Thursday, November 19, 2020

John A. Hoda, Private Investigator and Author of Odessa on the Delaware

 I first met John Hoda at the Dallas Bouchercon. We sat near to each other at a panel on cops and procedurals. John and I came to quick agreement that selecting between realism and entertainment was a false choice. The best were able to make realism entertaining, mainly by knowing how to describe it, and in what detail.


We’ve since kept in touch, and John was kind enough to give me a slot on his podcast, between (wait for it) Michael Koryta and Joseph Wambaugh, which are pretty lofty surroundings for one such as me. I have been too slow to reciprocate in my invitation but will correct that today. John’s a great guy, fine writer, and I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of his visit here today.


(Personal note: In the “small world” category, John and I went to the same undergraduate school, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Alas, our years there were adjacent, not concurrent, so our paths never crossed.)


One Bite at a Time: John, welcome to One Bite at a Time. You’ve been a cop, an insurance fraud investigator, and spent the past twenty-plus years not only running a successful private investigator agency but coaching other PIs on how to make their practices more successful. What attracted you to investigations in the first place?

John Hoda: When I was a teenager, I worked at a gas station pumping gas. The local police department got their fill-ups there and I was enthralled by the stories they told me. A couple of times, they got hot calls and had to race off with lights and sirens. I was hooked. I went to IUP for Criminology and upon graduating become the first college graduate to work for that same PD. A short time later, I had the opportunity to become an insurance fraud investigator and I jumped at it.


OBAAT: You’ve been involved with law enforcement and investigations since the mid-1970s. What do you find most different how compared to when you started?

JH: The data is now at your fingertips. Doing a simple locate that costs me 75 cents today would take hours of shoe leather back then. Some things have not changed. You had guys coming home from Vietnam and just trading uniforms. You still have vets of Iraq or Afghanistan doing the same things. With tons of Homeland Security grant money, there is an unhealthy militarization of police departments now. They have to walk that back and put a greater emphasis on community policing and not acting like an occupying force.


OBAAT: Where do you feel the greatest improvements have come, so far as results are concerned? Are there any aspects you don’t feel are as good as they used to be?

JH: Actually, the hardening of job classifications and union rules have caused the
solve rates to plummet. I am hopeful that big data put in the hands of the first cops on the scene will allow them to work more effectively at solving crimes within the first 24 hours. Patrol functions as we knew them are archaic. Better use of time can be spent on crime interdiction and crime prevention. Don’t get me started on interrogation techniques meant to skirt around the Miranda warning. Cognitive interview methods such as PEACE which originated in the UK is much more effective and totally ethical. False statements and false confessions are still a bane of good policing.


OBAAT: On to writing. Your first book was a memoir of sorts, Mugshots: My Favorite Detective Stories. What put the bug in you to write them down and publish? (Note: I have a copy. John should expect to see several “homages” to his work in the next Nick Forte novel.)

JH: For years, I had been a storyteller with my family and friends, who always said that I should write them down, so I did. I didn’t realize at the time, it allowed me to create a voice that seemed natural for fiction.


OBAAT: What made you turn your attention to fiction?

JH: I wrote a story that had been kicking around in my head for twenty years of a little league coach who threw a magical pitch in batting practice. He was discovered by the Philadelphia Phillies, later in life. The book is titled Phantasy Baseball: It’s About a Second Chance. In that book, the protagonist meets a sorority sister at a mixer. She is an accounting major that wanted to become an FBI agent. Fast forward twenty years and they meet again. She married and divorced but kept her married name, O’Shea.


OBAAT: You’re four books into the Marsha O’Shea series. Tell us a little about her, and the books.

JH: Post 9/11, the FBI became the lead domestic intelligence gathering three-letter agency and stopped being the federal crime-fighting alpha-dog. Marsha was a gunslinger in the Miami Cartel days and when her squad was disbanded, she returned to her hometown in Philadelphia to quietly count the years to retirement on the nontraditional organized crime squad when a Russian gang enforcer decides to take over the entire Philly mob scene. That is how Odessa on the Delaware starts. At the end, Marsha is beginning to get her mojo back, but has a setback that sends her into the bottle and slumming on administrative leave in the Sunshine State, where Clearwater Blues is set. I take a real hard swing at the loopholes in gun laws, domestic violence, and non-existent mental health treatment in this country. Can she stop the next mass shooter headline?


She is then given a mission impossible-like assignment in Detroit and Detroit Wheels takes you on a thrill ride while the clock is ticking. A serial killer strikes only once a year on 9/11, his target Muslim women. Marsha puts together a sandlot team of investigators outside of normal channels in the race to prevent the next killing. Injured and exhausted, she accepts an assignment too soon after Detroit that deals with sex trafficking in Reading, PA. West Reading Traffic is the fourth book in the series and brings us back full circle with her co-protagonist in Odessa.


OBAAT: Any particular reason you chose a female protagonist?

JH: Marsha and a sportswriter turned crime beat writer appeared in Phantasy Baseball and carried over into Odessa. I found that I liked Marsha and her backstory made for a compelling, complex, and totally believable female investigator trying to make on her own it without a squad backing her up or in the shadow of a still male-dominated law enforcement culture.


OBAAT: What’s next on the agenda?

JH: Stew Menke, the sportswriter turned crime beat writer got his start in Vietnam as an Associated Press stringer. He and Tom “Doc” Barnes, a Navy corpsman, who later became the Philadelphia Phillies manager cemented a life-long friendship in the red clay of the first Marine platoon trench line on Hill 861 at Khe Sanh in January 1968. Dispatches from Hill 861 is slated for a May 2021 release. I will take you back to Marsha’s gunslinger days in Miami with a novella to become the prequel novella for her series.


Dana, your readers can get Odessa on the Delaware FREE with this link:

They can check out my website at or email me at



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