Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Favorite Cop in the World

After Friday’s classes, at a delicious restaurant recommended by SIBA, a group of book lover’s sat down to dinner.  Judith Rosen from Publisher’s Weekly; Chris Finan, President of the American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression; Detective Joe Matthews, twenty-nine year veteran of the Miami Dade Police Department; Mitchell Kaplan, former head of SIBA and owner of Books & Books; Becky Quiroga, Children’s Book Buyer for Books & Books and manager of the children’s section at our Coral Gables store; Les Standiford, bestselling author of nonfiction like Last Train to Paradise and The Man Who Invented Christmas, as well as the John Deal mystery series; and Eric Svenson, sales rep and southern charmer extraordinaire for Harper Collins.

Oh, and me.  I read books.

People who love books tend to two camps; shy (or bookish, har-har) and storytellers.  Standiford and Matthews are storytellers.  Mitchell is one who comes across as shy, but that’s just because he’s as good a listener as he is a speaker.  Through the three of them, we hear the story of how Bringing Adam Home became a book.

It started with the timeline of Adam Walsh’s abduction, a document it took Matthews over two years of constant effort to create.  Hoping it would serve as a warning of what could go wrong if investigations were mishandled, he shopped it to a university press.  The editor-in-chief said, “I’m going to do you a big favor – I’m not going to publish this.”  The Uni editor advised Matthews to take it to a big publisher, where it could get the treatment and audience it deserved.  

A few days later, Matthews was having lunch with a friend who mentioned that attorney Joe Kaplan – once a lawyer for the police unions in Miami – had a kid in the book business (if you don’t know books, that’s like saying Basil Fanshawe Jagger has a kid in the rock star business).  Joe M met Joe K, who called Mitchell, who met Joe, who liked Mitchell, who thought of Les Standiford to make a non-fiction document into what Truman Capote called a factual novel.  

To hear Matthews tell it, he and Les hit it off right away.  They met for coffee at a McDonalds and stayed there for four hours.  “They probably thought we were homeless.”

As martinis, cuba libras, mojitos, and Budweisers flow (along with the occasional soda and Odoul’s for souls brave enough to handle sobriety), talk turns to e-books, family, pornography, and movies.  

Matthews tells a great story about a Hollywood actor who wanted to make the Baby Lollipops case into a movie, or a TV series.  This actor nipped around super-stardom from the seventies to the nineties but never quite made the leap to household name status.  He specializes in soft-hearted tough-guy roles, and sympathetic villains.  For the sake of storytelling, we’ll call the actor Guff.  

Guff and Matthews didn’t quite hit it off.  As a man who trains officers on how to administer lie-detector tests, Matthews is uniquely qualified to tell when someone is full of shit.  Still, Matthews agreed to meet Guff at the bar in a South Beach hotel.  

Guff bullied the servers and spent the evening trying to take the female half of a couple he just met to his room upstairs.  Matthews decided to bow out gracefully.  

Guff wouldn't have it.  He followed Matthews into the street, demanding an explanation.

Like a date gone sour, Matthew knew that they wouldn’t work together.  Also like a date, he tried to come up with reasons Guff would understand which wouldn’t hurt his feelings.  Something’s off, we don’t click, now let’s just go our separate ways, the chemistry isn’t there, I’m trying to spare you here, etc. etc.

None of it satisfies Guff.  He wants a reason Joe Matthews won’t work with him.  Matthews is a cop, used to confrontation and plain speaking.  He’s tried to be gentle, but he’s wasted as much time as he’s cared to on this B-list actor. 

“Listen, Guff – I don’t like you.  Is that clear enough?  I don’t like you, and we’re done.”

Guff goes ballistic.  How dare a nothing like Matthews dislike a successful actor like Guff, a man with his own production company, perfect stubble, and chin that could cut class?  He screams himself into a frenzy.  He promises Matthews he’s dead in Hollywood.  He actually uses the phrase, “Do you know who I am?”  

All that would have been fine.  Rude, yes, but Matthews would have walked away.  Except Guff poked Matthews in the chest to emphasize his point.

Matthews grabbed Guff’s finger and bent it back.  To hear Matthews tell it, Guff screamed “in a cowardly fashion.”

“Do you know who I am?” Matthews asked the actor.  “You don’t come to my city and tell me off.  Don’t ever call me, don’t ever talk to me, I want nothing to do with you, ever again.”

My favorite part of the story was Matthews tone when he described Guff’s scream.  Matthews sounded surprised, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing for such a little thing.

Clearly there’s a difference between playing tough, and being tough.  


  1. Jut wait till someone bends your finger back buster and see how you scream. I bet that really hurt.......

    I would have sued.


  2. Oh, I'm sure I would have wailed like a toddler who just lost his video game privileges. But when I got home, dried my eyes, iced my finger, and wrote about it? I would have been Clint Freakin' Eastwood.


    "Is that the best you can do?"


    "Is that all you got?"

    (gives up, teary-eyed)

    "Yeah, that's what I thought. Now go buy me an ice cream."