GUEST POST and GIVEAWAY
The Right Wrong Thing
(A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery Book 2)
(A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery Book 2)
by Ellen Kirschman
The Right Wrong Thing is the second book in Ellen Kirschman's Dot Meyerhoff Mystery series. Also available: Burying Ben.
The Right Wrong Thing is currently on tour with Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
Hesitate or respond - either choice can lead to disaster.
Officer Randy Spelling had always wanted to be a police officer, to follow in the footsteps of her brothers and her father. Not long after joining the force, she mistakenly shoots and kills Lakeisha Gibbs, a pregnant teenager. The community is outraged; Lakeisha’s family is vocal and vicious in their attacks against Spelling.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and filled with remorse, Randy is desperate to apologize to the girl’s family. Everyone, including the police chief, warns her against this, but the young police officer will not be dissuaded.
Her attempt is catastrophic. Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, police psychologist, plunges herself into the investigation despite orders from the police chief to back off. Not only does the psychologist’s refusal to obey orders jeopardize her career, but her life as well, as she enlists unlikely allies and unconventional undercover work to expose the tangled net of Officer Spelling’s disastrous course.
Please note: In no way does Ms Kirschman condone unjustified brutality at the hands of police. She offers insight into the other side of a possible situation. The possible outcome is very moving, and thought provoking.
Randy Alderson Spelling looks more like a girl than a woman. So tiny she’s nearly lost in the cushions of my office couch. Her legs jut out over the floor until she scoots forward and places her feet squarely on the ground, leaving a foot of space behind her. She waits for me to start, all the while pulling on her fingers, cracking each tiny knuckle. I’m the last hurdle between her and the job she covets - police officer for the Kenilworth Police Department. She’s aced the entire gamut of challenges: a background check that combed over all twenty-four years of her life; a medical examination; tests of reading, writing, and judgment; officer interviews; agility tests; and an interview with Acting Chief Jay Pence. Now she’s down to me, the department psychologist. I’m looking into the nooks and crannies of her emotional stability now that she’s received a conditional offer of employment from Pence; conditional, that is, upon my finding her free of any psychological conditions that would prevent her from fulfilling the role of police officer.
Pence wants this woman on the force. He’s made that clear with his slightly overreaching and out-of-character enthusiasm. The truth is, women officers haven’t done well at KPD. None of the four women who were hired before my time worked out. One got pregnant and never returned from maternity leave. Another woman’s husband was promoted and the family moved to New York. A third decided to go to law school, and the fourth was flushed out of the field-training program after she totaled a police car. Pence needs women on the force. KPD is the only department in the county with no female officers, something the female-majority city council finds unacceptable. And since he’s in contention for the chief’s job, making nice with the city council is not just preferable, it’s a necessity.
All of which is his problem, not mine. My job is to make sure this candidate has what it takes, psychologically, to be a cop, and given the results of her psych tests, she seems to fill the bill. All she needs now is to complete my interview and she’s on her way to the police academy. At this point, it would be rare for her or any applicant to flunk the interview process, but it happens. The person and the paper avatar are sometimes not the same, which is why state law requires me to do interviews and not just rely on the results of the candidate’s written tests.
When Randy showed up a week ago to take the battery of tests I administer, she had long silky hair. Today her hair is cut into a short spiky cap, pixie style with little points and wisps. No fuss, no muss, nothing for a bad guy to grab. I take this new hairstyle as an expression of her confidence that I’m going to give her a green light. And, as far as I can see, she’s probably right. She seems like an excellent candidate. Psychologically stable, good impulse control, no problems with anger, not excessively vulnerable to stress or substance abuse, extraverted, and optimistic. Born into a law enforcement family, she was a star athlete in high school, completed college with a 3.0 and recently married her high school sweetheart who is a sheriff’s deputy.
We go through the usual questions about why she wants to be a cop, and I get the usual answers - to make a difference in her community and to help people.
“And your family? How do they feel about you being a police officer?”
“They’re all in law enforcement, except my mom. She worries about me, of course. But growing up with my brothers, she knows I can take care of myself.”
“Tough being the little sister?” I ask.
I take her candor as a sign that she isn’t afraid to admit to some weakness which suggests that she might be willing to get help if she ever needs it and - being a cop - it’s fairly certain that she will. Sometime, somewhere, she’ll run into something or someone that will give her nightmares. The sooner she talks about it, the better off she’ll be.
“You know what they say, good things come in little packages, so does poison.” She smiles and then winces when she realizes that I’m as short as she is, and I’m not laughing. “What I mean is I gave it back as good as they gave it, which is why I know I can handle a bad guy. Not that I’d be aggressive, hit somebody for no reason or anything like that.” I let her trip over her own words for another minute to see where this leads and when she stops digging herself into a hole I move to my next question.
