Don’t Let Your Savvy Reader Down

Romantic suspense readers are savvy.  They know their stuff.

Some RS readers enjoy reading stories set on foreign soils. The unfamiliarity of the setting might add to the reader’s intrigue. Or, this reader feels more comfortable knowing the danger the characters face is far away from their safe world. Others, on the other hand, might get an extra charge knowing the dangerous world unfolding between the pages could be set in their own neighborhood. These are the readers that sleep with their lights on and double check their locks. You the author must decide what is the best location for your novel, and know stuff.

What stuff?  Well, besides general setting, which is a no-brainer, and since we’re discussing romantic suspense, you need to know what law enforcement agencies are found in the region you’re using, and, very important, which agencies would be involved in your case at the particular time frame of your plot.  Nothing is more annoying to a savvy RS reader than the author using the wrong agency.

Has it happen?  Yes. It did for me and I promptly returned the author’s work.

Did you know…

…most cases are initially handed at a local level. Under certain circumstances state or federal agencies are involved. There are many partnership tasks forces in place. That is not saying the state and federal resources and data banks are unavailable to the local agents. Those data banks are always available. Always check state and local procedures to involve federal agents.

…the CIA and FBI are both members of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The CIA, however, is not a law enforcement organization. Its function is to collect information only regarding foreign countries and their citizens and analyzes the information vital to the formation of U.S. policy, particularly areas that impact USA national security. It is said, that the CIA is prohibited from collecting information regarding “U.S. Persons,” (U.S. citizens, resident aliens, legal immigrants, and U.S. corporations, regardless of where they are located.)

…The FBI is a primary law enforcement agency for the U.S. government, charged with enforcement of more than 200 categories of federal laws. The FBI task forces have proven to be a highly effective way for the FBI and federal, state, and local law enforcement to join together to address what are called concurrent jurisdiction cases, where a crime may violate local, state, and federal laws all at the same time. Task forces typically focus on terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, gangs, bank robberies, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft.  To learn more about what the FBI investigates visit;

…Single-mission agencies such as DEA which is in charged with enforcing drug law and the ATF, which enforces federal firearms statutes and investigates arsons and bombings works closely with the FBI on cases where jurisdictions overlap.

…US Marshals Service (USMS) is the nation’s oldest and most multi-talented federal law enforcement agency. The Marshals occupy a uniquely central position in the federal justice system. Its mission is to protect, defend, and enforce the American justice system. It is the enforcement arm of the federal courts, and as such, it is involved in virtually every federal law enforcement initiative. The U.S. Marshals Service has been designated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as the primary federal agency for apprehending fugitives that are wanted by foreign nations and believed to be in the United States. Additionally, the Marshals Service is the primary federal agency responsible for tracking and extraditing fugitives who are apprehended in foreign countries and wanted for prosecution in the United States.

…there were five branches of the armed services. Yes, five.  Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army and the Coast Guard. The United States Coast Guard is the one branch of the armed services that does not trace its chain of command through the Department of Defense. It falls under the Department of Homeland Security and as such it is responsible for protecting our shores and inland waterways.  As we all know, the Coast Guard does so much more.

When I brainstormed the plot for my most recent RS release, SEIZED BY DARKNESS, I knew three things. One, I wanted the story to be set in my backyard, northeast USA.  Yup, I’m a making-sure-my-doors-are-locked-and-gun-loaded kidda of girl. Two, the story was going to be about a kidnapping victim reclaiming her life, which meant the FBI probably had been involved in the case but since years had passed my heroine’s case was probably buried under thousands of others. Finally, I wanted the hero to be a part of an elite division of a U.S. agency. But which agency?

Since I was planning a series revolving around a top task force, I needed an agency that is constantly involved in a wide array of cases and the setting could be anywhere in the world. After some research, which led me to the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2006, the decision was a no-brainer for me. I went with the US Marshals and my C.U.F.F. team came to life.

As a result of the Adam Walsh enactment, the USMS established the Sex Offender Investigative Branch (SOIB) in August 2006.  The USMS is the lead law enforcement agency responsible for investigating sex offender registration violations under the Act.  This information and more took my story on a different path—a more emotional one.

So far I’ve referred to USA law bureaus, but if you’re writing a foreign setting you’ll need to know the appropriate law enforcement agents there.  A simple search, as I posted below, can start you on your way to learning facts that will set your novel apart from others and ensure accuracy.

Did you know…

… it is the French DST, “Département de la Sûreté/SécuritéTerritoriale” (Department of Territorial Safety/Security), commonly referred to as la Sûreté that is equivalent to the American FBI.

…the equivalent to the CIA in China is guó ān bù 国安部. Qíng bào bù 情报部 is military intelligence.

…In Britain SOCA (serious organized crime agency) are the UK FBI equivalent. MI5/ 6 are the equivalent of the CIA. (Enter James Bond.)

Once you know the agency, you can gather details about the organization and their agents that will enhance your story and bring your characters to life. Taking the time to research will earn you the respect of serious RS readers.

20 responses to “Don’t Let Your Savvy Reader Down”

  1. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Fabulous post, Autumn. Now I know who to go to for help if I need advice on researching a romantic suspense plot.

  2. Diana Layne says:

    I did not know that about US Marshals, how fascinating. With Vista Security I made up my own agency so I make up my rules (within reason of course). Researching the FBI for The Good Daughter was a lot of work. 🙂 I, too, do a ton of researching though, it’s unavoidable in romantic suspense and also helps with the plotting. Many times I’ve been banging my head (like now-I mean, Siberia, really???) and I’ll stumble on something in a research book that is the solution I needed. Love that!

