Sam Jenkins might say, “Falling in love is like catching a cold. It’s infectious and involuntary. Just don’t sneeze on any innocent people.”
Getting kidnapped and becoming infatuated with a married policeman never made TV reporter Rachel Williamson’s list of things to do before Christmas. But helping her friend, Sam Jenkins with a fraud investigation would be fun and get her an exclusive story.
Sam’s investigation put Rachel in the wrong place at the wrong time and her abduction by a mentally disturbed fan, ruined several days of her life.
When Jenkins learns Rachel has gone missing, he cancels holiday leaves, mobilizes the personnel at Prospect PD, and enlists his friends from the FBI to help find her.
During the early stages of the investigation, Sam develops several promising leads, but as they begin to fizzle, his prime suspect drops off the planet and all the resources of the FBI aren’t helping.
After a lucky break and a little old-fashioned pressure on an informant produce an important clue, the chief leads his team deep into the Smoky Mountains to rescue his friend. But after Rachel is once again safe at home, he finds their problems are far from over.
In October we talked with the author of the Sam Jenkins mystery series, Wayne Zurl, about his new book, Heroes & Lovers. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to get his main character, Sam Jenkins, to talk to me. I’m happy to say he’s finally here. Sam is a personable, laid back, affable man, who is remarkably a lot like Wayne. Sam is the police chief of Prospect, Tennessee and coincidentally, Wayne is a former police officer. Everybody likes Sam, and I think you will too. Grab a glass of sweet tea, and sit back and enjoy this interview with Sam Jenkins.
Sam, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me. It’s a pleasure to meet you. How did you first meet your writer?
Wayne and I were born in Brooklyn, and around 1949, our parents moved east on Long Island. I met him again at a place called Goodrich Street School. From there it was uncanny--high school, a job and part-time college, then the Army, the police department, more college on the GI Bill, and then we retired. We never hung out together, but our paths always crossed. Occasionally, we’d work on something together. Now we’re retired and living in east Tennessee, and he wanted to become my Doctor Watson. You’d think he had his own war stories to tell. And I’m still waiting for my share of the royalties on these books. If you’re talking with him, refresh his memory.
He said he doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Sorry. I tried. I wouldn’t hold my breath on him coughing up any royalties. What is Wayne’s best trait?
I just told you how he’s welching on our business agreement, and now I’ll contradict myself. The man is honest to a fault--almost disgusting. I think he really believes that old Army motto: ‘Death before dishonor.’ I think he’s kinda nuts.
Well, maybe there’s hope for some royalties yet. Okay, now that we’ve been nice, give us some dirt. What’s his worst trait? Besides stiffing you with the royalties.
I’m afraid he suffers from the same shortcoming I have. He’s terminally impatient. And that can get a cop into trouble. I won’t mention that he drinks more than me, and I think he falls in love much too easily.
So Wayne’s as big a flirt as you are? Who gets whom into trouble with your flirting? Do you make Wayne write those scenes and dialogue or does he make you say and do those things?
Does he say I flirt?
I’m just being nice to people—and they happen to be women.
I get along with women better than men. And nobody likes a detective with a broomstick stuck--
Ho, ho, hold it right there, mister!
Would you answer questions or do a favor for someone who was stuffy or mean to you?
Well, no, I guess not...
I guess he’s just writing about what he sees. I’ll explain things and straighten him out.
Good luck with that. Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
The whole idea about the kidnapping and me accomplishing more than the FBI is something I’ll always love. But that scene in the cabin at Top O’ the World is what I’d like to see on film. Who do you think should play me in the movie?
I love that scene too. I really do. Hmmm...who should play you in the movie...um...how about Billy Bob Thornton?
He’s a little off-beat and too short.
Clint Eastwood? Too old.
Oops. Really? How about Bruce Willis?
Not a bad choice, but he’d have to get over the shaved head thing.
Hmmm. He knows how to act like a cop, but he doesn’t belong to the actors union.
I don’t know. I’m terrible at casting. Hey, how about Mark Harmon? I think you’ve got it.
Did you have a hard time convincing your author to write any particular scenes for you?
Wayne and the publisher weren’t crazy about telling the world I got a little carried away interrogating that miscreant Elrod Swaggerty. But that’s the way it happened. Hey, I’m only human and needed to get some answers. Andy Sipowitz has done worse on NYPD Blue.
