Why can’t crime writing be more like real life?

cucumberI’m taking a quick break from writing the seventh novel in the Mac Maguire series in order to write this post. In the next few weeks I’ll be handing over the first draft to my partner for its first read through. I’m planning on publishing the novel, as yet unnamed, late April or early May and hopefully by then I’ll have come up with a title.

Among the myriad of things I often get wrong in any first draft is the plot line. There are either some obvious holes or, one of my partner’s pet gripes, some events are just too implausible. When these implausibilities are pointed out I usually groan silently and wonder how I could have written something that was so unlikely to happen in real life.

However, real life trumps all of us crime writers and the weirdest things can and do happen. If you have a minute read this on the BBC website 13 of the World’s Most Stupid Criminals. A cucumber featured in one case where it was used as a fake gun in an attempted robbery in Glasgow. Among the other weird crimes are burglars who left selfies or who fell asleep (the ‘Goldilocks’ case) and a thief who tried to steal a car and somehow managed to lock himself inside! If any one of these real events had ever featured in one of my plot lines I’m fairly certain that a lot of readers would have put the book down in disbelief.

Thinking about this has got me wondering about crime fiction in general. Of course criminals cross a line that few of us will ever get to cross, or indeed would want to cross, in our own lives but it can seem like a dangerous and exciting world when seen from the outside. That crossing of the line means that anything should be possible in crime fiction and it usually is, anything except implausibility that is.  Crimes in the real world can be totally random and can often seem to be entirely devoid of any logic. Of course the big problem for the police in these cases is, if there’s no physical evidence, then they may be near enough impossible to solve.

DNA profiling has been the single biggest step forward in crime detection since fingerprints began being used a century before. Since DNA profiling was developed in 1984 the process has become so sensitive that even the smallest amount of DNA found at a crime scene can be identified with incredible precision. Nowadays even the most careful criminal cannot guarantee that they won’t leave any traces behind. However, there are always cases where the evidence is either confusing or not there at all and these may well end up as a ‘cold case’ and never get solved.

Perhaps that’s something that we generally don’t want to think about too much. We all like to think that crime is capable of being understood and that every criminal will get the justice they deserve. This doesn’t always happen in real life but it does happen in the vast majority of crime fiction. Even in those books where the criminal gets away with it, we usually understand why. So is this the reason why we love crime fiction so much? Crime fiction presents us with a world where the crimes are logical, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first, and justice is usually served.

For me there’s a sort of contract that I feel that I’ve made with my readers, one that that I hope I’ve kept to throughout the first six Mac Maguire novels –

  • By the end of each novel you’ll know who committed the crime
  • You’ll hopefully understand how and why the crime took place
  • Justice will eventually be served

I have no ambitions for my books to be seen as ‘literature’. I enjoy writing my crime novels mainly because of the challenge of putting together an intricate puzzle that will hopefully have readers scratching their heads until the end when all will be revealed. I hope that my readers enjoy the puzzle too and will view the novels as entertaining ‘page turners’. However, I’m also hoping that my characters come across as real and that my readers can identify with them.

So the question is do we like crime fiction so much because it presents us with a more logical and fairer world than the one we live in? I think that it very well might.

Anyway back to work.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.