

 

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

 


Robin_Burcell wrote:

In the interest of time (as in there is less waiting this way!) I am cutting and pasting a few choice selections I have recently blogged about.  Since I'm the author, I'm thinking it's okay to use my own work. 

 

A lot of people are interested in what sort of training I had in art before I was trained by the FBI in forensic art:

 

I come from a long line of artists.  According to my maternal grandmother, my grandfather, who dabbled in cartoons, was courted by Walt Disney himself to do artwork.  My grandfather, a well-respected sports editor for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner at the time, declined. My grandmother was a portrait artist, as was my mother.  Some of that talent trickled down.  I took some art in college, and when my department figured out that they could tap into that skill, I was sent to San Jose PD to study with their police artist before being sent to the FBI Academy.


 

Wow, that's quite a background. Did your grandfather ever regret that decision?

 

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

Oh Robin, that's awful. I would still be having nightmares, but it must give you some satisfaction to know you helped bring closure to the girl's family. Recreating a hairstyle from three hairs? Good grief -- that's not just art, that's genius!

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

 


becke_davis wrote:

 


 

Wow, that's quite a background. Did your grandfather ever regret that decision?

 


 

Perhaps in a small way, but not as much as we kids regretted it! (No doubt only thinking of ourselves, and the possibility of free Disney trips!  He used to always include tiny cartoons on the letters he wrote to us. And a few quarters, too, which made the letters very exciting.  My grandfather was the sports editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and he loved his job.  So I guess you could say that's also where some of my talent for writing came from.

 

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

 


becke_davis wrote:

Oh Robin, that's awful. I would still be having nightmares, but it must give you some satisfaction to know you helped bring closure to the girl's family. Recreating a hairstyle from three hairs? Good grief -- that's not just art, that's genius!


 

 

Interestingly enough, no nightmares from seeing the victim.  But the memory of her stays with me to this day.  In the beginning, that memory was extremely vivid.  I am thankful that as time passes I am able to tuck it away and not see it so vividly.

 

And yes, there is a certain satisfaction to know that an ID has been made off of one of my drawings.

 

Now this case is a good example of how threads are connected in police work in ways that might be considered "coincidence" if found in fiction.  If I recall correctly, the suspect in the above case (which, as stated before, was from another agency) happened to also be the "boyfriend" of a young woman in my jurisdiction and beat.  This woman had called the police to report that he had hit her, and that she was worried for her safety.  She was staying with friends, thinking that would protect her.  I tried on more than one occasion to get her to move back home with her parents, something she did not want to do.  (They lived in another state.)  Sadly, she was killed in an automobile accident. Her car had gone over a cliff in Lake Tahoe.  I always suspected that he killed her, too, probably by running her car off the road.  Never proven, but if you look at the totality of the first case, and the fact he was dealing in drugs and weapons, and that my victim was worried for her safety, and yet thinking she'd be safe, now that she was no longer with him, it's very likely that my suspicions are correct.  Unfortunately this is another case that will haunt me, always making me wonder that if I'd tried a little harder, I might have convinced her to move back home...

 

I'll be scanning my archives to see what other tidbits I can come up with later today.

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

When I was growing up, we lived next to a Chicago Sun-Times baseball writer -- Jerome Holtzman. He used to take me to games with his kids sometimes. I got to meet Roger Maris, Ernie Banks, Jack Brickhouse (Chicago TV personality). Of course, I was a kid and didn't really get who any of them were, but it was fun. Did you tag along with your grandfather?

 

It's fun to trace back the family writers -- on my dad's side, there were a lot of journal keepers, and my great-great grandfather wrote a number of religious tomes. They are very heavy going but it's fascinating to read the books and realize the author is an ancestor.

