WOW, so  many replies to my very first post, about cruelty to animals in crime fiction. But I think that discussion has about run its course.   I do  appreciate all the responses,   whether I fully agree  with all of them or not--everyone's got good points to make. Writers see things a bit differently, obviously, than readers. But I like a lively discussion.  I tried to reply to everyone, but sometimes you miss a response, especially when the thread gets long.

But here's another question I have,  since so many of you ARE writers  Whenever I read an interesting mystery, I wonder:  What sort of research went into this? Do the murders in your books mirror real life incidents, or do you more or less completely invent them?

There have been a number high-profile murder cases in my hometown/area.   (The Michael Peterson case was probably the most notorious; before that there was the Eric Miller arsenic poisoning,--the couple worked at UNC Hospitals, in a research lab) ; then the abduction and  shooting of Eve Carson in Chapel Hill by two youths from Durham).  All tragic---but only two, perhaps, with enough material for a writer to harvest. Eve Carson's  murder may have been a killing only of opportunity---the motive for her abduction being robbery, her death possibly unpremeditated.

 Most of the murders committed around here, as elsewhere it seems, are killings of wives or girlfriends by husbands or boyfriends.  Or, as in the case of Eric Miller, the husband was methodically murdered by the wife (initially with the compliance of a  married man she took --and manipulated--as her lover: he  committed suicide before the case could ever come to trial.  )  Michael Peterson was convicted, although the Defense did its best , at great expense and with many "expert" witnesses, to prove his innocence.  There was that other death in Germany years before, when Peterson adopted the two young daughters of the first woman who died in an apparent fall down the stairs of her home, and the judge admitted  it into evidence.  So it appeared there was precedence for his wife Kathleen's murder.

But most FICTIONAL  murders are not of this type, it seems--at least not the ones I've read---even though they are so common.  And these are the REAL murder mysteries. The motives  usually appear to be  jealousy, money---rage over money that is , a desire to escape from a situation that can't be resolved.  The men are sometimes having affairs. (Women too--Ann Miller was). She had an elaborate facade, and was not at all what she seemed.  But instead of divorce, they choose murder. Why?  What's at stake that's so important they'd kill to maintain it when they could just LEAVE?  Money? Status? A spectacular  house (like the ones the Petersons lived in.)

Even after we know WHO, we don't always know WHY. There's plenty of speculation, but someone has to piece together the parts of the puzzle to get any kind of answer.

SO:  would any of you writers  use this kind of material, or is it too ho-hum for a good mystery NOVEL?   For fiction?  Not quite convoluted enough?   Do you search newspapers, archives, etc., for ideas?  Where do you glean your ideas and characters?  Observe a given situation and say...WHAT IF  ?  ;)



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I think it was Tom Clancy who said that the difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense. We try to avoid wild coincidences, unclear motives, etc. But it's all in the execution, really. Any of the true crime stories you mentioned could make compelling drama in the right hands.
Oh, good answer, Jude.

Speaking for myself, I make up most plots, though I have taken some from old case histories. I am very much convinced that realism is absolutely mandatory in a mystery/crime novel. For that reason, I tend to check all incidents I create against the reality I see on TV or in the news every day.
I am very much convinced that realism is absolutely mandatory in a mystery/crime novel.

Yes. I think this genre needs to be "convincing" to be effective. And then again, life often imitates art. There must be quite a few case histories too---a mystery writer's treasure trove, I should think! :)
I like Lorrie Moore's quote: "If life is a field of corn, literature is the shot of whiskey it distills down into." Not sure what it has to do with your question, but there it is.

Short answer: yes--writers borrow from real life all the time. It might be a scenario, bits and pieces of characters, scraps of dialogue, settings (obviously), you name it. My second novel is very loosely based in a real life incident, and the one I'm working on now is, too. The trick is in adapting that factual story and adding the sub-plots, plot twists and suspense (not to mention sex, jokes, drinking and food) that will make the book satisfying to readers as a mystery. Point of view has a huge impact, too--how would your characters think and behave in that scenario? It's all part of the fun.
sex, jokes, drinking and food)

Food, definitely! One of my favorite aspects of a good mystery is what people are eating. That was my favorite thing in the early Patrica Cornwell books---Kay Scarpette was such a great cooK! Robert B. Parker's guy was always eating too. Maybe that's whyP.D. James' Dalgleish never seems quite real or entirely human to me---I'm trying to remember if he ever eats. Rendell's Wexford is always stopping into a pub, very necessary I think for a police detective! The only unconvincing thing about Wexford now is that in real time he must be pushing 90, but actually doesn't seem to have aged a day.
Like that quote, Jon
We try to avoid wild coincidences,

Although some writers---I'm thinking of Ruth Rendell--have used coincidence, HIGHLY chance events, very effectively to launch a story. Case in point: in Lake of Darkness (I think that;s the one) : would-be-benefactor, desiring to remain anonymous, sends neighbor a sum of cash wrapped in a piece of newspaper; the neighbor, who just happens to be a hit man, thinks he is meant to kill someone: the woman whose picture appears on the newspaper page.... Not very likely, but she makes it work!
that other freak.

