Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When Murder Isn’t Fiction

I’ve probably read hundreds of mystery novels over the years. My preference is for the lighter or cozy variety, where the details of the murder are downplayed and the focus of the book is more on characterization and the solving of the case.

Now that I’m writing them myself, one of my jobs is to try to get into the heads of my characters who have a murder come into their lives, in order to accurately portray their reaction to the killing and their emotions. But it’s difficult, because you’re always at a distance from the murder in a mystery. After all, it’s just fiction: no one has really died; no one is truly feeling the void left in their life when a loved one is no longer there.

Though I have had people close to me die, their deaths have all been of so-called “natural” causes, and most were in their old age. I’d never know anyone who was the victim of a murder. Until my friend Beth was shot and killed a week ago Tuesday.

When Elizabeth (Beth) Butler decided to enroll in the police academy, I think most folks were probably a bit surprised. Robin and I certainly were. We’d met Beth when she was a UCSC student, living at Kresge College where Robin worked. Kresge is known for its high percentage of hippies, artsy-fartsy types, and vegans—not your typical spawning ground for a cop. Beth fit this mold in many ways, being a potter, a dancer, a gardener, and a fun-loving gal with a free spirit and wicked sense of humor.

Beth the mom

Nevertheless, she was happy as a Santa Cruz police officer. A community studies major at UCSC, she’d long had the drive to be more involved with the residents of our community. She enjoyed getting to use her Spanish and investigation skills on the job, and loved working in a field where you truly get to help people on a day-to-day basis. During ten years with the force, Beth worked as a patrol officer—both on foot and bicycle—as a hostage negotiator, as an agent with the county drug task force, and eventually as the detective in charge of sex crimes investigations.