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A Former Cop Sets His Crime Scene In Seattle

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A Former Cop Sets His Crime Scene In Seattle

A Former Cop Sets His Crime Scene In Seattle

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Let's end this hour with another installment of Crime in the City. That's our summer series where crime novelists take us around the hardboiled neighborhoods where their stories are set.

This morning, NPR's Martin Kaste introduces us to an author who knows well what was once one of the tougher neighborhoods of Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE: The rain, the seaport, the gloomy Scandinavians: Seattle would seem the ideal setting for crime novels. But if it's noir you're after, you should start your search at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.

DICKEY: Considering the number of serial killers in the great Northwest, I don't know if there is a specific noir part of Seattle. But this would be a good one.

KASTE: J.B. Dickey is talking about Seattle's downtown. His bookstore is just a few steps from the waterfront and the original Skid Road. The thing is - although there are still plenty of guys drinking out of paper bags here - downtown Seattle just isn't as noir as it used to be. To get a sense of what it once was, Dickey recommends "First Avenue," a thriller by writer Lowen Clausen.

DICKEY: It goes back to the days when it was a seedier strip, when it was more about sailors on leave and tattoo joints and strip joints and the donut shop.

KASTE: The Donut Shop. That doesn't sound seedy until you read the book.

MONTAGNE: (Reading) An old man came through the door. He bought a cup of coffee at the counter, but his hands shook most of the coffee out of the plastic cup before he reached a table. A woman pushed a shopping cart heaped with bags and boxes. Her dull eyes stared straight ahead, but at nothing. She took her two doughnuts outside and ate them beside her cart.

KASTE: In the book "First Avenue," the Donut Shop is a front for a criminal enterprise run by a creepy foreigner. In real life, well, that's pretty much what it was.


LOWEN CLAUSEN: It's right there. It's now a T-shirt company.


KASTE: Here's the author, Lowen Clausen. Thirty years ago, he was a policeman in downtown Seattle, and he had first-hand knowledge of the Donut Shop.

CLAUSEN: The owner of the donut shop, his name was Gunther. He had these kids all working for him, and they would steal and burglarize in the area, and then he would fence the stuff out of it. And sometimes he'd participate in the burglaries, too.

KASTE: Clausen is a fit, easy-going guy with a grey buzz cut. It's not hard to believe he's a former cop - emphasis on former. Back then, his beat was Pike Place Market. These days, the market is the most touristy part of Seattle. It's that place where everybody shoots the home videos of the guys throwing the fish

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible)

Unidentified Group: (unintelligible)


KASTE: But in the late '70s, Clausen says, things here were a bit dice-ier.

CLAUSEN: They may not have the pin-maps of crimes anymore. I don't know. That's probably all computerized. But we used to have the pin maps on the wall. And in this area, for the month, there wasn't room, you know, for all the pins to go in.


KASTE: Clausen takes a seat in the Athenian. It's one of those diners in the Market where you're paying for the view, not the food. A bank of fog is rolling in across the Sound - a touch of atmosphere for an otherwise blandly beautiful summer day. It wasn't far from here, he says, where, as a young cop, he started writing his book.

CLAUSEN: I found this when I started working the 4 AM shift. There would always be a quiet hour or so before things really happened. And I would - I had a friend that had a little restaurant here, just a few doors away from this, ran the restaurant by himself, just a little corner space.

KASTE: And every morning, Clausen stopped in for a cup of coffee and sat down at a booth to write. Soon after that, he left the police, dedicating himself to writing a book about growing up. But publishers were more interested in his police experience. So he gave them "First Avenue," then "Second Watch," and finally "Third and Forever."

To keep himself interested, he wrote about women police officers: Katherine Murphy, and later, Grace Stevens.

CLAUSEN: Toward the end of my time on the police department was the first time that women officers were hired to work the streets. And much against my will, I was assigned to work with a new woman officer.

KASTE: Against his will, he says, because he doubted women had the physical presence for the job. But he changed his mind.

CLAUSEN: They didn't rely upon necessarily upon strength or force. They relied upon the position, their job, and the sort of moral authority. And that really impressed me.

KASTE: In Clausen's books, female police officers find themselves sometimes overcompensating for their supposed weakness. In "First Avenue," after a confrontation with a knife-wielding drunk, Officer Katherine Murphy is surprised by her own violent instincts.

Unidentified Woman: (Reading) She remembered how she felt as she had told him to drop the knife: hate. Was it really hate? She remembered the look on his face, the sound of the knife as it hit the floor, her lack of relief that he had complied.

DONNA BURGESS: I felt like he portrayed those female officers very well.

KASTE: Donna Burgess was Clausen's squad car partner. She now lives on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, and is still Clausen's friend. She says his books capture the early female cops' urge to prove themselves.

BURGESS: I know I was way more gung-ho, naive, ready to go fight crime.


BURGESS: And he was always trying to hold me back


KASTE: Lowen Clausen was an accidental police officer, an English major who needed a job. And he was also an accidental crime writer. These days, he's writing the more personal books that he'd planned back when he was walking the beat.

But on his way out of Pike Place Market, he pauses outside a darkened Chinese restaurant.

CLAUSEN: So this is the restaurant right here. And this was called Alex's Restaurant.

KASTE: He peers through the window to find the spot where the young beat cop used to sit and take notes about the local characters.

CLAUSEN: The street people, the vendors, the merchants, all kind of put together in one place. And so I started writing about this, because I wanted to remember it.

KASTE: Clausen admits he misses it, but he doesn't second-guess his decision to leave the police 30 years ago. After all, that world is now mostly gone. His friend with the restaurant has died, the tourists outnumber the street people, and Seattle's notorious Donut Shop now sells T-shirts.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.


MONTAGNE: Read passages from Lowen Clausen's mysteries at Tomorrow, a private-eye takes readers through Chicago, from the gritty to the Gold Coast, as our series Crime in the City continues on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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