By Kevin McClintock
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A veteran police sergeant broke both his sworn oath and more than a few laws to avenge the murder of his wife and young daughter.
While that sounds like something ripped from the headlines, the story is complete fiction -- and good fiction, according to customers of an online bookseller.
Missouri Southern State University graduate Gary Neece, a 20-year veteran of the Tulsa, Okla., police department, published in January his debut novel, “Cold Blue,” which continues to receive rave reviews on Amazon.com.
Experts say writers should pen stories using subjects they’re familiar with, and Neece has certainly taken that advice to heart. He described the process of writing the 356-page novel as cathartic.
“There’s no doubt that writing about my frustrations in regard to the political aspect of the job helped propel me along,” Neece said. It allowed him to bleed from his system some of the awful things he witnessed during his 18 years wearing a badge.
“Luckily, I had a good story to go along with my whining,” he said.
His novel’s, published by 212Press, is a sort of revenge story. Neece’s fictional Sgt. Jonathan Thorpe is a balanced mixture between “The Shield’s” Vic Mackey and Lee Child’s popular Jack Reacher.
While Sgt. Thorpe does things no cop would ever -- or could ever -- do, readers still root for him and have embraced him enthusiastically, because he’s doing to the smelly, seedy underworld elements of Tulsa (or any American city) what the average everyday Joe would love to see happen to the faceless thugs walking the streets after dark.
So how much of Neece is found inside Sgt. Jonathan Thorpe?
“That’s a difficult question to answer, particularly since Thorpe’s moral compass gets slightly bent. OK, totally twisted,” he said with a cop’s typical sense of humor. “There’s probably more of me in him than I’d like to admit. But really, a little of me probably resides in every character I create. Except, of course, (for) the water balloon-wearing, transvestite prostitute.”
Much of the inspiration behind his writing came from the years he spent in the Special Investigations Division, where he supervised the Tulsa Police Department’s undercover Vice/Narcotics Unit. When Neece came up with Thorpe inside his head, as well as a rough sketch of the plot, he sat down one afternoon and simply banged the story out.
“I didn’t know how difficult it was supposed to be. I’m one of those guys who try to put something together, discover leftover parts, and then decides to read the instructions. I went about writing a book the same way.”
The way Neece described it: “I know what I wanted, so I started with a basic premise, dropped my protagonist in the midst of hell, sat back and watched events unfold. Had I researched the topic first, I might not have bothered trying. For every success, it seems there are thousands of horror stories.”
But it has been a success, and he admits he likes the writing gig.
“I love being a police officer,” Neece said. “I start my workday by strapping on a bullet-resistant vest and half a dozen weapons. I’ve seen and done things that most people will only experience on television. That said, I’ve done this for nearly 20 years and if some day I can earn a living with a pen, I’ll gladly trade in the uniform for a smoking jacket and pipe. But I’m keeping the Glock.”
Neece was born and raised in Kansas City “in a neighborhood not conducive to staying out of trouble,” he said. He graduated from Kearney High School, north of Kansas City, and soon decided to enroll at MSSU. Four years later, he graduated summa cum laude with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. After that, he became a cop.
“I didn’t want to always be a cop but I never wanted to sit behind a desk,” he said. “It was a good decision. I don’t think I would have lasted 18 years in any other profession.”
While cops rarely receive public kudos for a job well done, the positive responses from anonymous readers of his novel have been overwhelming, he said. He approached the process with no expectations, but is now floored by how hundreds of people are reading something he worked on for three years.
Even his fellow cops have been supportive, he said.
“Cops always give each other a hard time, but they’ve been very supportive,” he said. “Given the controversial subject matter, I figured I’d have a couple of chiefs give me the stink eye, but I haven’t heard one negative remark. In fact, I even had one of them tell me (anonymously) how much they enjoyed the read.”
Neece is married to Sonya, whom he met while attending Central United Methodist Church in Webb City. The couple have two daughters.
“They’ve been awesome,” he said of his family. “I have a great wife and am blessed with two incredible daughters. However, the concept that ‘I’m working’ when I’m sitting at the computer is completely lost on them. Panera Bread quickly became my second home.”
When asked which is tougher, being a cop or being a writer, Neece didn’t hesitate.
“Being a cop. Writing is easy,” he said. “Finding a publisher? Now that’s a whole different matter.”