James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system. His novels have been shortlisted or awarded the Lefty, Anthony, Silver Falchion, and the Public Safety Writers Award.

Face of Greed is his most recent novel. Look for Served Cold and River of Lies, coming in 2024. You can find out more at www.jamesletoile.com

 There’s this old saw in literary circles that authors should write what they know. I don’t necessarily agree with that guidance because I often find it more interesting to write about what I want to know. If I’m interested, then maybe the reader will be as well.

But there was a piece of that advice that stuck with me as I wrote Face of Greed. Write what you know, but write it while you can. There is a plotline in the book dealing with the main character’s mother, who is struggling with the ravages of cognitive decline—dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Detective Emily Hunter is a hard-charging investigator working to solve a complex murder of a political powerbroker who has to balance that demanding job with acting as a caretaker for her mother.

Emily’s burden is something many of us with aging parents have experienced or might have waiting for us in the years ahead. It’s a scary thing, and for the purpose of the story, in Face of Greed, it keeps Emily off balance. She’s sure-footed in her role as a detective with keen instincts and a solid partner in Javier Medina to follow the clues and bring down the bad guy. But with dementia and Alzheimer’s, Emily struggles.

One day, her mother is living independently, and the next, she’s had to move in with Emily because her memory lapses had gotten to the point when she nearly burnt her house down, forgetting the stove was on. It’s an insidious disease. Emily has a conversation with her, and she seems “with it,” aware of what’s happening around her. Then, the next moment, she loses touch and thinks Emily is still in high school.

Emily has to balance her responsibilities to her mother as her primary caregiver with the demanding job of a homicide detective. She has no family to rely upon, and she’s not the kind of person to ask for help. Emily must step outside her comfort zone and not only ask for help to care for her mother but make critical decisions for her long-term care.

So where does all this come from, you ask?

I was once in Emily’s shoes. My mother had dementia in her later years. It crept in slowly, and, as I found out, those who experience dementia become clever about filling the gaps in their memory. They’ll invent an idea that fits, and they’re convinced it’s what really happened. For example, I found Mom dressed and ready to go to a doctor’s appointment when I went to her place. I picked her up, and halfway there, she forgot where we were going and decided we were going to the grocery store instead. Another sign was simple decision-making would cause anxiety, so she found a workaround common to people with dementia. At a restaurant faced with dozens of menu options, the deception is, “What are you having? Oh, that sounds good. I’ll have that too.” It’s a workaround so they don’t have to make that decision. All the sensory input from the menu can’t get through.

As a caregiver for an aging parent, the roles are suddenly reversed. You’re now the parent to the much older child. And that dynamic can create a great deal of friction. Emily experiences it, and so did I. The person living with dementia sometimes realizes their life, who they were, is slipping away. They feel lost, disconnected, and alone. Some experience Sundowner’s Syndrome, where they try to leave wherever they are to get “home.” Their perception of home may be a fragment of memory from the distant past.

Caregiving can be difficult for the caregiver as well. It’s exhausting and mentally draining listening for the next sound of an escaping parent or that phone call that they’ve run off or hurt themselves.

I wanted to bring this into Face of Greed for a couple of reasons. It makes Emily struggle to balance her life. She feels guilt and sadness over her mom’s situation. And she realizes she can’t do this alone. She must bring other people into her life and let them help. Asking for help isn’t something that comes naturally to Emily—wonder where she got that from?

But I also wanted to talk about dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease because so many of us have gone through this—parents are aging, and this is an unfortunate common experience. I’ve gotten feedback from many readers who tell me that Emily’s struggle in this area resonated with them. They’d felt similar demands and struggled to find the help their parent needed.

It makes Emily a bit more multi-dimensional, and as tough as she seems, she’s got a big heart. It opens her up to people coming into her life at the right time—as she’s the better for it. I guess we all need to be a little more like Emily. And we all need to write what we know while we can because we don’t know what the future will bring.

Visit Amazon to meet Emily: Face of Greed (A Detective Emily Hunter Mystery) – Kindle edition by L’Etoile, James. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.