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Getting Real
Carol Anne Davis on Crime Fiction
Carol Anne Davis is a crime
fiction novelist and author
of dark books.
Visit her site

riginally, cosy crime novels had little to do with criminals or their murderous acts. Instead violent death was reduced to a genteel middle class puzzle. Such novels were more interested in how a man in a locked room could be murdered than in why someone became a spree-killing sociopath.
                Nowadays there are writers around who have walked down meaner streets and who want to explore genuine criminal psychology. The better true crime books also take an encouraging tell-it-like-it-is approach.
                Some of those true crime writers have offender profiling experience. I met former FBI agent/profiler John Douglas at a book signing in Glasgow, Scotland, on the afternoon of the Dunblane Massacre. The first news reports of the carnage had just broken, so we knew that several children had been shot dead by a man in their own school. Asked to speculate, John Douglas said that the man would most likely be single, a loner, and have had a strong past connection with this particular building. Time proved him absolutely right.
                Relatively few writers get domestic violence scenes absolutely right. I've written about this in the crime magazine Shots, about how often such cruelty is downplayed and prettified. In fiction, abused women recover with indecent haste.
                I worked in a support organisation for such women and they were often in shock for many weeks after leaving the abusive man. They had swapped a marriage and a home for a shared room in a refuge. They were physically safe at last but their confidence was shattered from years of being told that they were unlovable, ugly, stupid, too thin or too fat.
                Men who batter their wives don't do so in silence. Each blow is usually accompanied by an insult. Those insults also precede and follow the punches, and in some cases are repeated many times every day. Those of us who were abused as children also have every malicious putdown indelibly stamped on our memories.
                I'm not suggesting that crime novels have to be unrelentingly bleak - no man can bear too much reality. My own fiction covers dark subjects like necrophilia and extreme sadism but also includes humour and non-aberant psychology. Real life, after all, includes people who have knowledge, insight, compassion and artistic gifts.
                Knowledge resonates with the intelligent reader much more than hollow hype, so we crime writers must look beyond the flawed impressions of crime and criminal institutions that are perpetrated by the popular media. These suggest, for example, that prisons are veritable palaces with endless university studying and twenty four hour access to leisure facilities. The reality is that some prisoners are locked up for twenty three hours of the day, with up to three in a cell designed for one.
                I entered a police station holding cell as part of some crime research and had to insist that they left the door open. (In case they found out about my overdue community charge bill.) Cell Block H wasn't an inviting place. I'm not saying that prisons should be different, that's outwith the scope of this article. I'm simply suggesting that some of the more naive crime writers should take the time to find out
the facts.
                TV similarly has a lot to answer for as it always depicts the men and women who carry out autopsies as being hyper intelligent with incredible investigative and interpersonal skills. But a judicious
reading of true crime books will show you how much evidence certain coroner's miss - including ingested narcotics that have been slipped into the drinks of the unsuspecting victims. Numerous corpses have been autopsied and labelled as natural deaths, only to be exhumed later and relabelled as homicidal ones.
                Newspaper reports also have to be read with a canister of salt. The editor sometimes decides on a slant and tells the journalist to find out facts to back this perspective. Information that doesn't fit the
mould is discarded and a polemic is then presented as the honest truth. This happens with some crime profiles where the paper decides to always present a certain prisoner as `evil' and will ignore any good things that he or she has done.
                Now, I'm never going to stand outside a jail holding a candle and bleating that some multiple murderer should be let out because he's smiled nicely at some barking mad prison visitors. But we should acknowledge good acts by people who've previously done bad deeds. If we pretend that people who commit crimes always act badly, then we simply won't recognise them when they hover dangerously on the brink of our own fragile lives.

Lethal Links

FBI Home Page
Turn in America's Most Wanted and claim your reward. Hell, you didn't think you were going to make money from writing, did you? This site also has details of the Bureau's other crime work.

Blue Murder
A first class American-run zine
that offers masses of crime fiction and crime fact. Their columnists
include a former policeman and they have interviews with law enforcement

Crime Time
Britain's best loved crime
magazine is in paperback book form. This is the frequently-updated
online version. Crime Time brings you realistic crime fiction, articles,
incisive book reviews and author interviews.

Serial Killer Info Site
An intelligent site which looks at offender profiling, forensic science and victim awareness. It's a search for knowledge and understanding which avoids the cheap glamorisation of many other serial killers sites.

The web presence of the National Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Children, a registered charity. Children are the most frequent crime victims but also the forgotten ones as they are abused privately in the family home and often grow up thinking that such beatings happen to everyone. Broke writers may not be able to give money to such a deserving cause - but we can ask other readers to help using our heartfelt words. Picture what it's like to be trapped for five years behind closed doors with a hate-filled violent adult and you'll have an inkling of what some pre-school children go through.

Carol Anne Davis
Includes numerous dark links, reviews, and a nude photograph of the author. Oh okay, I lied about that last bit, but please visit anyway.

Carol Anne Davis


Carol Anne Davis is a crime fiction novelist and author of dark books. Visit her site

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Article on Crime Fiction by Carol Anne Davis