“Your husband is a deputy sheriff. How does he feel about you becoming a cop?”
She looks to the ceiling, gathering her thoughts, careful to take this question more seriously. She’s worried that I’ve taken offense at her spontaneous little joke. To the contrary, I’m finding her rather delightful, although I can’t show it.
“We talked about it for a long time. He knows it’s what I’ve wanted to do forever. I mean, my father and brothers are all in law enforcement. How could I not be? What we agreed was that we wouldn’t work in the same department, that we’d try to work similar shifts so we could see each other more, and that we wouldn’t bring work home. Think that makes sense, Doc?”
I’m tempted to dig deeper, probe the concern behind her question. Police marriages are complicated - too many variables. It works well for some and for others it’s double trouble, two overly stressed people living life in a fishbowl.
Anyhow, this isn’t therapy, this is a pre-employment screening interview, and I have strict guidelines to follow. Any conversation beyond the purpose of determining her stability is strictly off limits.
“I think we’ll be okay. I know we will. Rich and I have known each other since high school. We read each other like books. I helped him study when he was going through the academy: I made flash cards, tested him on his ten codes. I even let him put me in handcuffs.” A pink flush brightens her face. Some association between handcuffs and sex or domestic abuse. She shifts a little further forward. “Now he can help me. We’re a team.”
Mark and I were a team once. We studied together, wrote together, taught together, and practiced together. The only thing he did without me was fall in love with his psychology intern. And then he divorced me, married her, and had the child he never wanted us to have together. I shake my head to loosen the clutch of old memories.
“We’re just about through. Do you have any questions for me?” “Did I pass?” “I’ll have my report in forty-eight hours. As you know, I have no decision-making authority - all I do is recommend, thumbs up or thumbs down. The final decision belongs to Acting Chief Pence.” Her shoulders sag a little at yet another impediment. “But you’ll be relieved to know that I’m going to give you a thumbs up. Congratulations.”
She closes her fist, pumps her arm in the air and whispers “yes” dragging the esses out in a long hiss. I imagine she’d rather jump up and shout, but given the formality of the situation she shows admirable restraint and an appropriate reading of the social context.
I stand. She stands. We shake hands. “You have no idea how much this means to me. I’ve wanted this all my life. Being a cop is my dream come true.” She shakes my hand again. “Thanks, Doctor,” she says, “I promise. You won’t be sorry.”
Praise for the Book
"Highly satisfying ... Kirschman ... perceptively treats complex racial, feminist, person and political issues while providing intimate knowledge of cops' shop procedure ... neatly balances Dot's psychological expertise with her warmhearted humanity ..." ~ Publishers Weekly
"A well-written story that kept me interested from start to finish, The Right Wrong Thing deals with a number of enormously important issues in modern society: sexism, racism, police brutality and post-traumatic stress disorder. But don’t let that deter you; this is still an extremely heartfelt novel … Kirschman cleverly draws you into each character’s world, makes you feel sympathy or anger or disdain and then completely turns the world on its head so what you knew to be up, is now down, what you were sure was right, is now wrong." ~ Rocco & Roux
"Kirschman has proven yet again to be a brilliant author whose deadpan comedic delivery brightens the pages and her visionary detail paints a picture like you are right there ... I was engrossed by every word, at the edge of my seat for each chapter ahead, and impatiently awaited the big solution to the who-dun-it." ~ esotericfox
"Ellen Kirschman qualified as a police psychologist and worked for more than 30 years in the field. In this time she encountered a number of weird and interesting cases. This behind-the-scene experience reflects in the way she writes her novels. The story rollercoasters with a rookie cop accidentally shooting a civilian and she wants to make amends. The way the psychologist deals with the rookie cop's PTSD is inspirational and the book really captured my attention from the start." ~ Net Galley reviewer
"This story couldn’t be any more timely. It looks behind the headlines, into the lives of those involved in these tragedies and the events that might lead up to them." ~ Net Galley reviewer
"I read this book within 2 days! It's just so amazingly written. The author has a beautiful way to share a variety of emotions with the reader. Being a therapist myself, I really found the approach interesting. I highly recommend this book!" ~ Net Galley reviewer
Guest Post by the Author
How Psychology Helps Me Write Characters
Mysteries are about human behavior and every writer, like every psychologist, strives to understand human behavior. What motivates our characters, why do they do what they do, what gets in their way, and what causes them conflict? Being a working psychologist gives me some special insight, but it's not like I sit at my computer thumbing through textbooks or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Think of the DSM as the penal code of mental health. Mostly I reflect on my experiences and the clients whose stories inspire me to write.
