Rick Polad, an Earth science instructor at College of DuPage, recently released his third Spencer Manning mystery novel, "Harbor Nights."
The book is the third in the series, following "Change of Address" and "Dark Alleys."
In addition to teaching and writing, Polad also volunteers with the Coast Guard and plays trumpet with the DuPage Community Jazz Ensemble.
The Carol Stream resident said he focuses on character development in his books so readers become immediately invested in the outcomes.
"I want Spencer Manning mystery readers to feel a true connection with the characters -- not only with Spencer, but with the supporting cast as well," Polad said. "I have received numerous comments from readers who say they look forward to each book to find out how the characters' relationships develop as the series continues."
Writing mysteries is a bit of a mystery in itself, Polad said, noting that he usually starts with the beginning and end of a novel intact and then lets the rest of the story develop as he writes, with the plot sometimes taking turns he hadn't anticipated.
"I've had new characters all of a sudden appear who took the story down a path I hadn't planned," he said.
Writing mysteries not only involves developing an interesting story, but the author has to provide readers with enough clues so they have a chance at figuring out the mystery.
"In a good mystery, the readers shouldn't feel cheated," Polad said. "I have read many where the solution was pulled out of a hat with no clues along the way. At the end of a good mystery, readers should be able to look back and find something they might have missed and experience a satisfying 'aha!' moment."
Before earning a degree in English, Polad worked in sales for 20 years before pursuing a master's degree in Earth science from Northeastern Illinois University. Polad said writing was never an aspiration, but rather the culmination of various plot lines and notes he'd been jotting down for years.
An avid mystery reader, Polad developed Spencer Manning after reading hundreds of mystery novels. Spencer represents bits and pieces of personality traits he has encountered over the years and recognizes within himself.
In particular, Polad said he wanted to create a relatable and intriguing person through Spencer Manning -- someone who is definitely not perfect and often finds himself in situations that teeter on the edge of legality and true personal danger.
"Spencer is not your typical P.I.," Polad said. "He has a lot of compassion and cares for his friends and the downtrodden. He is flawed in that he makes mistakes and isn't quite sure about his relationships with women. But he is learning along the way, and I think readers are enjoying watching his evolution as a 'hero' in each of the books. And so am I."
Each novel ends with Spencer or one of the other main characters doing something good or finding some form of humanity within themselves they hadn't known existed.
"I want readers to leave each Spencer Manning novel with a good feeling and wanting to read the next book," said Polad, who noted that "Harbor Nights" contains foreshadowing essential to the plot in his next mystery.
In addition, a new main supporting character shows up, as well as the old favorites.