Bob Doerr and his dog, Sky. (Photo courtesy Bob Doerr)
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During retired Col. Bob Doerr’s 28 years conducting criminal and counterintelligence investigations for the Air Force, he crossed paths with all sorts of criminals and suspected spies.
But he never found himself engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a killer in the snowy mountains of New Mexico, and never faced exonerating an old friend accused of murder, the way the hero of his five mystery novels has. Doerr’s recurring hero, Jim West, is a former special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations who wants to ease into retirement at his New Mexico home but keeps getting roped into solving murder mysteries.
Doerr has won several awards for his mysteries — “Dead Men Can Kill,” “Cold Winter’s Kill,” “Loose Ends Can Kill,” “Another Colorado Kill” and “No One Else To Kill” — and on Sept. 29 was named author of the year by the Military Writers Society of America.
Doerr graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1972, retired in 2000, and began seriously writing in 2008. He lives in Garden Ridge, Texas.
Q. How much of Jim West’s personality and experiences come from you?
A. He’s not me. His life is more exciting than mine ever was. I tried to put in him what I considered to be good qualities in a person, and good skills as far as being a trained investigator. So a lot of me goes into how I think a retired OSI [investigator] should behave and act in those sorts of situations that he’s thrown into. But it’s not me at all. It’s really a totally fictitious character.
Q. How about the other characters in your books? Do you sometimes base the villains or other characters on the criminals and agents you came across during your career?
A. Not on specifics. I was in OSI for almost 30 years, and you run across hundreds, if not thousands, of characters. So a lot of the storylines and plots are probably things I’ve thought of in the past, or [I] used a lot of that to help give me ideas. But none of them are based on any individual case or any individual.
In OSI, we ran across all types, all the way from murderers, to child abusers, to crooks and thieves. I may have [put some personality traits from a real-life criminal into a villain], without wittingly thinking of a person when I did that.
Q. Did you always want to be a mystery writer?
A. I think so. I didn’t really start writing seriously until I retired from the Air Force. And even then, I didn’t really get into it for a few more years. But I have written, in the past, a lot for fun. I wrote stories for each of my children when they got old enough to read, and I’m doing it now for my grandchildren. I wrote a lot of short pieces that I never did anything with. ... I didn’t get serious in that profession until about five years ago.
I’m just finishing up a draft of a political thriller that has a character that’s not Jim West. That probably won’t be out until the spring. I think [I have] two or three more [Jim West books left to write].
Q. Are there other genres you write in?
A. I have ... a short novel that just came out, that’s targeted to 8- to 13-year-olds, that I wrote with the assistance of my granddaughter. It’s called “The Enchanted Coin” ... kind of a fantasy adventure.
I wrote it, and then I would get together with [my granddaughter] and give her 10 or 15 pages of typing. She would read it and then get back with me, if she understood it, if she liked it, if I should make some changes, and so forth. [I was] trying to figure out, how do I write for someone her age. She would make comments, or question things, or want something else to happen in the future that I would try to incorporate.
Q. Ever thought about writing a memoir?
A. No, not for me. It’d be complicated. I’d have to go back and get a lot of approvals and coordinate with the military. Besides, I don’t think I probably ever did enough to make a book very exciting. It’s much easier to create a character that does great things.