Michael Norman

Criminal justice is something Michael Norman knows enough about to write the book, so he's done just that — twice.

The second novel by the Weber State University professor emeritus of criminal justice, a recently published sequel to the first, parlays multiple facets of Utah police procedure and keeps the books' characters, Sam Kincaid and Kate McConnell, running around the streets of Salt Lake City, delving in and out of issues involving the gay community and polygamous religious sects in the area.

"Utah is a great state with a lot of interesting places," Norman said. "I know the state pretty well, and that's important to establishing setting and giving readers a sense of 'Hey, I've been there' and 'I know that place."' Norman had noticed that not many books had been set in this state.

His first work, "The Commission," details the search for the murderer of a head officer in the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, and is set in Draper. The story takes some tragic twists, delving into both the professional and personal lives of its characters.

The new book, titled "Silent Witness," follows Kincaid, chief of the special investigations branch of the Utah Department of Corrections, as he tries to keep the witness to an armored car robbery alive. The accused robber is the leader of a polygamist group, and his followers are bent on ensuring that witnesses to the crime never make it to the stand.

Originally, the book's "group of bad guys" were members of a neo-Nazi/skinhead gang, represented in the prison and present in the community, but over the course of several rewrites, a spin-off group of the FLDS Church worked better for the story, Norman said.

"It really forced me to take a look at the FLDS Church," he said. "I know it's timely ... but that was not intentional at all. I needed a gang to make the plot work and I happened to pick this group and I think we've made it work pretty well. But it's not a book about polygamists. There are a lot of things going on besides that."

Norman tried to keep issues close to home and relative to his experience in Utah. The murder victim in the book, an accountant, is a member of Salt Lake City's gay community, and a witness targeted by the gang is a University of Utah student.

His first book earned a Best Book of 2007 award from Publishers Weekly, and the sequel, which was released May 10, is still being reviewed and is popping up in online book clubs and local bookstores.

Norman, who lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and their dog, has been a WSU professor since 1981 and continues to teach an occasional course at the university. Prior to his work at WSU, he was a police officer and state parole board member. He's been working on the books for years.

He's working on a third murder mystery, not involving Sam Kincaid, but set in Utah's Kane County, involving environmentalists and land use arguments.

"You just write what you know," Norman said, adding that his experiences with policing and the parole board have provided an "enjoyable pastime" and "something to do creatively" in his retirement years.

His books, published by crime-fiction specialists Poisoned Pen Press, are available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon.com, as well as local independent bookstores.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com