Lawrence Lovette 17 years old. Thing is, he wasn't a freak. His grandmother, who adopted him as a son, lives only a couple streets away. Neighbors knew her. Sweet lady, church goer , ran a day care center. From what I heard, Lovell was not abused or neglected as a child, seemed fine until after the untimely death of his father. Later he got in with some "bad" people. Something went very wrong with that life. It just went off course. I don't know if they were gang members or not. That destroys a lot of lives, here and elsewhere.

Lovette is too young to face the death penalty, although he had earlier killed another student, a 29-year old Duke graduate student in engineering, Abhijit Mohato (sp?) in a cold-blooded robbery/murder. That wasn't as high profile as Eve Carson's murder---nothing gets attention like the murder of a lovely young woman--- but was later made much of as well, because Lovette was also involved.

Eve Carson was an amazing person---beautiful, intelligent and compassionate. One of the saddest aspects of this whole thing is that SHE would have wanted to help them, to understand them. Yes, they did a horrible thing---and that's two more wasted lives, in addition to the victims. No chance now for rehabilitation.

Everyone was stunned. I used to work at UNC, and Chapel Hillians always prided themselves on the safety of their town. (For the most part it was---but for a couple terrifying incidents over the years). I'll never forget hearing about that murder on TV, and almost not being able to believe it.

But kill the perpetrators? I don't think Eve Carson herself would have wanted that. She was a great believer in human rights, from everything that is known of her. And it won't bring her back, or Abhijit Mohato.
Seems we're always wanting to understand and help predators, especially.

But we DO need to understand them, if we are to get a handle on them, stop them, help them---anything "pro-active." It surely isn't an easy task, but here in Durham there ARE programs to work with such kids---keep them OUT of gangs, teach them to do something meaningful with their lives. Not after the fact--because it's too late for the likes of Atwater and Lovette to get THAT kind of help. Probably. They likely don't even know HOW to feel remorse. Maybe they feel sorry for themselves, but that's not the same thing.

I'm NOT saying we need to coddle them or appease them. No,no no. Boys who commit these kinds of crimes DO need to feel the brunt of society's anger. They need to suffer some real consequences--and I don't mean just a cushy prison cell with a TV and a workout room for life, or until they get parole. (I don't think Atwater will). Hard labor would be good. These guys have forgotten what it means to actually hold down a job.

Sometimes, it's those too-loving mothers--- or grandmothers trying to raise these "fatherless" kids who coddle and spoil them, treat them like man-children, but throw up their hands and pray when the baby starts to get out of control.

But understanding is different. Are they sick because of how they are raised? A genetic defect? Mentally ill? Sociopathic? We can only save other Eve Carsons amd Abhijit Mohatos if we try to see how and what led to this. It has been shown that capital punishment does NOT deter crime.
But young men like these should NOT be on the streets. No way. However, if they just ROT in prison, that doesn't do society any good either. It's more than fascination.
How are cures for any disease found? By persistent research and experimentation. Study it. Who knows if we'll make any progress? But if we ignore it, we certainly won't.
Scientists study black holes. But the criminal mind, the disordered mind, is kind of a black hole too.
We have no disagreement here.

Didn't think we did, actually! :)

Unfortunately, it's hardly, if ever, entertaining enough for fiction.

Maybe someone needs to break new ground? I'm sure there is potential there for a skilled writer to take on. In fact it may already have been done...I'm searching my memory. Minette Walters, in one of her mysteries? Something rings a bell. The problem of the mentally ill homeless is so big in this country....surely it would be fertile material for a novel, and a "social expose" as well.
I don't believe in helping predators.

Sometimes I think this society believes everything must be forgiven, no matter how heinous. Maybe, it's the Bible-belt philosophy, or the ingrained romanticism that believes all people are good at the bottom, or it's that steady diet of soap operas where everybody cheats and kills and returns the next season a new person.
Maybe, it's the Bible-belt philosophy,

Except it's usually the folks from the Bible Belt who are the most conservative when it comes to dealing with criminals. An eye for an eye, they'd say. This is much more a liberal philosophy, don't you think? I'm a liberal in many things, most things---live and let live is my personal philosophy---but for those who DON"T let others live, punishment is in order. But the death penalty doesn't work as a deterrent , prisons are overcrowded, and criminals often don't mind being in prison if they get enough perks. In other words it's not really punishment for some of them!
Alternate hard labor with some kind of mandatory education/rehab? And keep the parole system tight. It was a weak spot in the parole system that allowed Lovette and Atwater to be out roaming around---their parole officer failed in her (?) duties
Result: two senseless deaths.
The best we can do now is learn SOMETHING from that!
As far as people being really good at bottom---I wish I had the optimism of Anne Frank, a role I played in both high school and college plays, the last words of the play being: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart." Poor Anne. When I was 16, I could deliver those lines with conviction. Now? Not likely!

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