Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, June 13, 2011

Frank Pembleton Never Used Streisand Music To Break A Suspect

"What you will be privileged to witness will not be an interrogation, but an act of salesmanship as silver-tongued and thieving as ever moved used cars, Florida swamp land or bibles. For what I am selling is a long prison term to a client who has no genuine use for the product." ~ Frank Pembleton, Homicide Life On The Street

"If a murder is committed in Baltimore and no homicide detective takes the call, did that murder occur?" ~ John Munch, Homicide Life On The Street
 Ah, Homicide. For several years it was the best television show on North American airwaves, until its last two seasons when it got an idiot in the cast whose last name rhymes with calzone (not a fan of the character, what can I say?). The drama about the work homicide detectives in Baltimore do was one of the finest ensemble casts ever put into one show, and among them was one Frank Pembleton, as played by the great Andre Braugher. When he had a suspect to interrogate, watching Pembleton at work (and by extension Braugher in performance) was like watching the master at work. Just a few minutes of Pembleton sitting across from me in that interrogation room, and I'd be spilling everything about the jewel heist and where we've got the loot stashed...

Did I say that last part out loud?

Grover, back in his days as a prime suspect
The first ever game of murderscotch

I've been writing an interrogation in the last few days. It's a pivotal scene in my work in progress. My group of protagonists have come to question a terrorist suspect. They're already armed with a good deal of information. They need more. And so writing the passage has been about goading the suspect into giving that information up.

Given my genre of the spy thriller, torture might be an option, but not for me. I have issues with use of torture, and I don't particularly think it's effective in getting information. In fact, one of my main characters would have issues with its use, given that he's been tortured himself. That's to be left to the prequel, of course, which is yet to be written.

So torture is out. Instead I've been writing the sequence as a psychological battle of wills, and so the Pembleton Techniques (memo to Barry Levinson: why didn't you trademark that?) have been on my mind as I've been writing. One of my characters does most of the talking, and not the one you might expect. Others haven't said anything yet. The point of view shifts between prisoner and protagonists. I've been combining both accusation and empathy in the interrogation. I've used cold hard facts. And I'm using fear and intimidation. It's all meant to wear down the terrorist, to bring him to the point where he gives up.

I did face one challenge early on. My terrorist is in a sedated state, coming out of it as my protagonists arrive. There was the possibility that it might mirror a similar scene in the Tom Clancy novel Rainbow Six,  where a terrorist gives away a whole lot of information while under the influence of sedatives, tricked by the protagonists. I didn't want to go that route, and I knew it might be a problem. When I got to that point, I had come across a way to write it so that it didn't mirror that book. Besides, unlike Tom, I don't feel like writing where the sedatives were made, how they're distributed into the bloodstream, who the custodian is on duty that night, how long ago the hospital bed was made...

As of this point, the interrogation continues. By the time you read this, I'll probably be well past it. It's an involved, extended scene, but the breaking point for my terrorist is in sight. And I didn't even have to resort to having the protagonists use Barbra Streisand music to break his will. Of course, hearing her strangling the cat over a torturous rendition of Hello Dolly would put the interrogators and the suspect in mutual agony, wouldn't it?

Now while I might not use torture as a means of gathering information for my characters.... it can still be funny. Assuming you're not so easily offended, that is. And so I leave you with these...

By the way, confidential to the crew: they've got my confession! Run to your bolt holes and take as much of the loot as you can!


  1. I confess, I confess, I laughed, I really did. What a super post. Good luck with your scene.

  2. I love this!

    You're going to have people literally salivating to read your book at this rate.

    I can't decide which toon I like best: Tom Clancy's cat, the kid hopscotching the chalk body outline, or the poor kitty who can't get any fish.

    I knew Grover would be here....

  3. I'm with Norma...the kitty on the ice is pretty cute, but I really like the hopscotch murder scene and the guy whose torture will be to call technical support...add the muzak...well, lets just say, make sure you keep the razor blades in a place where you can't reach them...

  4. That's worse than waterboarding!

  5. Boy, you're in trouble. Barbra Streisand fans are hard core.

    Last time I called technical support, I was willing to give away secrets I didn't even know if it would get me real help from someone whose accent I could understand.

  6. That explains it. My friend got his dog from Tom Clancy. That thing's eyes glow. The damn creature is possessed.

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  8. Yeah, I have to agree.... the hopscotch kid is my fave! Too funny!

  9. This was a great post, the pic at the end was my fave. I enjoyed reading your process of writing, very interesting.

  10. As a Barbara S fan...

    Why do we torture ourselves by writing tough scenes? Good luck with your interrogation!

  11. A little Barbara, a little Brittney, and little Bieber - I'll spill all! Just don't make me listen to it!

    I love the murder hopscotch picture. When I was a kid (and young adult) we used to draw chalk outlines in the neighborhood. Guess my fascination with murder and mayhem started early.

  12. Haha! 'Call a technical support line'. Now that is real torture!

  13. LOL! Well, Barabara Streisand music would break me in a second! Good luck with your scene...well, you're probably done by now, huh?

  14. Now I'm done. I've had my Pembleton Moment in the book...

  15. This was great! I laughed, first time in days, guy! Well-done. And, as usual, some great cartoons.


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