Literary letter of the law: Retired Westport cop writes police thriller

He's a retired Westport police detective, a police artist, a private investigator -- and now an author.

But Michael Barrett's first book, "Shoshana," does not take him in an entirely new direction. It's a police thriller with a main character that sounds a lot like Barrett -- a cop, a portrait painter and investigator.

Barrett incorporated several aspects of his own life into the book, and the story sounds as if the author knows what he's doing when it comes to police work -- and he does. During his years as a detective, Barrett was assigned to the state's auto theft task force, working mostly out of a Bridgeport Police Department office. "There's nothing like a good car chase," the author said. "I found that the police job had so many experiences that were just tailor made for writing. Most of what I've read in fiction is written by non-cops and the element of authenticity is missing."

"Shoshana," also includes a professor who becomes the main character's mentor, much as retired Fairfield University philosophy professor Morris Grossman has been Barrett's mentor and friend since Barrett graduated from Fairfield University in 1974. Barrett's also used thinly veiled Connecticut place names such as Westcove and Bridge City in his novel. A native of Bridgeport and a former Westport resident, Barrett now lives in Wilton.

What is different from Barrett's life is that the book's plot revolves around Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and focuses on the plight of Jews during World War II. Barrett is Catholic, but the subject of anti-Semitism is so central to his book that he has been asked to take a book tour for the Jewish Book Council.

When he's writing, Barrett writes six to eight hours a day. Unlike many authors who say they follow the lead of their characters to determine the plot, Barrett said he knows the end of story when he starts writing. First, he prepares a 30-page outline. "You should know exactly where you're going when you start," he said.

Barrett started both writing and painting portraits when he was in high school and college, where he majored in English literature. His father, a lawyer, wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, but Barrett said he wasn't interested. At loose ends, he took the Westport Police Department entrance exam, and never looked back. "I fell in love with police work. I fell in love with Westport," he said.

The best part of police work for him was working with all kinds of people and having constant interaction with the public. "You can actually help people. You're allowed into their lives at the very worst times of their lives," he said. The worst part of police work is having to inform family of a loved one's death. Being called to a home when a baby dies of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) for unexplained reasons, is the very worst, he said.

Policing improved in Westport, Barrett added, when a regulation was passed in the early 1980s forcing bars to close earlier than 2 or 3 a.m. Closing bars earlier cut down on motor vehicle accidents, burglaries, robberies, bar fights and the number of bars in town, he said.

Early in his police career, Barrett was asked to fill in for a police artist when a drawing of a suspect was needed immediately, and he became a police artist both for the Westport Police Department and for other departments around the state. He saw his portrait work as the marriage of two things he loved -- police work and art. Since his retirement in 2000, Barrett, a member of the Connecticut Society of Portrait Artists, each year paints a portrait of a police officer who has been killed in the line of duty, and delivers it to the bereaved family. He is currently working on a portrait of Sean Collier, the MIT officer who was murdered by the Boston Marathon killers. He does not accept payment for the portraits.

He is paid for his private investigative work. Barrett Investigations LLC does marital investigations, investigations for local boards of education determining whether families reside within district, insurance fraud, worker's compensation and criminal investigations. He is also the director of security for Mitchell's clothing store in Westport.

Barrett has two sons -- one who like his father is a police officer, but in Norwalk, and one who followed the path Barrett's father wanted him to take and is a lawyer in New Haven.

Barrett plans to keep up with all his many vocations and avocations, and has already sold an additional two books, also police thrillers. His books, he hopes, are fun to read, but also give civilians an inside look at what it means to be a cop.

"I wanted people to see the cop's point of view," he said. On television police officers are portrayed as hard, often emotionless people, he said. "On TV when a cop shoots someone, it's no big deal and that's not at all how it works. Most cops leave the job with post-traumatic stress disorder," the retired officer said. "A macho cop gets a SIDS call and it changes the way he thinks about people."

"Shoshana," published by Apple Tree Publishing, is available on Amazon, iBooks and Nook.