Hello, I’m Austin Camacho and I have the rare privilege of being your guest blogger today. I have four novels in print about my Washington DC-based, African American private detective, Hannibal Jones (my agent is shopping number 5.)
My hostess said I should write something that introduces me to you, but honestly, I don’t think you care a fig about my life. You want to know about the detective who has to deal with the twisted, corkscrew mystery plots I drop him into. So I decided to interview him. Here’s how our conversation went.
Austin Camacho: Thank you for speaking with me today.
Hannibal Jones: I had a choice?
A.C.: You are listed as a private investigator but your card describes you as a troubleshooter. How would you describe what you do, and why is it different from what most P.I.’s do?
Hannibal Jones: Most private investigators do employment vetting, matrimonial and divorce work, insurance claims and that kind of stuff. My work is more focused. My clientele is individuals, not corporations. I work with people who are in trouble and don’t know where to get help.
IA: You do bodyguard work.
IA: And solve mysteries like any detective.
HJ: On occasion.
IA: And if a person has been threatened?
HJ: Look, I do whatever’s necessary to help somebody who’s gotten themselves into a jam. I don’t think much about what that might be, going in.
IA: What is your professional background?
HJ: As soon as I was old enough I moved to the States and joined the New York City police force.
IA: You weren’t born here?
HJ: No. I was raised in Germany. My dad was an Army MP. Mama was a German national. We lost Dad in Vietnam. Anyway, I came to the U.S. to be a cop and I was going to bring Mama over as soon as I was settled but she passed.
IA: While you were away.
HJ: (pause.) Yes. While I was away.
IA: I’m sorry. So, you became a policeman…
HJ: Three years on the force to make detective J.G. Three more as a detective. Then I passed the Secret Service entry exam and spent seven years as a special agent for the Treasury Department, in the protective service.
IA: But after seven years, you resigned.
HJ: Yeah, well, stuff happened. In the protective service they expect you to not only protect your principal’s life, but his reputation too. I didn’t think my duty included covering up a politician’s stupid actions. My boss disagreed.
IA: Any politician in particular?
HJ: Not going to go there.
IA: A national figure? Executive branch or…
HJ: I’m not going to go there.
IA: All right. So you clashed with your supervisor. For that you resigned?
HJ: Yeah. Well, after I knocked him on his ass the service was good enough to let me resign. They were actually pretty nice about it. Could have stopped me from getting the P.I license, you know.
IA: So why this whole troubleshooter concept?
HJ: I guess in a way I did it for Mama. She always wanted me to follow my dad’s example. He was always there for people, always looking out for the little guy. Here in Washington, we got an overabundance of little guys that need looking out for.
IA: How do you get clients?
HJ: Mostly word of mouth. I did a couple of jobs pro bono - kept a couple of kids from being approached by drug dealers. After that people started to find me when they had problems.
IA: So your neighbors are your clients?
HJ: My clients are people with problems bigger than they are. Naturally that happens a lot to people with no money. But I do get referrals from old Secret Service contacts, and sometimes from Cindy Santiago, the lawyer who’s my, um, friend.
IA: So you have entrees into a higher financial stratum, but the well-to-do don’t come to Anacostia. Why have your office here?
HJ: This building used to be a crack house. The owner hired me to clear the bad element out of here. In the process I kind of bonded with the neighborhood. I felt at home here, and I knew if I stayed, the bad element wouldn’t be back. I guess the owner knew it too. He made me a very attractive offer to stay.
IA: Why not join a larger detective agency?
HJ: I like deciding who I’ll take as a client, and what kind of job I’ll do. I won’t do matrimonial stuff, or spy on people. But I do personal protection, missing persons, sometimes get hired to prove an accused person innocent. I’ll chase a bad element away like I did here, negotiate with loan sharks. Basically, if you have to deal with the bad guys and don’t want the police involved, I’ll usually handle it.
IA: You carry a pistol. What do you think of gun control laws?
HJ: Good gun control means being able to hit the target. Anybody who wants a gun can get one, so restrictive laws only keep people who obey the law unarmed and unable to defend themselves.
IA: But isn’t it too dangerous for everyone to be able to have a gun?
HJ: Based on statistics, it’s too dangerous for everyone to be able to have a car. Maybe guns should be more like cars. You get a license to carry at 18, after passing a mandatory training course.
IA: Interesting. How would you describe your relationship with the police?
HJ: I’d call it mutual grudging respect. I don’t mess with them. They don’t mess with me.
IA: How would you describe your personal relationship with Cindy Santiago?
HJ: I would describe it as personal.
IA: What have you learned doing this job?
HJ: I’ve learned that most people are sheep. They’re not looking for trouble and they’ll do the right thing if you let them. A few people are wolves. They prey on the sheep. They need to be shut out or put down hard.
IA: And you? Where do you fit in?
HJ: Me? I guess I’m the sheepdog.
Austin S. Camacho is the author of four detective novels in the Hannibal Jones series - Blood and Bone, Collateral Damage, The Troubleshooter, and Damaged Goods. He is active in several writers’ organizations including Sisters in Crime, and teaches writing at Anne Arundel Community College. After a career as a military news reporter on the American Forces Network, Camacho is now a public affairs specialist for the Defense Department. Camacho lives in Springfield, Virginia with his lovely wife Denise and Princess the Wonder Cat.