Most of my reading is non-fiction, but I can enjoy an occasional realistic novel.  Grisham and Turow, for example, lawyers who write courtroom fiction.  Scott Turow, formerly an assistant US attorney in Chicago, makes you feel like you’re right there as he takes you through a US attorney’s sting operation in “Personal Injuries,” published 22 years ago and still quite readable.

Alas, writing about guns and law enforcement shootings is not his strong suit.  Reading “Personal Injuries, ”which is set in the early 1990s, I got to the part where the female FBI agent working undercover unarmed suddenly decided she needed a pistol.  Turow wrote:

There was no point in sitting there unarmed while she was waiting for the bogeyman. The only weapon (her boss) could get her was one of the S&W 10 millimeters that nobody in his right mind really wanted. Typical D.C., good idea gone wrong. After the death of three agents in a shootout in Miami, the thinking types wanted eleven-inch penetration, lighter ammo, fast expansion. Smith & Wesson made the gun to spec, but the thing was the size of a cannon – she’d need a beach bag, not a purse, to hide it – and the handle was bad. At home she had an S&W 5904, high-capacity double-action semi-automatic, 9mm. That was a weapon. 

Where do we begin? Only two agents were killed in Miami during that terrible incident on April 11, 1986: Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove.  The 10mm Smith & Wesson Model 1076 adopted when John Hall headed FBI’s Firearms Training Unit was a compromise, since some agents wanted a .45 and others wanted a high-capacity 9mm.  The 1076 was essentially the same size as the 5904 Turow ascribed to his fictional agent, though admittedly heavier since the 1076 was all steel and the 5904 had an aluminum frame.  FBI’s specified minimum penetration depth for duty ammo was twelve inches, not eleven, and “lighter ammo, fast expansion” was the exact opposite of what they sought.  A light, fast 115 grain Winchester Silvertip from Special Agent Dove’s 9mm S&W Model 459 had gone through the cop-killer’s arm and into his chest, and stopped about an inch before it reached his heart, allowing him to stay up and running…and killing. 

Little flubs like that irritate people who work in the given field. That said, though, Scott Turow writes great fiction when he writes what he knows.


  1. I have been reading Jack Carr’s books and they are not bad for a new writer. His descriptions and usage of weapons is pretty good, though he did mention a “little silver colored revolver” in one book.

  2. Maybe Mr. Turow mistakenly confused the S&W 1076 with the slightly bigger IMI Desert Eagle 🙂 When he wrote, “The handle was bad” did that mean the grip was too large, poorly shaped, uncomfortable, etc? I had the identical framed S&W 1006 and 4506 with both the flat and arched plastic stocks and they fitted my medium sized hands fine.

  3. I can only speculate on how difficult it can be for a fiction writer to keep from making basic mistakes, and no – I’m not ‘criticizing the criticism’. Having written technical documentation for electronic products numerous times over the years, regardless how careful you are and even when having the product in front of you it’s likely that some detail will be missing or technically incorrect.
    It is very humorous, however, when the technical writer gets it right but the senior project engineer says ‘that’s not the way it’s supposed to work’. Yes, I’ve had that happen…

    • Larrydd,

      About information being, “technically incorrect.” I’ve heard it said that computer information at the machine level (I think that means “bits” and “bytes”) is recognized by electricity as being either off or on. Someone once told me that actually, the machine recognizes high voltage and low voltage, not off or on. I just now did a brief Google search, but could not find the answer. I’ll keep looking.

    • I’ve been a reporter, I now write books. A good writer is, in fact, a good reporter, one who is also good at getting information. I got little things wrong when I worked in newspapers. Deadlines will do that. When you write a book you have plenty of time to get things correct, and in a case as high profile as the Miami shooting, this is something he shouldn’t have screwed up.

      It’s simply laziness.

  4. I am retired from almost 50 years as a degreed Petroleum Engineer working hands on in the oilfield drilling new oil and gas wells and repairing old ones. I have the same reaction when I read the crap the media “reports” on some incident in the oil patch. They rarely get a single fact correct.

    At least Turow only had a handful of mistakes.

  5. In fiction, by many different authors I have read of Glock safeties being clicked off, and slides being racked just before going into action. What really makes me laugh when watching tv with closed captioning, is a rifle cocking, when it is actually a pump shotgun loading one into the chamber. Never mind the actor’s finger on the trigger while this is happening!

    • Almost every time I have seen an actor pick up a firearm for any reason his/her finger is always on the trigger. Lord only know where the muzzle will be pointing.

  6. Guess maybe I’m to old and tired but when I read a book where a .22 LR blows out
    the back of a bad guy’s head or where the guy clicks off the safety on a Glock, I
    usually just toss it after I either review it on Amazon or send the author an email
    telling them why their book sucks. It only takes a few seconds research on Google
    to get the facts straight. Use them to increase your clientele and you’ll sell more

  7. I guess Scott Turow’s proofreader needs a proofreader. It is good that this type of literature is called “fiction.” Although, I know the technical stuff about guns is not supposed to be fictitious, it is supposed to be factitious. ; )

  8. One author who is pro gun (though only moderately gun savvy) is Dean Koontz. He usually (not always but usually) gets his gun stuff technically right (though you can tell it’s thru research and not experience), and his characters believe in armed self defense.

    My favorite Koontz quote is from page 306 of his novel “The Darkest Evening of the Year”:

    “In self-defense and in defense of the innocent, killing is not murder, hesitation is not moral, and cowardice is the only sin.”

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