Murder, he writes

Sheriff’s first mystery mixes police procedure and literary aspirations

By BRIAN KELLY

Herald Writer

Thup! Thup! Thup! Thup!

Sheriff Mike Hawley’s blue-and-white Adidas call out a crunchy but quiet cadence as he jogs along a South Whidbey road, the early morning sky dark but freckled with a thousand stars.

Island County’s top cop is on the trail of a killer, a brutal slasher who’s left a pretty coed dead in a pool of blood.

Thup! Thup! Thup! Thup!

Sweat soaks his gray running gear as a cold coyote calls. Hawley goes over the details of the murder mystery in his mind. He already knows who the killer is, but now he’s more concerned about Leah Harris and her love for coffee. Seems that Harris, the hotshot Seattle PD investigator who’s probing the murder, can’t live without the inky go-juice that forms the center of Seattle’s universe.

Coffee. She loves coffee.

Thup! Thup! Thup! Thup!

Hawley plods on. But there’s no big rush to solve this crime. It’s a phantom menace, a made-up murder.

Seems that Hawley is not only a full-time crimefighter, but a part-time mystery writer.

His first book, "The Double Bluff," has just hit bookstores.

A longtime murder mystery buff, Hawley has been writing since his college days at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He taught high school social studies in Cle Elum after he graduated, but went into law enforcement 15 years ago to get police experience he could later use in his novels.

"The irony was, I found out that I was a better cop than I was a writer. And I still am," said Hawley, who has been Island County sheriff since 1996.

"This is a hobby," he added. "I’m not going to be quitting my day job here."

"The Double Bluff" was five years in the making. It’s set in Seattle, where Hawley grew up, and the characters are composites of people he’s met over the years.

"The names have been changed to protect the innocent," he deadpanned. "And to protect me from getting sued."

Although the paperback has passed the crucial mother-in-law test — she said she likes it — Hawley still has jitters when someone cracks open his debut novel.

"I can’t be in the same room," he said. "Now that it’s in a book form, I can’t even crack it open until I get some feedback. I’m just so nervous about the whole thing."

Hawley is the second author in the family. His wife, M’Liss Rae, has penned several books on quilting techniques.

"We were having a race to see who got published first. And she beat me."

But the sheriff’s holster isn’t empty already. He’s got three other books that are just about finished; he hopes the next is out by January.

His mysteries are what’s called a "police procedural," heavy on the nuts-and-bolts details of police work, like "describing what happens when a bullet hits somebody, rather than what you see on TV."

"It’s different; it really is," Hawley said.

"If a cop reads this, they’re going to go, ‘Oh, there’s someone who knows what they’re talking about.’ And that’s what I’m shooting for," he said.

Published by Writer’s Showcase and iUniverse.com, the book is available at Barnes &amp Noble, Amazon.com and other outlets. A portion can be read on Hawley’s Web site: www.murderhewrites.com.

Hawley gets up at 5 a.m. six days a week and starts writing before his home, located on a South Whidbey hazelnut farm, is filled with the sounds of two teen-agers, five cats and four dachshunds.

"It’s the only time I have peace and quiet from the family and from my job," he said.

He’ll also crank out pages on a laptop while waiting in the ferry lines. Other times, it will take a three-mile run to jog free the perfect passage.

"That sets the next day’s writing, because I actually plot while I’m running," Hawley said. "Even the dialog, I’ll run over in my mind."

But the pace sometimes quickens when he has that perfect plot twist, from "Thup! Thup!" to "THUP! THUP! THUP!"

"I have sprinted home. It’s kind of like: Eureka!"

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