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

Robin's Twitter update:

 

Today I'm blogging over at Riordan's Desk where I discuss shifting my focus from police procedurals to thrillers http://bit.ly/5f8bVj

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

[ Edited ]

becke_davis wrote:

When I was growing up, we lived next to a Chicago Sun-Times baseball writer -- Jerome Holtzman. He used to take me to games with his kids sometimes. I got to meet Roger Maris, Ernie Banks, Jack Brickhouse (Chicago TV personality). Of course, I was a kid and didn't really get who any of them were, but it was fun. Did you tag along with your grandfather?

 


Becke, I wouldn't be surprised if my grandfather knew your neighbor!  He traveled all over the U.S. to cover sports.  And his house was filled with memorabilia from his time writing.  Game ball signed by the team with the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Christmas cards from all sorts of famous personalities.   Alas, he was retired by the time I was old enough to have attended any games...

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

Here's a couple anecdotes on some of my forensic art cases:

 

 

I had finished up a sketch of a rapist, and put it on the detective’s desk.  He and his partner had just come in from interviewing people on the street, looking for leads.  One guy they talked to gave them some very promising information, describing a guy and even knowing his street moniker, or nickname, and the general vicinity of where he might live.  The detectives came back in, excited about the lead, saw my sketch, and realized that the guy they had been talking to was actually the rapist.  A dead on likeness.  I testified in court on that case.  He was convicted. 

 

On another case, this one a serial rapist, I had just completed a sketch of the suspect, and the captain walked in, saw it and said, “That looks like the guy they just brought into the jail for burglary.  You might want to go check.”  I walked back into the jail, saw he was indeed a dead ringer for the sketch.  I took his booking prints and I compared them to the lone print that had been lifted from a windowsill at the point of entry on one of the rapes. The print matched to one of his pinky fingers. Now here’s where that bit of serendipity comes in.  We’d sent that print in to the FBI national database, and no match was ever made.  Why?  Back then, they didn’t enter pinkies, because there were too many prints to enter, and who the heck commits a crime with their pinky?  (You’ll be pleased to know that this is no longer the case.  Because of computers and automation, all prints, including the pinkies, are entered into the national database.  Had this occurred today, he would have been identified immediately.)  We might never have made the connection, had the captain not walked in and seen my sketch.

 

And just an FYI, should anyone out there like to ask a question about the books, the cop life, the art, or whatever they might think of, I'd love to answer!

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

I've seen collections like that on Antiques Road Show. Guard it carefully!

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

Robin, those anecdotes gave me chills. I'm a big fan of the Law & Order franchise, and I could just picture that happening in a TV plot. To think it happened in real life is scary.

 

Do you find your real-life experiences affect the way you write about detectives and criminals in your books?

 

BTW, if you would like to post excerpt of either or both of your books here, I'm sure our viewers would love to read them. We don't always get a lot of people joining in the conversation, but nearly 700 people have viewed your comments so far. There is a character limit, so if you post long excerpts you may have to do it in multiple posts.

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

 


becke_davis wrote:

Robin, those anecdotes gave me chills. I'm a big fan of the Law & Order franchise, and I could just picture that happening in a TV plot. To think it happened in real life is scary.

 

Do you find your real-life experiences affect the way you write about detectives and criminals in your books?

 

BTW, if you would like to post excerpt of either or both of your books here, I'm sure our viewers would love to read them. We don't always get a lot of people joining in the conversation, but nearly 700 people have viewed your comments so far. There is a character limit, so if you post long excerpts you may have to do it in multiple posts.


 

 

There is no doubt that I use my real-life experiences from police work in my books.  I'll tell you another anecdote to give you a good example:

 

I was on my way to do what we call a "warrants sweep," where we gather warrants that have not yet been served to make our arrests.  I was a passenger in the unmarked police car, which was broadsided on my side.  As I am staring out the window, wondering how long it will take for the ambulance to get there, as I watch everything in front of me turning to black and white mosaic pieces (like "snow" from TV sets when the cable goes out), and everything is starting to disintegrate and the sound is fading and I realize that I am going to pass out, and wondering how long it will take for the ambulance to get there--I remember specifically thinking: I've got to remember this for the book.

