Law enforcement careers lean toward literature
Updated: Oct 17, 2018
Former Buffalo detectives, once partners, pursue different paths to literary success
One writes books; the other sells them.
Yet when Lissa Marie Redmond and Sal Valvo worked together as partners in the Buffalo Police Department more fifteen years ago, neither had any inkling that they would travel separate paths into the literary world.
Redmond, 47, is the author of a crime fiction series set in Buffalo. The first book of a trilogy, “A Cold Day in Hell,” was released last February, and the next installment, “The Murder Book,” will publish in 2019. After spending twenty-two years with the Buffalo police, she retired three years ago.
Valvo, 51, also left the department in 2015 to work as an investigator for the Erie County District Attorney. In July, he and his wife, Penny, bought Turn the Page Used Books, formerly known as Crazy 4 Bookz, in the village of Hamburg.
Two detectives who worked side by side have moved along parallel avenues to position themselves squarely in Western New York’s literary scene.
Redmond and Valvo partnered together on the Sex Offense Squad in the early 2000s. Both began on patrol before they finished college, and eventually became homicide detectives. During their investigations, they came to respect one another — a sentiment that continues today.
“Sal was a great detective,” Redmond recalled. “He was the type of detective that if something happened to a family member, I’d want him to handle it. His work was that good. I also knew Sal was a reader because we used to talk about books.”
From her office on Elk Street, Redmond began her own on-the-job lending library, filling a bookshelf with literature she had read. She encouraged fellow officers to help themselves to anything there, and many did. Some books were more popular than others: titles by Stephen King were a hit, but Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice" never found a home.
“Sal was always giving me recommendations,” Redmond said. “He’d ask, hey, did you ever read this?”
Valvo admits he wasn’t a reader as a young man. But when he began coaching hockey at St. Francis High School, then at the University at Buffalo, with youth teams peppered in between, he sought answers from books.
“I wanted to become a better coach,” he explained. “That’s what got me into reading. I was interested in motivational books and also learning how to dissect whether people were telling the truth or not. Reading was an effort to better myself, both as a coach and a policeman.”
During a weekend hockey trip, he refueled at a Thruway rest stop, where he noticed a book for sale called “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach. Valvo had never been interested in fiction until then.
“It was about a college baseball player, which I had been,” he said. “This was right up my alley. I read it front to back that day. I made myself into a reader and found it was peaceful, a real contrast to the files on my desk which were disturbing and difficult.”
After transferring to homicide, Valvo was assigned a partner, Jimmy Lema, who was an avid reader. Lema turned him on to crime fiction from Michael Connelly.
Redmond, on the other hand, was drawn to books from an early age.
“I’ve always been a voracious reader,” she said, “I read five books at a time. I think that goes hand in hand with writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. As a girl, I asked for a typewriter for Christmas and got this little plastic one. Keys would stick and the ribbon got snarled.”
Redmond wrote while she was a cop, but between her job and family — with her husband, Dan, she has two teenage daughters — she always felt time was too scarce.
“Writing was always on the side. Being a cop is beyond full time. It’s twenty-four hours. You’re never not a cop. You are always on. I was writing when I had a spare hour here or there. When I finally retired, I was able to throw myself into writing one hundred percent.”
A book deal
It took a year for Redmond’s self-described “detox” from the Buffalo Police. She continued to wake up early, expecting to head into work. Because her husband is also a cop, he sometimes brings home stories and Redmond feels like she never left.
“I got on the job when I was 22 and retired when I was 44, so I literally spent half my life doing it. When I hang out with friends on the job, that’s when it hits me that I’m not there anymore.”
The first draft of her novel had been completed before she retired, but Redmond recognized it wasn’t strong enough.
“I spent a year polishing it,” she recalled. “It needed work, but I hadn’t had time to do that. I chopped off the first twenty-five pages and changed the ending. I knew I needed to join some professional writing organizations and figure out the business end of this and start to query agents.”
Some agents rejected her outright, but others provided feedback in their responses. Redmond listened and made necessary changes.
“A lot of writers find that querying is a daunting task and they can’t handle rejection,” Redmond said. “But going through that process really did make my book better.”
Soon, Redmond landed a three-book contract. “A Cold Day in Hell” has been met with positive reviews, both in Western New York and nationwide. The plot centers around Lauren Riley, a Buffalo detective who is hired by a slick defense attorney to help keep an innocent teen from prison. Facts of the case, however, don’t fall in a straight pattern. To add further intrigue, a stranger begins stalking Riley.
Redmond has traveled to several writers’ conferences and visited cities such as New York, Chicago, St. Petersburg, and Austin to promote her book.
“Seasoned writers told me to say yes to everything my first year,” she said. “Meet with readers and engage with them. I’ve done that and it’s been fantastic. People in other parts of the country are interested in Buffalo. I was surprised because we’re not glamorous. We’re not a tourist destination, but the city lends itself so well to crime fiction. I want to show people another side of us besides the stereotype of snow and chicken wings.”
Valvo is proud of his former partner.
“It was exciting to learn Lissa had a book deal,” he said, after he heard the news from another detective. “Very cool. When I read her book, I was trying to figure out who all the characters were, which probably isn’t the best thing to do. I really enjoyed it and I’m so glad for her.”