I've been a clinical psychologist far longer than I've been a mystery writer. My specialty is treating first responders, cops and fire fighters who are suffering with work-related traumatic stress. My fictional protagonist, Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, is also a police psychologist. We're similar, but not the same. First of all, she's younger and thinner than I am. Secondly, she starts investigating crimes when she should be counseling cops. Thirdly, she's acquired some unique skills that I don't need or want; breaking and entering, impersonating a public official, and assault with a deadly weapon.
My experience as a psychologist was most helpful in creating Dot's character. Few clients understand what goes on in the hearts and minds of their therapists. It would be inappropriate for a therapist to talk about her own issues, unless it would be useful to the client. Dot struggles in silence. She has a broken heart and more than a few psychological problems of her own. She has doubts about her abilities as a psychologist and is impulsive and stubborn. Sometimes she's triggered by a client's pain and sent reeling into memories of her own past. Often she lays awake at night worrying about a client. I know firsthand what this feels like. In fact, my fear of losing a client to suicide was what inspired my first mystery, Burying Ben.
The psychology of today is very different from the psychology I studied at the start of my career. Contemporary psychology is evidence-based, meaning, in a crude way, that insurance companies won't pay for psychotherapy that doesn't conform to approaches that have been proven to work with specific types of mental conditions. Evidence-based treatments protect clients from falling prey to wild, unproven therapies administered by dingbat psychologists like Dr. Marvel Johnson, the self-serving psychologist who makes one rookie mistake after another in The Right Wrong Thing. The woman has no boundaries. She fails to recognize an idealized transference for what it is - that's when the client puts the therapist on a pedestal that is bound to crash - and deludes herself into believing that she is helping her clients by involving them in her own unfettered ambitions. She plays fast and loose with ethics and hides behind Biblical quotations when her clinical errors are about to be exposed.
The specialty of police psychology is different from other clinical specialties because cops are different from the general population. They have a hard time reaching out for help and it doesn't take much to turn them off. Not every therapist is culturally competent to treat first responders. It requires a certain kind of person who is comfortable around guns and not upset by listening to disturbing stories with gruesome details. Police officers are trained to solve problems and take care of others. If they think they are hurting, scaring or disgusting the therapist with their problems, they will back away.
Cops want plain-speaking therapists who avoid psychobabble. They want "shrinks" who are transparent about themselves, answer questions, know what cops do and why they do it. Most importantly, they want a clinician who respects confidentiality and has a sense of humor, because humor is as important to a cop's wellbeing as his or her gun. A non-directive, psychoanalytically trained, therapist who says little more than "uh-huh" and deflects questions with a "why-do-you-want-to-know?" answer doesn't stand a chance. Why is this? Cops rely on information to keep them safe. If a cop asks her therapist a straight-forward question and doesn't get a straight-forward answer, it will be tough, if not impossible, to build a therapeutic alliance based on trust.
Officer Randy Spelling, a central character in The Right Wrong Thing suffers from post-traumatic stress after she shoots and kills an unarmed pregnant teenager. I was able to write about her symptoms and her resistance to therapy in a realistic way because I have counseled many cops who have been involved in shootings. Their grief, ambivalence and moral pain is not what you see on television. With few exceptions, TV cops are largely unaffected by what they see and what they do. I find this irritating.
Randy's story was inspired by a client who shot and killed a teenager who was robbing a citizen at gunpoint. The killing was justified. Still my client struggled with depression, anxiety and nightmares. Her despair over shooting a young person was complicated because she was a woman. The same male co-workers who had tormented and rejected her, now called her a hero. She was appalled that killing someone was the key to being accepted. Writing about the politics of organizational life and the psychology of group behavior adds nuance and texture to my settings and conflict and struggle for my characters. The challenges facing women in law enforcement, for example, do not stop after they are promoted. Randy's chief, Jacqueline Reagon, continues to battle isolation and discrimination throughout her entire career.
Real police work is painstaking, emotional and political. Real therapy takes patience, guts, intuition, integrity, and a good heart. My goal as a writer and as a psychologist is to create a compelling story that also informs the reader about the seldom-seen costs of being a cop or being a therapist.
About the Author
Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in independent practice. She is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Society for the Study of Police and Criminal Psychology, the American Psychological Association, and the International Association of Women in Law Enforcement. She is the recipient of the California Psychological Association's 2014 award for distinguished contribution to psychology as well as the American Psychological Association's 2010 award for outstanding contribution to the practice of police and public safety psychology.
Ellen is the author of the award-winning I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know, and lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (2013). Her debut novel, Burying Ben: A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery (2013) is about police suicide told from the perspective of the psychologist. Ellen and her husband live in Redwood City, California.
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