Monday, 7 January 2013

Choosing the Right Crime

I'm Back! Christmas has been Merry, New Year was Happy and the flu was something I coulda done without. Anyway normal service has been resumed and I won't bore you with my opinions on the best and worst of 2012. Instead I'm gonna talk about crime instead. 

As a crime writer one of the biggest and often hardest decisions to make is quite simply choosing the crime. We need a crime which has consequences in the near future if the criminals are not caught. Serial killers claiming another victim, kidnappers killing after the ransom goes unpaid, terrorist bombs going off or even a stolen wedding ring not being returned to the bride / groom in time for the wedding.

The police or detective solving the crime must have a deadline to increase tension. The greater the consequences then the greater the tension and drama created. 

Serial killers have been done so often there is little new ground to break unless you have a massively innovative idea. (If this idea involves vampires, ghosts or any other supernatural being then sadly it’s not innovative anymore.) 

Of course there are terrorist plots, but they can mean a whole different style of novel than the author intended writing. Historical finds or time slip novels are great too but they more than any other style need the author to show a massive amount of information to the reader without slowing the pace down. 

Kidnapping is a crime with its own built in timeline and consequences which is great, but again kidnapping has been done so often that there are few new angles to explore. Murder is fine for a whodunit, but if there is only one murder then there are no consequences to worry about and pace is replaced by a drilled down police procedural. 

High concept robbery is always good for a police procedural with the whodunit element thrown in. If plans for further robberies are found then you also have a plot driver as consequences have been introduced. Although I’d prefer the detective to “have” to solve this kind crime to save his job / get paid so he can pay his mortgage and prevent his wife from leaving as I care more about characters than corporations. 

Intercepting drugs shipments / human trafficking rings and so on are always fertile ground for writers as they have built in consequences and deadlines. Sex crimes tend to fall into the same bracket as serial killers, as they also have repeat offenders who escalate their spree and they generally kill their victims to cover their tracks.

Missing jewellery and lost pets are not on my reading or writing radar so I will pass no comment other than “get that fucking cat off my radar.”

So folks, what crimes do you choose to read and write?


  1. I'm a massive fan of Patricia Highsmith. I love the tension she builds in the Ripley books. It might be predictable for most folks but I just love her sytle.

  2. Good article, Graham, but I cannot divulge my innovative idea. Sorry, pal. Get me drunk on some of that lovely South African wine of yours and maybe I'll talk. :-)

  3. I like most all of 'em, Graham. The authors that really ring my bell are the ones who make the circumstance or crime less relevant than the characters involved in the deeds. I like Mike Connelly because I have an investment in his character Harry Bosch. I love Aaron Phillip Clark's stuff because of his absolute sense of place and the ways his characters fit into that place. Richard Godwin keeps me reading because, while his crimes are horrific, he creates an absolute need to know who dunnit that eclipses the terrible events. In some other writers like Grant, Rhatigan and Calloway the bizarro aspects of the worlds their creations inhabit fascinate me more than the crimes or threats that, well, threaten the players. (The long-winded BS above is just me trying get at my main thought. Which is, invest me in your character and the world he or she inhabits first. Then I will follow that character willingly through any event the author takes me.)

  4. Thanks for the comments guys.
    Aj, what you've said about the characters is true. With weak characters the story doesn't work as well. However I have to say that certain characters need certain crimes to bring out the best in them. Would a Harry Bosch novel be as riveting if the crime did not fit his field of experience? Imagine him trying to solve a global conspiracy or a tracking down a lost cat. It just wouldn't work as we the reader have grown familiar with the character's skill set. Rape, murder and drug dealing are his forte and those are the crimes Connelly gives im to solve.

  5. Stolen harmonicas, missing cats, runaway musicians, drug-deaing in a Venusian Night club.......

    I'll get my coat!

  6. Well, you aren't going to like my first crime novel about a lost pet....

    I decided upon human trafficking for my first novel. I think there are plenty of crimes out there if you go digging for ideas. Has anyone done a decent pirate story recently?

  7. good question and it needs sometime to reply...!