Baltimore police sergeant brings his real-life tales to crime fiction
Published: September 26, 2012
Right in the middle of Eliot , Baltimore Police Sgt. Michael A. Wood Jr.’s first novel, a six-page section recalls the protagonist’s rookie fiasco: trying to apprehend a stolen minivan and its driver.
Having gotten his first “hit” running random license plates through the computer, young Eliot, with his favorite partner, Kareem Reed, decides to jump out of his patrol car and apprehend a perp while stopped at a busy intersection. Of course, the thief locks the van’s doors and, as he starts to pull away, the rookie makes another error:
“I pulled out my gun and in a moment of blind, unintelligent instinct, struck the butt of the gun against the window. I think I heard each of the thirteen bullet cartridges that were in the magazine, ‘were’ being the key word as they bounced off the pavement at my feet.”
The story gets funnier, a classic cop tale with a semi-happy ending. (In Baltimore I’m not giving anything away by saying that they caught the guy but the judge let him go.) The section sings with truth—because it is true, right down to the partner, who Wood says gave permission to be named in the book.
Those six pages are problematic, however, because they are so much better than the rest of the book, which depicts a cop as he systematically murders East Side drug dealers in revenge for a hit-and-run that killed his daughter. It is action-packed: two parts TV’s Dexter and one part each of the films Death Wish and Dirty Harry. But character development is weak, the dialogue stilted, the plot points cliched. The drug dealers’ victims are cardboard cutouts, and their bodies disintegrate like movie zombies under Eliot’s rage.
Still, a Baltimore cop has written a cop novel depicting Baltimore’s streets with some accuracy, and that’s something. Wood says he was going for realism in his depictions of the department as well.
“I started writing fiction to get a cop story out there that feels real,” Wood says over lunch, a thousand-watt smile creasing his face. Tired of ridiculous TV car chases, “I want to see him get away using ways that would actually work.”
In one scene Eliot eludes a police commander by speeding toward him in a car, confident the cop will give way to avoid wrecking a city car and facing endless paperwork. Everyone in the department knows that’s how it would go down, Wood says.
In another nod to Baltimore’s true-crime fans, Wood named one drug-dealing cop character Darnell Redd—very close to Daniel Redd, the city police officer arrested last year for dealing cocaine from the trunk of his police car. “That was intentional,” Wood says. He describes some undercover work he did back in 2004 in the Northwestern District. He says he came across street dealers all the time who referred him to Redd, and that Redd’s extracurricular activities were even then widely known inside the department. “Everyone knew he was dirty,” Wood says. “We were told that the FBI knew about it. We were all wondering when he would get pinched.” That it took eight years leaves him scratching his head.
Wood says he wrote Eliot in two months and edited it for six with his wife, Jessica. “And it’s still full of mistakes,” he says, laughing. The book is self-published and self-promoted, both skills Wood learned a few years back with his other project: the PLA Law Enforcement Professional Development Manual—which is what he really wants to talk about. At $100 per copy and about to be expanded to departments across America, that’s the moneymaker, Wood says.
The manual is a sort of Cliffs Notes for the sergeant and lieutenant promotion exams, Wood explains, condensing a four-foot stack of law and policy manuals down to a few hundred pages. That project took years and $15,000 cash, he says—and when he did it, he got a lot of flack from the department. “They want you to do everything the way they’ve always done it, and do well, but not quite as well as they did it,” Wood says. “I broke that mold. So I went from being around everyone, a quick-riser, to being at the quartermaster department on 28th Street.”
At 32, Wood is about to retire. His foot and shoulder are injured, the shoulder from a line-of-duty incident. He’s been out of the field for a year and soon will be out for good, at two-thirds of his $80,000-plus salary, for the rest of his life, pending the pension board’s approval. It will give him time to develop his writing, a task he’s working on.
Right now, Wood says, he’s trying to hone his writing skills with a challenge from Writer’s Digest to write other genre fiction. “I’m a cop. I know how to write cop fiction,” Wood says. “But I want to be able to do horror, science fiction. The story I have now is a romance, and I had a challenge from a guy to make it gay romance.”
He hands over a 20-page sheaf.
“It made me cry,” Jessica says. “It gave me the chills, all in that length. You did it.”
> Email Edward Ericson Jr.