Classroom volunteer and former detective pens crime thriller
If you met George Collord today, you might suspect the tall, well-spoken and authoritative-looking man hasn’t always been a teacher’s assistant in his wife’s fourth grade classroom.
And you’d be right. Retired from more than 30 years in law enforcement, including time as a Special Deputy United States Marshal working on an undercover FBI Task Force, Collord is an expert in prison and street gangs who also trained and lectured for law enforcement groups nationwide.
For the past eight years, Collord has worked every day in Valerie’s class at Mount Shasta’s Sisson School. Last year, Collord embarked on a third career – that of a novelist. He recently published his first novel, “Hear the Wind Blow,” a crime thriller set in the fictional (although strikingly familiar) Karuk County. Much of it, he said, was written on a laptop in between correcting papers and reading chapter books aloud to the students.
“Hear the Wind Blow” currently has a five-star rating on Amazon and Collord has received nothing but compliments on the book, which centers around celebrated Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department homicide detective Roy Church, who has moved to Karuk County in hopes of finishing his career quietly as a road deputy. He is nonetheless pulled back into the world of investigations when bones, thought to belong to a long-missing local woman, are discovered by hikers.
This leads Roy on a dangerous trail that crosses a decades-long mystery and immerses him in a world of crime that he’s all too familiar with.
Although the mystery begins with those unidentified bones, “Hear the Wind Blow” has several interesting subplots that come together neatly in the end thanks to plenty of twists and turns.
The characters are believable as real people, from protagonist Roy, who is nursing a life-changing wound that isn’t completely revealed until the last half of the story, to antagonist Cedar Stock – a ruthless convict with good grammar and a charming side that makes the reader, at times, actually root for him.
Collord’s writing is exciting and suspenseful, full of imagery and striking comparisons. But this is to be expected – these are the skills his wife, Valerie, teaches fourth graders to use in their own writing daily.
Collord said he intended to write the book just for his family and friends – for the thrill of seeing his own novel sitting on the coffee table.
The idea for the plot was developed last year while on a hike with his daughter, Hailey, a “fanatic reader” on winter break. An English major at Chico State before deciding to double major in forensics, Hailey spent time in Chico’s Human Identification Lab and is now in the forensic anthropologist masters program at Texas State University.
At the time, it was “dead bodies all day” for Hailey, Collord said, so it was natural for her to stop and investigate every bone she and her father came across on their hike.
“She’d examine (the bones) to see: is it fowl? It mammal? She’d ID it, and we started talking ... what if we found something that was a mix of animal and human bones?” said Collord. “We were sitting on a ridge overlooking Mount Shasta – what if someone down there knows about these bones, we thought – and these ideas just started developing.”
Hailey suggested her father write a book based on their ideas, and Collord said he would ... on the condition that she help him.
The two went home that evening and Collord sat down and banged out an outline. They both added details and he began writing – and then Hailey went back to school.
Collord said he wrote the novel’s entire first draft in about five months. He’d send portions of it to her to read, but Hailey’s schedule made it difficult for her to do as much editing as she’d like. So Collord found some local people to help with the task, including Shalonda Gerdes and Terra Cohen – crime novel enthusiasts who had children in Valerie’s class.
He shared the book with a few more people, including Valerie and his father-in-law and continued to get good feedback.
In Amazon reviews, Collord is credited for relating detailed police procedures without becoming tedious. He incorporates his vast knowledge about prisons, criminals, evidence gathering, and police work in general into a story that reviewers said they had a hard time putting down.
“Reading the book was akin to an out of body experience,” wrote Michael Lazzarini in his review. He said Collord’s writing “put me in the room, in the mind of the characters, and into the chase. I felt an obligation to read the next chapter in the same way a homicide detective exhausts leads. It just has to be done because the investigation depends on it! I was fully in the story, visualizing it all ... My pupils dilated and my pulse increased many times as I read through these pages. Subconsciously, I didn’t want to experience the psychological trauma I believed was hiding on the next page. But, like fighting an addiction, I kept reading, unable to control the impulse of clicking the next page button my Kindle.”
The only criticism he’s received, Collord said, is that “Hear the Wind Blow” is long. And at 540 pages, that’s true. But Collord said he enjoys long books.
“It gives you time to develop characters and scenes,” and with the travelogue he includes, the length allows people to get to know Siskiyou County, through the lens of Karuk, of course.
Collord’s characters are three-dimensional because they were all inspired by real people – both brothers in law enforcement and dangerous criminals he worked with during his 30-plus year career. The events included in the book, including the most harrowing and heartbreaking, are all based on actual cases.
Collord said he spent time in prisons, such as Pelican Bay and San Quentin, where he’d go in undercover as a medical assistant, psychologist or asbestos inspector to recruit incarcerated prison gang generals and other gang members to flip and become sources for the FBI.
Countless times, he found himself sitting face to face with a condemned criminal with nothing to lose but who had valuable information that law enforcement could use – if only they had something to “trade.”
Collord said he learned to forge relationships with these men and his informants based on mutual respect. Many of the informants he worked with led lives of unimaginable cruelty and crime. But he also saw their other side – the intelligent, driven men who could have been CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies if they’d taken different paths.
These experiences and observations are what makes Collord’s fictional characters so believable. In his former job, he said, “you never rub up with someone with happy stories. But you meet a lot of people in dire situations” who have backstories that can easily be mined for character development.
Collord is about halfway done with a sequel Karuk County Mystery novel, “The Devil Danced on Church Street,” in which main character Roy “descends his county’s dark and twisted path when he reopens a decades-old case of a missing girl found stuffed near a popular mountain campground.”
If this plot sounds somewhat familiar, you’re right – Collord grew up in Happy Camp, where six year old Willie Cook was abducted from a pickup truck in 1976 and later found dead stuffed in a barrel near the Klamath River.
Collord may draw from his experience as a violent crimes, sexual assault and child abuse detective in his writing. He’ll also draw from the rich history of Siskiyou County to provide a backdrop for his novel, he said, and continue the story of Roy Church. Villain Cedar Stock might also make an appearance, he said.
“Hear the Wind Blow” can be purchased on Amazon. The Kindle version is $4.99 and a physical copy can be ordered for $15.99.