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Originally published Sunday, March 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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By-the-book cops - and their lit picks

They read to know their suspects, they read to know how to manage their squads, they read to inspire creativity — but for many cops nothing beats the most far-fetched fantasy tale to simply escape.

Special to The Seattle Times

They read to know their suspects, they read to know how to manage their squads, they read to inspire creativity — but for many cops nothing beats the most far-fetched fantasy tale to simply escape.

They do what they can to make time for reading, stashing paperbacks in their patrol cars and devouring a chapter here and there while at a coffee shop. Some even said that they hoped to leave the rank and file and become novelists themselves.

So we asked five local officers about the books they love, the books they hate and the books they are slogging through right now.

Neil Low

Captain, 59, Seattle Police Department, homicide unit.

Book he couldn't put down: "L.A. Confidential." "In fact, we studied it in school. It's more noir than a lot of things out there."

Book that changed his life: "To Kill a Mockingbird." "It was the nobility of Atticus Finch. His taking on an unpopular, unworthy cause, which is so much of what we do in police work. It is just rich in symbolism."

Favorite genre: Crime fiction.

Favorite reading spot: A big overstuffed chair in his family room or in his car "in case I get stuck anywhere."

Author he'd most like to meet: "James Ellroy. It would be a fun conversation to sit down with him. To talk about my time in law enforcement and his less-than-perfect past."

Best movie adaptation of a book: "Road to Perdition." "I love the sepia tones."

On his nightstand: "The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town," by John Grisham.

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Last thing he wrote: "I am on Page 58 of my third manuscript; this one is called 'Year of the Dragon.' It is a crime mystery novel, with a little more spying involved. ... I have one book that is going to get published now. I'm working around stories all the time. I can't use them while I'm here, but I use them to inspire my imagination."

Michelle Bennett

Sergeant, 38, King County Sheriff's Office, Maple Valley.

Favorite genre: Nonfiction.

Book she couldn't put down: " 'The Chronicles of Narnia' (all of them!)"

Passage that changed her life: "All things work for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose," Bible, Romans 8:28.

Biggest disappointment: "The Lovely Bones," by Alice Sebold. "It seemed far-fetched, too kitschy."

Favorite reading spot: Starbucks.

Author she'd most like to meet: Psychologist Lev Vygotsky and the Apostle Luke.

Best movie adaptation of a book: "The Client." "I like John Grisham books, and I really liked the movie."

On her nightstand: "The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types." "It looks at the context of psychology from years and years past, how personality types get along with different personality types. It helps get a sense of people you are around and people on the job."

Last thing read: "Green and Eggs and Ham" to her 4-year-old son. "I have it memorized."

Last thing she wrote: A doctoral dissertation at Seattle Pacific University called "Take a Stand against Bullying: Evaluation of the Efficacy of a School-Wide Program for Middle School Students." [She passed the exam in January.]

Sarah Finkel

Detective, 27, domestic violence and child assault unit, Bellevue Police Department.

Favorite genre: Fantasy. "I like 'The Lord of the Rings,' 'Narnia.' I read Sarah Douglass' books. Pretty much anything that is a little out there and really imaginative."

Book that changed her life: "Children of the River," by Linda Crew. "I don't know if the book itself was great, but I was excited to see an Asian heroine in a book. I thought it was cool I looked like the person in the book."

Biggest disappointment: Patricia Cornwell, "Point of Origin." "Because she killed [her character FBI profiler] Benton Wesley. I thought that was really sad."

Favorite reading spot: At home in bed with her cat, Snick.

Authors she'd most like to have met: C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien.

Best movie adaptation of a book: "The Lord of the Rings." "I hadn't read the books before I saw the movies, and I got sucked into the books because of them."

What's on her nightstand: Edith Hamilton's "Mythology."

Last thing she wrote: "I write ideas for stories or about a character, just for fun. Someday, I have told myself, I might try to write a book. I like to explore in different ideas.

"I write police reports all day, and it's fact, fact, fact. I like to write something which captures people's emotions; it's just something we don't do in police reports."

Steve Strachan

Police chief, 43, City of Kent.

Book he couldn't put down: "The Cider House Rules." "I like John Irving, and I thought it was a great book that took a really straightforward and balanced approach to a controversial topic — abortion."

Book that changed his life: "To Kill A Mockingbird."

Biggest disappointment: Anything by John Updike. "I have read three of those Rabbit books, and they're just awful. They seem pointless and self-indulgent."

Favorite genre: Biographies.

Favorite reading spot: Airplanes and airport terminals (by necessity).

Author he'd most like to meet: David McCullough. "He makes people like Harry Truman and John Adams interesting, which makes me think he would be a very interesting person to talk to."

Best movie adaptation of a book: "The Shawshank Redemption."

What's on his nightstand: "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History," by John M. Barry.

Last thing he wrote: A weekly column sent to subscribers of the police department Web site. "I try to make it relevant, local and interesting."

Adrian Diaz

Officer, 32, youth at risk/community outreach, Seattle Police Department.

Book he couldn't put down: "The Indian in the Cupboard." "I remember it was my first real long book that had suspense."

Book that changed his life: "The Meditations," by Marcus Aurelius. "It's more about life and how we perceive and how we deal with things surrounding us. I think it helps in the context of my job, just trying to deal with all the different things we face."

Favorite genre: "I have gone back into a lot of the historical Roman type books, kind of the foundation types of leadership. I read a lot about the Spartans and Troy. Things that happen hundreds of years ago will happen today — it's a circular system."

Favorite reading spot: In bed.

Author he'd most like to meet: Homer. "To find out what he was thinking and how he was able to write the story ["The Iliad"]."

What's on his nightstand: "Critical Issues in Police Civil Liability." "It's not my ideal book, but I have to [for a sergeant's exam]."

Jennifer Sullivan covers cops and crime for the Seattle Times: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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