Brian Thiem: Writer doesn’t have to make up the death-defying situations that pepper his novels. He lived them

Brian Thiem

If you happen to catch Brian Thiem out on the golf course or riding his Harley around Sun City’s Riverbend neighborhood, ignore that far-off look in his eye; he’s just thinking about murder.

Don’t worry, though, that’s his job.

The author of the novel “Red Line,” Thiem is currently wrapping up work on his second novel, “Thrill Kill.” With most of the heavy lifting done on his sophomore novel, the recent transplant to the area is starting to pull from the ideas swirling around in his head to create the third in his series of novels about homicide detective Matt Sinclair.

But unlike most authors, Thiem doesn’t have to invent his character’s adventures out of whole cloth. He lived them.

“I worked for many years as a uniformed officer; I worked in special operations undercover in vice and narcotics, buying drugs for a living and picking up prostitutes — all that kind of good stuff,” he said. “When I’m writing a car chase, my resting heart rate goes from 70 to 130. I can go back and draw on what a car chase is really like, so my fingers are slipping off keyboard as I write. It’s becoming so real as I go back and relive some of this.”

Thiem’s law enforcement pedigree is one many other authors would kill to write. For 25 years, he worked in various duties in the Oakland Police Department, including commander of the homicide department in a city known for danger. “One year we had 175 murders in my unit. One night alone, we called it Bloody Monday, we had six unrelated murders in one night,” he said.

While serving in the Oakland Police Department, Thiem was also an Army reservist, and in 2003 he was called to active duty for Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He spent a year in Iraq as the deputy commander of the Army criminal investigation group and the officer-in-charge of the war crimes investigation team investigating the atrocities and human rights violations of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

So when it came time to put pen to paper, he had a wealth of experience to draw from.

“The great thing about writing is I get to … change things,” he said. “In the real world, you have cases like this one that went unsolved my entire career. It was solved as a cold case.”

The cold case in question centered on a dead woman’s body, found stuffed in a bag found hanging in a tree. Thiem investigated the murder early in his career in Oakland, and his remorse at never cracking this particular case hangs heavy in his words. By way of catharsis, he found a way to work the case into his second novel.

“If I could have changed facts when I was investigating, it could have been like this case. Exciting and sexy; the good guy would solve it in the end and the bad guy would go to prison.”

We can be thankful then, that at least in the case of novels and the novelists who get a second lease on life in writing them, the good guy sometimes wins.