Monday, January 11, 2010

Who is Greg McKenzie?

If you're new to the Greg McKenzie Mysteries (you'll find four of them in the column at left), here's your chance to learn a lot about the protagonist. The following interview contains a lot of stuff you won't find in the books. There's just so much room for background info. Actually, this is an update on an interview with the gentleman I did a year ago. If you haven't met him, or even if you have, he's Lt. Col. Gregory McKenzie, USAF, Retired.

CC: Welcome to Mystery Mania, Colonel. Give us a little background about yourself.

Greg: I was born in St. Louis to a red-faced, garrulous Scotsman who was a master brewer for Anheuser-Busch. He came to the U.S. with his parents as a teenager. My mother, a schoolteacher, had some Scottish blood in her, as well. After high school, I majored in political science at the University of Michigan, then worked as a St. Louis County deputy sheriff for about four years. I joined the Air Force and became a special agent with the Office of Special Investigations.

CC: What’s an OSI agent do?

Greg: They’re like police detectives, similar to the Army’s CID and the Navy’s NCIS. We investigated crimes, on and off base—I jokingly say I pursued cases like overpriced wrenches and stolen toilet paper, but it was a lot more serious than that. I was involved in murder investigations, drug cases, espionage, terrorist incidents. Anything that might pose a threat to Air Force personnel and installations.

CC: You stayed in until retirement?

Greg: Yeah, stayed in sounds good. When my time was up, I was sort of invited out. I never minded stepping on toes if it got the job done. But when you step on toes that wind up marching around the Pentagon and overseeing the OSI, it gets a little sticky. I found my career maxing out as a lieutenant colonel. Unless you’re promoted to full colonel, they cut you off after so many years.

CC: You really did the retirement thing at first, didn’t you?

Greg: Oh, yeah. I was only sixty, so Jill and I bought an RV and set out to bum our way around the country. We wintered in California, then summered through Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas. We headed for Florida when the weather turned coolish, and made our way up the East Coast as spring pushed its way northward. For two years after that, we enjoyed sniffing the jacaranda around the American retirement community outside Guadalajara, Mexico. But Jill longed to return to her roots in Tennessee. So we bought an immodest log house in the Nashville suburbs, and now it’s very much home.

CC: I believe you worked for the DA in Nashville for a while?

Greg: You had to bring that up. I enjoyed my stay but it didn’t last too long.

CC: What happened?

Greg: There was this case, made a lot of noise in the papers and on TV. The wife of a young CPA who lived in a fashionable section of town disappeared. She was a successful interior designer and the daughter of the president of a big local bank. The lead investigator for the Metro Police was a detective named Mark Tremaine. He immediately zeroed in on the husband and hounded him to death. Tremaine ignored some other leads and continued to expound his theories on what the young man had done with his wife’s body. When he couldn’t take it any longer, the guy took his son and went back home to Philadephia. I made some pretty strong remarks about what I thought of Tremaine, believing it was off the record. They showed up on the front page on the newspaper. The banker, who didn’t like his son-in-law, was the DA’s chief backer. End of career. [CC Note: this is detailed in Secret of the Scroll.]

CC: So you’re now a PI. How did that come about?

Greg: That was mostly my wife’s idea, but I bought into it. After that situation down at Perdido Key, Florida, where we looked into the death of our best friends’ son [CC Note: that was in Designed to Kill], Jill had the bright idea that we should open a private investigation agency. I had enjoyed getting back into the role of criminal investigator, though strictly on a volunteer basis, so I agreed.

CC: Your wife had no experience, right?

Greg: Right. She’s had lots of experience as a commercial pilot, ran her own charter service while I was in the Air Force. But investigations, no. However, in Florida she showed a real knack for getting information out of women in an informal setting. She still does it, and she’s turned out to be a great assistant in my investigations. Oh, better not let her hear that “assistant” thing. We’re equal partners, of course.

CC: As I recall, your military service was sort of a family tradition. Tell us about that.

Greg: As far as I’ve been able to determine, it started back in 1794 when sixteen McKenzies were mustered into the 98th Argyllshire Highlanders at Stirling Castle, north of Glasgow. After the unit was re-designated the 91st, other McKenzie relatives followed them on down to 1881. That’s when the 91st was merged with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders to form the regiment my grandfather fought with in the Boer War and World War I. My dad, Rob McKenzie, was a little less combative. He was an Army cook in World War II.

CC: You haven’t mentioned your age. You’re still in your late sixties, aren’t you?

Greg: Right. Thanks to you. It’s still 2004 where I live.

CC: Wish I could slow down the calendar like that.

Greg: Hey, you should be a character instead of a writer.

CC: Sorry, I don’t believe anybody would want to write about me. Stories have to be exciting, not boring.

Greg: I’ve been shot, mauled, threatened, insulted, disparaged . . . how about taking it easy with me next time out?

CC: All that action keeps you on your toes, keeps you young at heart. All that and your good-looking wife. Thanks for being with us today, Greg. I look forward to seeing you around again soon.

Greg: How soon? People keep asking when am I getting another case.

CC: They'll see you soon as I can finish A Sporting Murder.