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Behind the “scenes”: reading for research

I’m not a serial killer (good to know, right?), special ops warrior, veteran suffering from PTSD, DEA agent, drug lord, or hacker, and I don’t have a service dog. (Just a lazy one.)

If I only wrote what I know, my books wouldn’t be romantic suspense, they’d be a cure for insomnia.

So, often a little research is in order. Magazine articles, blogs, and howstuffworks.com are great, but sometimes I need to go deeper. That’s where books come in.

Even if you don’t need to do research, you might enjoy some of the books that I’ve read over the last few years. Here’s a selection of my favorites.

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker

I think every woman (and man) should read this book. The author is a security specialist who not only makes excellent points about trusting your instincts, but talks about common strategies people use to get us to let down our guard. If you’re into psychology, you’ll also enjoy his section on stalkers and killers, and how to fire someone to avoid workplace violence.

Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq by Steve Fainaru

I’ve read several books about private security contractors in the Middle East, including Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater, but this was my favorite. Not only was it an incredibly compelling read, but the author brings you into the minds and hearts of the men he’s embedded with.

His agenda is to understand them, not to demonize them. I have several heroes who are or were mercenaries, and this book really helped me bring them to life.

Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him by Luis Carlos Montalvan

This memoir about a wounded soldier with PTSD and the service dog who turned his life around is a great read. While there are some who dispute the author’s version of events in the Middle East, there’s no disputing the change Tuesday made in his life.

Hot Shots and Heavy Hits: Tales of an Undercover Drug Agent by Paul E. Doyle

I love the TV show DEA for insight on strategies and techniques for drug busts, but for a more personal inside look, check out this book. The author shares stories from his long career as an undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency and its predecessor, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by Kevin Mitnick

Kevin Mitnick is a famous hacker turned consultant. This book details how hackers use social engineering to bypass traditional network security measures. Often they don’t need to spend days trying to break into a computer system. They take shortcuts by convincing people to hand them the keys to the network. Often people just give them the information they’re looking for. Another fascinating read that I found both interesting and scary.

The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel by Robert Mazur

Robert Mazur spent five years undercover as a wealthy mover and shaker with mob connections to bring down the bankers that laundered money for drug lords like Pablo Escobar of the Medellin Cartel, and General Manuel Noriega. This fast-paced book reads like fiction. Hard to put down.

None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in the Afghanistan War by Michael Hirsh

A look inside the lives of USAF Pararescuemen, some of the most elite special operators in the military. The author is a reporter who spent five weeks living among the PJs in Afghanistan. The book contains amazing stories, details that bring these guys to life, and a bit of historical perspective on these men whose motto is “These things we do that others may live.” I went through a whole stack of sticky flags with this one.

Those are a few of my favorites. Got any recommendations to share?

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