“My book is populated with cops and lawyers and judges,” Redmond noted. “I’ve gotten feedback from all of them who have reached out and told me how much they liked my book. God, I can’t tell you how that makes me feel. It’s not like I bumped into them and they said this. They actually contacted me through email or my website to specifically tell me that. That’s the greatest compliment, because cops can be brutal. I thought they’d tear me up, but across the board, they’re positive.”
Redmond smiled with self-deprecation. “Or if they don’t like it, they’re not telling me. I appreciate that, too.”
A bookstore deal
On a spring night this year, Valvo and his wife Penny rode their bikes through Hamburg, where the family had moved from South Buffalo a decade before. Fueled by his love of reading, Valvo was a regular customer at the used bookstore on Main Street. He often joked with his wife they should buy the business someday. Being evening, the shop was closed, but both were stunned to see a “Going out of business” sign in the window. A few blocks away, they stopped in a park to talk things over.
“I was always thinking of businesses in the back of my head, whether it was a bookstore or something else,” Valvo said. “The only scheme of mine that my wife liked was a bookstore.”
Penny is a kindergarten teacher in West Seneca schools, and they have two college-age children. She is an avid reader too. Husband and wife agreed to reach out to Keith Pesono, who had opened Crazy 4 Bookz in 2002. Talks progressed quickly, and during the next several weeks, the Valvos shared late-night discussions about the prospect of adding another career. Both soon agreed this was a perfect opportunity for them.
“He’s thought about an ice cream store, a beer store, a coffee shop,” Penny said, listing her husband’s ideas over the years. “Nothing too crazy, but nothing we had any experience in. I love bookstores, both old and new, so this had more meaning to me than his other ideas.”
Within six weeks, the bookstore had a new owner. Everyone was surprised by the quick changeover.
“It’s been exciting, hectic, and stressful,” Valvo admitted.
“I expected it to feel more like work than it has,” Penny said. “I’ve fallen in love with it so quickly. And it’s great to see Sal this involved and excited.”
Because they each maintain full time jobs, the business relies on hired help when they can’t be there. When the Valvos eventually retire, they intend to log longer hours at the store.
“The coolest thing has been something we hadn’t anticipated,” Valvo reflected. “People walk in the door and talk with us. We find out their stories. That seems to be going on with a lot of customers, and we hadn’t expected that. Penny and I aren’t rude, but we never went out of our way to be ‘people people.’ We’re enjoying that part of it.”
Redmond was excited to learn her former partner was selling books.
“I was very surprised when I learned about the bookstore,” she said. “But once I thought about it, I could see Sal being surrounded by books. I could see Sal and his wife wanting to spread literacy to kids. It made perfect sense.”
Valvo, in fact, offered Redmond a job behind the counter. She has years of experience manning the shop a few hours each week at another independent bookseller, Dog Ears Bookstore, at the foot of Abbott Road in South Buffalo. But with frequent trips out of town to promote her own books, Redmond reluctantly said no.
When they partnered back in 2005, Redmond and Valvo did not share late-night discussions about their futures.
“When I retire, I’m going to become a crime writer,” Redmond never said. Although she thought it, she simply didn’t share those plans with fellow detectives.
So Valvo never responded, “Hey Lissa, that’s a great idea. You know, when I retire, my wife and I are going to run a bookstore.”
Yet here they are: careers in law enforcement, followed by careers in literature.
“That we both ended up this way is funny,” Valvo reflected. “I never would have expected it. In the back of my head, the idea of a bookstore was there. Writing was probably closer to the front of Lissa’s mind, but we just never talked about it. Now it’s clear that we had even more in common than I thought.”
For more information:
Turn the Page Used Books
79 Main Street
Hamburg, N.Y. 14075
Tuesday through Friday: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
© 2018 by Jeff Schober
The story behind
The first time I phoned Lissa Redmond at her office in the Cold Case squad one summer afternoon in 2007, I introduced myself as a writer. She immediately perked up. “You’re a writer?” she repeated. “Have you written anything I might know?” Right out of the gates, it was clear she was interested in books.
I met Lissa when I was writing "Bike Path Rapist,” the true crime chronicle published in 2009 with Det. Dennis Delano. Lissa had been a member of the task force composed of elite investigators from different agencies around Western New York. Their concentrated work led to a successful arrest and conviction.
We became fast friends, and she encouraged me to write my first crime novel, “Broken and Profane.” That led to three other books which make up the Buffalo Crime Fiction Quartet. Fast forward more than a decade after our first meeting, and Lissa is experiencing her own well-deserved writing success. I’m so happy for her.
I met Sal on a different summer day in 2018 at the used bookstore in Hamburg. The former owner, Keith, introduced me to the new owner. It wasn’t long before we were talking about his job as a detective, the people we knew in common, and that he once partnered with Lissa.
Sal and his wife Penny have jumped into business with both feet. I think they are performing a great service by keeping the used bookstore up and running. It’s a cozy gathering spot. Reading is so important, and the world can’t have too many bookstores!
Thanks for your interest in Buffalo Tales. Please check back for new stories around the middle of every month, and help spread the word!