 

The accident occurred Oct. 2001, as I was in the midst of writing DEADLY LEGACY.  I really thought it would be cool to write in an accident scene and bring in some of that realism, but since I couldn't make a vehicle accident occur in the book and still have it seem like it wasn't forced into the story, I could have an explosion scene in which Kate Gillespie is hit in the head by something and passes out as a result.

 

You gotta use everything you can!

 

I also used a great face-to-face negotiation scene, in which Kate talked a subject out of trying to kill himself with a knife.  This was taken from one of my real cases, in which I did the same thing.  Unfortunately the editor felt that entire character needed to be cut from the story, and alas the scene ended up on the cutting room floor as well.

 

So I guess that's a long way of saying, "Yes.  I do use real life stuff from my police work to add depth and realism to my books."

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

Good grief! Just reading your comments here is like reading chapters of an exciting novel. I'm sure "excitement" wasn't the sensation that went through your head when you were about to pass out. It sounds terrifying! It would certainly make an exciting passage in a story, but in real life it must have been awful. I hope you weren't badly hurt!

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

 

I just thought I'd share this link of a review that was posted on the internet yesterday.  Pretty exciting to read (to me, that is!)

 

http://www.basilandspice.com/journal/thriller-review-the-bone-chamber-by-robin-burcell-harper2010.ht...

 

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

 


becke_davis wrote:

It would certainly make an exciting passage in a story, but in real life it must have been awful. I hope you weren't badly hurt!


 

I can laugh now!  ;-)   But I'll admit that there are days that my bones feel the wear and tear of the job!

 

 

In retrospect, had I somehow fulfilled a childhood fantasy and become an Olympic ice skater, I'm not sure things would have turned out so different--as far as bruised bones go!  For the sake of my novel writing, I'm grateful that I didn't get that wish!  Can you imagine an ice skater jetting through Europe (well, yeah, that part I can imagine), chasing after gun wielding murderers and spies?  Physically she'd be able to do it, the chasing and running.  But somehow I don't think all those hours on the ice equate to good investigation skills!

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER


Robin_Burcell wrote:

 

I just thought I'd share this link of a review that was posted on the internet yesterday.  Pretty exciting to read (to me, that is!)

 

http://www.basilandspice.com/journal/thriller-review-the-bone-chamber-by-robin-burcell-harper2010.ht...

 


Great review! I agree, this is a very visual story and I can picture it as a movie. (I love the name of the reviewer's blog, too -- very cool!)
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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

 


Robin_Burcell wrote:

 


becke_davis wrote:

It would certainly make an exciting passage in a story, but in real life it must have been awful. I hope you weren't badly hurt!


 

I can laugh now!  ;-)   But I'll admit that there are days that my bones feel the wear and tear of the job!

 

 

In retrospect, had I somehow fulfilled a childhood fantasy and become an Olympic ice skater, I'm not sure things would have turned out so different--as far as bruised bones go!  For the sake of my novel writing, I'm grateful that I didn't get that wish!  Can you imagine an ice skater jetting through Europe (well, yeah, that part I can imagine), chasing after gun wielding murderers and spies?  Physically she'd be able to do it, the chasing and running.  But somehow I don't think all those hours on the ice equate to good investigation skills!

There you go -- next time you want to start a new series, you have your premise. An Olympic ice skater who solves crimes as she skates her way around the world. Love it!

 

 

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Robin_Burcell
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

 


becke_davis wrote:

 


There you go -- next time you want to start a new series, you have your premise. An Olympic ice skater who solves crimes as she skates her way around the world. Love it!

 Whoever guessed that plotting could be so easy! 

 


 

 

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becke_davis
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Re: January Feature: Robin Burcell's THE BONE CHAMBER

[ Edited ]

I know, I know!

 

 

Can you tell us a little about your Kate Gillespie series?