Espionage and undercover police work is not only dangerous, but necessary, but what type of people engage in this kind of life? Eileen Schuh, the author of The Traz and Fatal Error talks about how this kind of secretive life has shaped her characters.
Espionage, intelligence gathering, surveillance, spying. The men and women who live lives that are not theirs, who waltz through life replete with fictional personalities and imaginary pasts. My character, Shrug, in THE TRAZ and FATAL ERROR, is one of those. Not a movie-type political spy saving the free world from nuclear doom or Cold War attacks, but an undercover cop, infiltrating THE TRAZ biker gang to bring down one of North America’s most powerful drug cartels.
Espionage and undercover work require a special kind of person—one who can endure the constant danger to not only one’s body, but one’s soul, one’s heart, one’s conscience. A special kind of person able to create bonds, both real and phony, with the enemy, knowing there’ll come a time when one will betray those bonds.
Shrug’s real past and who he is beneath his gruff exterior remains for the most part hidden from us, although we gather some clues in THE TRAZ and FATAL ERROR. We know Shrug ate, slept, rode, played and did business with the drug lords that he eventually nailed in court.
We know he went undercover to escape a personal trauma and was more than willing to face the danger inherent in the operation because his woes stole his lust for life. We know he has some issues with his religion, also tied in somehow to that past trauma.
Katrina, the young teen protagonist of THE TRAZ, who was recruited to the gang by Shrug, tells us he taught her silence conceals both ignorance and guilt, which explains some of how he managed to preserve his secret identity and stay safe.
Shrug tells us he was bothered more by things he didn’t do while undercover than the things he did, suggesting he once led a life actively nurturing humanity.
Yes, it takes a special type of person to ignore evil as well as participate in it to not only get one’s job done but simply to survive. To keep from blowing one’s cover. To ‘get to the top’ of an organization, get to the bottom of crime. To uncover the truth.
Constable Debra Ann Carter, who knew Shrug before he went undercover, say he came back a changed man—meaner, uglier, less honest, less gentle.
Shrug was undercover four years with the bikers, too long, his boss and the overseer of the undercover operation, Sergeant Kindle, admits when he discovers some of what Shrug did (and didn’t do)—behaviour that was far outside legal and ethical limit, even for an officer undercover. Long after I wrote the BackTracker novels, I discovered recent research does indeed show that police forces ought not to let their office stay undercover for more than three years or things start to go wrong. Deadly wrong, in the case of THE TRAZ.
The convoluted motives, the grey areas of the law, the division of responsibility and the necessity of forgiveness touched on in both THE TRAZ and FATAL ERROR appeals to adult readers. As well, both novels provide fodder for thought for the younger set who are in the process of developing a mature sense of justice.
Grief, guilt, blame, betrayal and ultimately, forgiveness. Although few judge Shrug more harshly than he judges himself, the immense success of his four-year stint dismantling The Traz will be forever tainted by what went wrong. One FATAL ERROR and someone died. Who’s to blame?
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