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The real-life detective fiction of Robert Bailey.

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"Most people who write detective thrillers have never been a private investigator," Bailey says. "They wouldn't last 10 minutes on the job. My experience gives me a wealth of situations, characters and plots to work from. I have a well that's twenty-five years deep to draw on, and I have many stories to tell."

A badly broken ankle ended Bailey's career as an investigator, but it also began his career as a writer. "I saw an ad for a contest," Bailey says. "St. Martin's Press has a new first detective-novel contest. So I did that. I didn't win that one, but that's what got me on the road to writing crime novels."

It didn't take Bailey long to win a contest. His first novel, "Private Heat" (M. Evans & Co., $21.95), won the Josiah Bankcroft Jr. Award at the Florida First Coast Writer's Festival in 1998, and he's been at it ever since.

Bailey doesn't just write out what happened in the cases he worked on, but he's able to give the actual feel of a real investigator working on real cases. "Everything is made up; it's all just brain bubble gum," Bailey says. "I'm really just writing about the conflicts and the characters of all the colorful people I've known over the years. The demeanor and the conduct of the case is what really helps."

Bailey insists that his fiction is a bit more thrilling than his job ever was. His fictional PI, Art Hardin, has no qualms about drawing his .45, pumping a few rounds into the bad guys. "If I shot up Grand Rapids like that they'd have rode me out of town on a rail," Baileys says, laughing. "They wouldn't have put up with that stuff for a minute. You know how you always hear people saying, 'I should have done this' or 'I should've done that'? Well this is my chance to do it in fiction."

These days writing takes up nearly all of Bailey's time. This spring, he was the fiction judge for the 22nd Annual Writer's Conference & Writing Contest at Christopher Newport University. While he says that his detective days were wonderful, Bailey doesn't really miss them. "It's a young man's game," Bailey says. "Now I'm focused just on the act of living peacefully and happily. That's what I do."

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