For sure. I wouldn’t feel bad about it. I mean, it was Elrod, for Pete’s sake. Great name, by the way--Elrod. How did you come up with it?
I was looking in a local phone book for character names. I made two columns of interesting possibilities, one for first names and one for surnames. Then I mixed and matched by sound and the character’s personality. Elrod Swaggerty had a ring to it.
It certainly does. What's the worst thing that's happened in your life--aside from meeting Elrod Swaggerty?
The third time I got wounded in Vietnam, I ended up in a hospital for almost a month. I was hurt, but so many guys there were in worse shape than me. The government must be totally sure we need to go to war before we charge in and waste young lives or cause kids to spend the rest of their lives disabled. I couldn’t have made a simple arrest with the amount of reasonable cause to believe they had when Bush said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. With nothing more than a suspicion, based on unconfirmed intelligence, they started a war lasting more than ten years. Makes you wonder why. No one should be asked to fight for economic reasons.
Agreed. And thank you for your service. Being a soldier and a policeman can be dangerous work. What are you most afraid of?
Losing my hair.
Ha! That’s cheating, but okay, I guess you’re fearless. What’s the best trait your author has given you?
He portrays me as my own man. I like that. Peer pressure, political pressure, taking the easy way out, isn’t as important as professionally doing the right thing. Wow—shades of King Arthur and Sir Galahad.
What’s the worst?
I think he’s annoyed at himself, and he lays that impatience thing on me too. But I guess that’s true. Sometimes you’ve just got to make things happen.
Absolutely. Does Wayne know that patience is a virtue? Oh well, at this point, he’s probably not going to change, right? How do you feel about the life Wayne’s given you right now?
If nothing else, the old guy’s got a good memory and gets the facts straight. I like how he makes me look in print. In the PD we’d call it ‘good ink.’ I just hope he doesn’t think I owe him now. If he gets that idea, he’ll want to borrow my Austin-Healey.
Oh no. You can’t let that happen. What aspect of your author’s writing style do you like best?
He’s learned a lot from a guy named Robert B. Parker--the man who wrote the Spenser and Jesse Stone novels. Wayne tries to tell the stories in the fewest possible words with lots of realistic dialogue. I like that idea.
Robert B. Parker is my hero. Sigh. And don't forget he wrote the Sunny Randall series too. You know what else you have in common with him? He set his stories in the town where he lived. You do that too with Prospect, Tennessee. Describe Prospect for us.
Prospect is the quintessential small American town. Clean streets, old trees, a town square, and a municipal building that looks like one of those great old Carnegie libraries. Hit one of the high spots, and you’ve got breathtaking views of mountains almost 7,000 feet tall. The sun doesn’t always shine, but it’s a nice place. And if you like really good-looking blondes, Prospect PD has the most beautiful desk sergeant on the planet.
How can you be so sure? Have you met every desk sergeant on the planet? Never mind. What kind of trouble do you think Wayne will get you into next?
Right now he’s working on a book about my first--and only, I hope--venture into the world of country and western music. No, he doesn’t have me playing the banjo or singing. My buddy, the mayor, asks me to guard C.J. Profitt, his old school chum, who’s made it to the top of the Nashville charts. She’s back in Prospect for a benefit concert, and a group of right-wing nitwits have sent her several threatening letters. They take exception to her alternative lifestyle and want her out of town or else. With the help of a few others, keeping her safe wouldn’t be too difficult, but she doesn’t like me and refuses to cooperate. I can’t imagine why she hates me.
She doesn’t like you? No way. Maybe she needs more time to get to know you. But you said “alternative lifestyle.” That might be the key word. Your flirting won’t work with her, will it? Into each life a little rain must fall... What kind of trouble will you get Wayne into next?
Wayne should stop spending so much time peddling his books on Facebook and Twitter. If he had more free time and any sense, he’d work cases with me. That’s the kind of trouble we’d call fun. We did it for twenty years in New York. There’s no reason to stop now.
I totally agree. More writing, less social networking. Okay, tell the truth. Just between you and me, what do you think of the mayor of Prospect?
Ronnie Shields is a nice man, but he’s a politician. I can’t understand why people consider that a legitimate occupation and give prostitutes such a bad rap.
That’s an interesting take on things. I’m gonna leave that one alone, though. Wayne is from Long Island, but he now lives near Knoxville, Tennessee. Is his dialect more Yankee or southern?
