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Private-eye turned author to visit Grass Valley

Becoming a novelist is no easy task.

The pay is poor, it can take years to finish one book and even longer to find a publisher.

On top of all that, novelists are a dime a dozen and very few modern writers reach the ranks of notoriety during their career that John Grisham or Michael Crighton have.



So, why would David Corbett choose to leave the sexy career of a private eye to write fiction novels?

“Being a writer is one of the hardest professions, but it is also the most rewarding,” Corbett said.




Corbett said he always planned on being a writer but became a private investigator to gain life experience.

“I knew being an investigator would give me insight into society and a more informed sense of crime and criminal behavior,” Corbett said last week in a phone interview from his home in the Bay Area.

Corbett will discuss his writing and share readings from his latest novel, “Done for a Dime,” today at the Bookseller in Grass Valley at 6:30 p.m.

The time he spent with detectives, were his “years at sea,” he said.

During the 15 years he spent as a P.I. in San Francisco, Corbett worked on a number of high-profile criminal and civil cases including the Michael Jackson case, the People’s Temple Trial and many involving drug smugglers.

The experience he gained while working on these cases, provided the themes of his two books.

For example, he said that the idea for his first novel, “The Devil’s Red Head,” was influenced by corruption he witnessed surrounding urban development and the impact on minority communities.

And while Corbett’s books are fictional, he said that they more accurately reflect the truth about criminal behavior than nonfiction literary crime novels.

“I like to show why crimes happen by describing how social fabric, class conflict and status in society lead certain people commit crimes and why depending on these things, some can get away with them,” Corbett said.

Corbett admits he doesn’t write the “standard mystery novel,” and instead describes the books he writes as sociological novels.

In addition to tackling social issues previously addressed by authors in the 1930s such as class conflict and corruption in police and government, Corbett develops the characters in his books through a very detailed and psychological approach.

He begins with a rough composite of each character, often of someone he actually encountered through his work as a PI. Then, he explained that he interjects sociological qualities and their personal history in order to build a believable person through which to tell a story.

“You don’t want the characters to be the pawns that you just push around in some kind of criminal chess game,” Corbett said. “You want them to be real so you tell the story that they’re actually living.”

As an investigator, Corbett worked with a wide range of criminals that he said fit one of two molds: the “garden variety” criminal, such as drug smugglers or they are those least expected by society to commit crimes, such as high-powered corporate criminals.

As he alludes in his novels, it is the second category of criminals that Corbett believes are the most dangerous.

“The self-made business person is the most dangerous because of their status in society, they are able to craft viscous crimes and often, because of who they are, get away with it,” Corbett said.

“Business can really serve as an outlet in society for functional psychopaths.”

Corbett’s novels have been praised for the believability and fruitfulness of their characters and his style has been compared to Jim Thompson who is the author of “The Grifters” and “The Getaway.”

The audience Corbett to which believes his novels will most appeal to are those that also enjoy mystery writers George Pelecanos and Michael Connely.

He plans to discuss an array of topics including how the 15 years he spent as an investigator colored his views about society and influenced his writing.

He may also try to clear up public misperception of high-profile criminal cases that receive excessive attention by the media such as the murder of Lacy Peterson.

“The media colors these cases in black and white, but they aren’t that simple,” Corbett said. “There is a gray area to these cases that I try to show through my books.”


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