Comber-based author Carol Kravetz puts pen to paper in a series of arresting crime novels
A love of classic American TV cop shows and an ambition to serve the public helped Comber-based author Carol Kravetz put pen to paper for the first in a series of arresting crime novels, writes Lee Henry.
Despite growing up here during the darkest days of the Troubles, when members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were forced to contend with policing issues above and beyond the normal call of duty, Carol Kravetz always had an ambition to join their ranks.
Born in Newtownards and raised in Dundonald, her aspiration to don the uniform and patrol the streets was not in her blood - none of her aunts or uncles, cousins or kin had done so before her. Nor was she directly affected by the Troubles, motivated to protect and serve from a personal point of view.
Rather, she was drawn toward the policing profession by the iconic cop shows of her youth, water-cooler programmes that she watched religiously in the company of her sister. Shirley, and brothers Brian and Barrie, glued to the screen and captivated by the derring-do of her televisual heroes.
"I first became interested in crime back in the seventies," says the 54-year-old. "I watched all of the American TV shows of the time, shows like The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Starsky and Hutch and Charlie's Angels.
"My favourite cop show was easily Starsky and Hutch, mainly because Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul were so handsome! I was certain I would one day become Mrs Starsky. My best friend at the time felt the same about Hutch and we often fantasised about having a double wedding and living next door to one another. A girl can dream.
"Although I'm not one for violence, I always enjoyed seeing the heroes get their man and solve mysteries. Even in my early teens, I knew that the police were the good guys, the ones who endangered their lives every day just to keep regular citizens safe. I wanted to do the same."
Carol's parents, Randal and Norah, were understandably concerned.
Though Norah had also harboured ambitions to become a police officer in her youth, she worried about the circumstances in which her daughter might serve. Nevertheless, they supported her choice of career.
"A girl in school who was a couple of years older than me had joined up and I remember one evening seeing her walking the beat, as they did back then, and looking so proud in her uniform," Carol recalls.
"The glamorous aspect of it influenced me, though my mother understood more of what the job entailed. Being in the police service back then was a really dangerous job, but it didn't matter to me. I just wanted to help make a difference to the community."
In the event, however, Carol's parents needn't have worried - after she received advice from a schools job counsellor, she learned that she was physically unable to serve and protect. At 5ft 2in tall she was two inches shorter than the necessary 5ft 4in to make the cut, even for the reserves. The realisation left her "devastated".
"I remember feeling disappointed and let down," she says. "Joining the police was the only thing I had wanted to do, the only career I had considered, and it was taken away from me at an important stage of my life. It was hard to take, but I don't dwell on things. I moved on. Obviously, my mum was relieved."
After the disappointment Carol got on with her life, emigrating to Canada in 1989 after marrying her first husband and subsequently settling in Charleston, Carolina, with her second husband, Mark Kravetz (70), a marketing and sales consultant working in radio and television. Yet Carol remained fixated with crime.
She spent her days working as a medical secretary and her evenings and weekends dreaming up plots. In 1991, she put pen to paper on what would become her debut novel, Murder Is Just The Beginning.
"The older I became, the more disheartened I was at not being able to follow my childhood wishes of being a police officer, and eventually I came up with the plan that if I couldn't be one, then I could at least write about one," she says. "It was my first attempt at writing anything, but when I read the finished first copy I realised, to my horror, that I really should have done some research. It didn't feel authentic. I set out to glean as much information as I could."
So she knuckled down, trawling the internet, local libraries and other available resources in an attempt to educate herself in the ways and means of proper policing. It was difficult and time consuming, with years passing in the interim, but ultimately worth it. Carol became something of an expert on international police procedure.
"It was the nineties, before Google and Wikipedia, so I spent a lot of time in libraries and bookstores," she explains.
"I spent a small fortune on reference and procedural books, but I wanted to learn as much as I could to make my stories as authentic as possible. I learned that Canadian policing is not much different from Northern Ireland policing and how the PSNI go about their business, but in the States, it's different. Each state has minor alterations, differing rules and regulations.
"They also have different branches, such as state troopers, county sheriffs, city police... and jurisdiction is normally based on geography and boundaries.
"I met a police captain in South Carolina and he gave me a few pointers about the particular topic I was writing about at the time. It all paid off in the end."
Murder is Just the Beginning is published by Sly Fox, a subsidiary of Ravenswood Publishing, and tells the story of two PSNI officers, Cathy Edwards and Crista Nolan, assigned to a murder case in the fictional city of Bathville, Massachusetts.
It is the first in a projected series of seven books, and combines crime with romance.
Carol developed a love of reading at an early age. "When I was eight or nine, I acquired a new reading lamp and I remember asking my mother, who was going out to a church meeting that evening, if I could go to my room after dinner to test it out," she tells me.
"Off I went with a pile of books, without telling my dad where I was going, and he spent all evening looking everywhere for me, even recruiting the neighbours. He even went to the church hall to tell my mother that I was missing. Of course, she burst into laughter and asked him if he had checked my bedroom. I spent many an evening after that on my own, reading as much as I could."
Thankfully, her childhood was "minimally affected" by the Troubles. "It was just a way of life," Carol recalls, "going into Belfast and having my bag searched. I heard bombs go off in the distance, some major blasts that saddened and sickened me, but not too often. I didn't hold me back from living a normal life."
Carol went to Sunday School with her siblings and still lives by the Christian values instilled by her parents, but these days, she admits: "I don't go to church as much as I should, simply because I believe that you don't have to be in a church to worship or give thanks to God. It was a matter of choice rather than a rebellion."
After returning to Northern Ireland in 2012 after her husband, retired, the couple settled in Comber. There was not much acclimatising for Mark, a Jersey boy at heart, who loved Northern Ireland from the off.
"The pace of life, the beautiful scenery, he loves it all," says Carol. "He even took to driving on the wrong side of the road very quickly, though he isn't the biggest fan of the weather. It's much sunnier in South Carolina, believe me."
Carol continues to work and is currently employed as senior clerical officer in the Special Needs Department of the Educational Authority. It's a job that she loves.
"It's tough, very demanding, but ultimately rewarding," she says. "It can be difficult sometimes explaining to parents that certain services are no longer available, thanks to all the government cuts, but that's the same for a lot of people. It's my first time working within the education structure, and I enjoy it."
The dream, however, is to succeed as a writer, and with six more books in the Edwards and Nolan saga yet to write, Carol has her work cut out.
A "diehard" Stephen King fan, she understands how to capture the reader's imagination and plot a tight, twisting tale.
Her favourite crime writers are Tess Gerritsen and Peter James, and she hopes to one day share a shelf with them in the classic crime section of her local bookshop.
"What do I hope to achieve with my series of books? World peace, a house by the sea and lots and lots of sales," she jokes.
"Seriously, though, just getting published has been such a thrill ride in itself.
"It has been a dream for most of my adult life to get published, and all I can hope for is that there are some readers out there who will come to love my characters and my stories as much as I do, and will always want for more."
Murder Is Just The Beginning by Carol Kravetz, published by Sly Fox, is available on Amazon, priced £14.32