    • Exactly! My research totally changed the plot line for Seized By Darkness. Reading articles on the FBI and US Marshal site, can really kick your muse into overdrive.

      I can just imagine what you’re learning about Russia.

  3. Rita Henuber says:

    I am a ‘little details’ person. Hours of research will often translate to a few lines on the page but it’s as correct as I can get it. Thing is some readers don’t want correct they want what’s on TV. Unfortunately, at least to my way of thinking, some authors give this to the reader. In fiction I am ready to suspend my beliefs – to a point. A 5’ 2” female agent is not going to carry a Desert Eagle strapped to her leg as a backup weapon.
    The RS readers I’ve encountered are savvy and want their correct details. Thanks Autumn for the great post.

    • Escape that is what the viewers are looking for and that is fine, but I too find it hard to believe some of the things I’ve seen also. Like a female cop would wear 5 inch heels. Really? Sorry not on the job. Maybe as an undercover agent.

      Last night, watching a popular show, the CIA found a serial killer’s location by using recogination software and locating the building he was in. Possible? Yes. But not in a matter of seconds.

      We need to know the facts, and we need to know what to include in our books which will still allow our targeted audience to escape.

  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    Autumn, you’re so right about the fine details needing to be correct. We all have our pet peeves, but one of the things that turns a decent RS into a wallbanger for me – or causes a contest entry I’m judging to lose points, FAST – is making local, state, federal or international jurisdiction mistakes. The FBI won’t be called to solve a simple theft at your heroine’s tea shop, but they WILL respond to the armed bank robbery right next door. The CIA won’t be called if a kidnapped child is transported over state lines, but the FBI will. The responsibility split between local and state law enforcement can vary by state, and vary by crime. It’s worth a writer’s while to research these processes for the state our books are set within.

    I’ve also read/judged several RS manuscripts where the medical examiner is called a coroner, or vice versa. These terms are not interchangeable, and a writer who doesn’t bother to research the difference loses credibility with me very, very quickly.

    Our readers have wide-ranging areas of expertise, and we underestimate their knowledge at our peril. The research has to be TIGHT, and this post will definitely help.

    • Very true. The writer has the responisble to check who is called to a crime and what they’re title is within that location. And if any are unusual, the writer should explain briefly. Example, I’m rural and I know our county cornor is also the county ME. If I use my home town as the setting, I sure would explain that upfront so the readers would not be put off.

      Another example, I used my area for the setting for HIS WITNESS TO EVIL. Since there are a lot of part-time township police officers, the state police who cover a wide area, are called out for what might have been handled at the township level. Again, this situation has to be explained. Thanks for chiming in, sister.

  5. Hope Ramsay says:

    Fabulous info, Autumn. Living in the vicinity of the Nation’s Capitol I have a pet peeve with authors who so not research their settings. I include best seller Dan Brown in this category. He put subways where there weren’t any. Screwed up the placement of the Washington monument, and completely messed up Capitol Hill security. It was shocking to discover this in a best seller.

    • Amanda Brice says:

      Don’t get me started on people who use real settings but don’t get the details right. If you don’t want to do the research, then make up a town. If you’re going to do a well-known famous city like DC, then get your facts straight!

    • WOW! I did not read that one. I did however read a contest entry where the author referred to the DC Metro as the subway. Yes, it is a subway in general terms, but the true termology for locals is the Metro, is it not?

      Always contacting a local, if you’re not familiar with the area, is a good idea. Thanks for bringing that up.

      • Amanda Brice says:

        Yeah, that would be a wallbanger for me. Sure, it may be a subway in the generic sense of the term, but nobody and I mean NOBODY calls it that. Because it’s not. It’s the Metro. If I read that, I’d know the author didn’t do her research.

  6. Great post, Autumn! I loved all the facts you’ve listed here, and the reminder that research is an important component of RS.

    I tend to go overboard with research–once I get started, I can’t stop. And while I believe there’s no such thing as too much research, I think there is a point where you can spend too much time researching and not enough writing. But sometimes it’s just too fun to look up things like how to lift fingerprints or circumvent security systems. LOL.

  7. Fascinating overview, Autumn – thanks!

    Sometimes I love research. Sometimes my eyes glaze over. Which is why I played it “safe” and made up my own agency for the Mindhunters series…plus, I wanted them to be able to do a variety of things to fit my different characters and stories. I also made it a private company. They do, of course, have to interact with local law enforcement and FBI, but they serve as liaisons. Because I’m a perfectionist, I’m afraid of getting details wrong. I try to give myself leeway through this fictional agency.

    I recently had the opportunity to tour our local U.S. Marshals office. And by local, I mean they cover hundreds of miles, including Indian reservations. It was fascinating. I believe the Marshals train in Atlanta, and I was hoping Kiss of Death might tour their facility at the next RWA conference.

    • Oh man, I would so love to go there. I’m hoping Atlanta is possible.

      You and Cyn are both right. Using a fictional agency does give you leave away as far as they’re concern, but I think savvy RS readers will still call you out if the FBI, CIA or other agency is not portrayed correctly, again, without explanation. Just as they will about setting as Hope mentioned above, so take a line and explain.

  8. Amanda Brice says:

    This is fantastic, Autumn!

  9. Jenn! says:

    Wonderful post, Autumn. Though I don’t write Romantic Suspense, I found this information invaluable. Thank you!



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