Wayne tries to cover his Nu Yawk accent. And he does a pretty good job until we get together with people from back home. Everyone speaks faster, uses the old expressions from on the block, and we all sound like we just stepped off Flatbush Avenue.
Ha! I knew it. But, Sam, you’re a southern boy. Tell the truth. You like sweet tea, don’t you?
I lived in South Hempstead once when Kate and I were first married. Even though I’ve been in Tennessee for twenty years, the sweetest thing I’ll drink is a Manhattan made with red vermouth.
For shame. Not liking sweet tea is a crime in my book. Are you amazed at the crime rate of Prospect, Tennessee?
Stunned. If you believe what Wayne writes, you’d think Prospect had a homicide rate greater than Detroit. But small towns can have their share of problems. Remember Jessica Fletcher in Cabot Cove, Maine? Those people dropped like flies. The reader has to remember these cases are transplanted from New York to Tennessee. We stay here because the taxes are low.
I prefer to think of Prospect as a hotbed of crime. If you ever need any help, give the Goose Pimple Junction chief of police, Johnny Butterfield, a call. He’ll be glad to hep ya. What case are you working on now, by the way?
Funny you asked. Just the other day, the resident OSI agent--beautiful woman named Roxy Wallace--walked into my office and asked me to help with a major case at McGhee-Tyson Air Base. That’s not my territory, but who could refuse someone like Roxy? I doubt we’ll need much time to clear this one, so Wayne can write one of his novelettes and get it published as an audio book. I like those. Kate and I listen to them when we take long drives.
I admit to listening to you a time or two on road trips, Sam.
Okay, Amy, we’ve played Twenty Questions, and now we’re finished. When you told me about that little place called Goose Pimple Junction, I checked the map. It’s not too far from Prospect. Come on, I’ll buy you lunch and you can tell me more about it. Oh, and thanks for inviting me here. I hope I’ve straightened out your fans and now they know Wayne’s not such a bad guy.
Darlin’, they’re your fans. I don’t know though, you may have gotten Wayne into some hot water. But I can vouch for him. He’s a good guy and a good writer too. So gwon, y’all—buy Heroes & Lovers. You’ll be glad you did. And yes, GPJ is purt near to Prospect. How about we gwon over to Slick & Junebug’s diner? And bring your wife, Kate. I always like talking to her. Thanks for being here, Sam. Come back when your next adventure hits the stands. And hey—let’s be careful out there.
About the author:
Wayne Zurl grew up on Long Island and retired after twenty years with the Suffolk County Police Department, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in New York and the nation. For thirteen of those years he served as a section commander supervising investigators. He is a graduate of SUNY, Empire State College and served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the reserves. Zurl left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Barbara.
Fifteen (15) of his Sam Jenkins mysteries have been produced as audio books and simultaneously published as eBooks. Ten (10) of these novelettes are now available in print under the titles of A Murder In Knoxville and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries and Reenacting A Murder and Other Smoky Mountain Mysteries. Zurl’s first full-length novel, A New Prospect, was named best mystery at the 2011 Indie Book Awards, chosen as 1st Runner-Up from all Commercial Fiction at the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Awards, and was nominated for a Montaigne Medal and First Horizon Book Award. His second novel, A Leprechaun's Lament, is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle. A third full-length novel, Heroes & Lovers, was released on Sept 29, 2012.
For more information on Wayne’s Sam Jenkins mystery series see www.waynezurlbooks.net. You can read excerpts, reviews and endorsements, interviews, coming events, and see photos of the area where the stories take place.
Find Wayne and his books:
Goodreads author page
Amazon author page
Heroes & Lovers on Amazon
Heroes & Lovers on Barnes & Noble
ReviewHeroes & Lovers is another Sam Jenkins mystery, and Wayne Zurl doesn't disappoint. The more we get to know Sam, the more we like him. He's a laid back type of hero, but he has his flaws. He also has a weakness for a pretty woman, which tends to get him in trouble from time to time because he has a beautiful wife waiting for him at home. But Sam is human, and life happens.
Wayne's characters are always likeable, and I'm a fan of the use of dialect. Wayne has the Tennessee speech down perfect. Being a retired police officer, he knows police procedure. And he's great at combining these elements and coming out with a good mystery. You read one Sam Jenkins story, and you'll want to read them all. The series is fictional, but the books always read like real life.
If you like well-developed characters, witty banter, and a good mystery, you'll love books by Wayne Zurl, and Heroes & Lovers is no exception. Highly enjoyable.