A Brief History of Crime

The first detective story is widely considered to be Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). It concerns the killing of a woman and daughter. The Detective, Dupin, became the model for the sleuth that dominates mystery writing. Dupin is a well-educated eccentric who lives in seclusion. Through science and reason, he amazes his younger partner with his deductions whilst he shows the dim-witted police how to it’s done. Forty years on Arthur Conan Doyle used this formula for his Sherlock Holmes stories.

Dupin and Holmes both used the smallest external traces to infer the thoughts of others. They relished the intellectual challenge of pitting their abilities against the police. It is a similar challenge that attracts readers who love to interact with the detective in a race to piece together the clues. This formula has been adopted by Dorothy L Sayer, Agatha Christie, and countless novelists since. After all, the causes of - and motives for - crime have not changed; mainly money, passion or insanity. Underpinning modern TV shows like Monk, The Mentalist and Lie to Me, is the notion that crimes can be solved through rational, scientific thought. Logic and reasoning is used to understand human behavior.

Poe’s idea of a semi-independent investigator, with their own expertise, exists today with James Patterson's Alex Cross and Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, to name a couple. But it’s not just the character Dupin that has created the genre, Poe’s plots did too. The Murders in the Rue Morgue is also the first locked-room mystery, an idea enormously fashionable among writers in the Golden Age of detective fiction. The idea being if the room was locked how was the crime done? Deaver’s The Vanishing Man being one of many modern examples of these author set puzzles.

Poe’s The Gold-Bug, revolves around the deciphering of a code leading to buried treasure. Stevenson used the idea in Treasure Island, Conan Doyle employed a similar device in The Dancing Men, and Dan Brown has proved that code breaking remains a popular hook.

Another branch of crime fiction that owes much to Poe is what I call forensic fiction. Deriving solutions from forensic science (in Poe’s case the markings on a bullet) is prevalent in much of today’s crime. Step forward Kathy Riech, Patricia Cornwell, and a plethora of CSI shows.

It would be wrong of me not to mention the impact of other writers on contemporary crime fiction. The hardboiled, urban crime writing, popularized by the pulp magazines and Noir cinema remains influential. Raymond Chandler (influenced by the 1st hardboiled novel The Jungle) adopted a style and voice that changed the genre and a new detective was born. The 35 to 45 year old hard drinking, chain smoking, coffee loving, gun wielding, fist throwing hero, who lives and works in a big city with a rootless population.

Whoever your influences one thing is for sure, the sleuth who endeavors to fathom, defeat, or solve, through reason and action, is not about to go away.



The supermarket shelves are awash with crime fiction, but how much choice is out there?

The Titles: Usually short. Often containing one or more of these words: Blood, Dead, Die, Murder, Bones.

The Blurbs: Likely to include any three of the following: Discovery, Daughter, Distraught, Darkest, Dangerous, Destroying, Disastrous, Deadly.

The Plots: A body is found (or missing), a young woman, she’s been brutally murdered. A clue at the scene (poetic note/sketch/taunt) will connect the victim to a) an old case, or b) other killings.
Meanwhile, the protagonist has a secret that haunts to this day. A past that is now (due to a plot twist) putting him/her (or their offspring) in peril, unless the killer is stopped.

Readers like what they like. Publishers want what they can sell. The result:

The Fields of Death, Death Message, Play Dead, From the Dead, Better Dead, Book of the Dead, Call for the dead, Play Dead, Dead Wrong, Dead Man’s Footsteps, Dead Silent, Dead Kill, Dead Simple, Dead Like You, Darker than Death, Die Back, To Die For, Worth Dying For, Fear the Worst, Darkest Fear, Dark Fire, Die Trying, Beg To Die, Dying To Please, Skin and Bones, Playing with Bones, 206 Bones, A Thousand Bones, Skin and Bones, Lucky Bones, The Fever of the Bone, Bone Man’s Daughter, The Kills, The Killing Kind, Killing Floor, Killing a Stranger, Killer Instinct, The Killing Place, Postcard Killers, Faceless Killers, The Perfect Murder, Blue Murder, A Murder of Quality, The Murder Game, Mortal Remains, Grave Sight, Buried, In the Dark, Dark Blood, Blood Dancing, Bloodline, Blood from Stone, Blood Simple, Blood Diamond, Innocent Blood, True Blood, First Blood.


New Writers UK Festival 2010

A Blog To Follow

Please allow me to point you the way of Helen Hollick’s blog. My friend and fellow CallioCrest author has posted a number of interesting articles, offering a real insight into the writing and publishing process. Her latest post concerns the creating of - and importance of - book covers, and features input from designer, Cathy Helms, of Avalon Graphics.

Here comes the link
Helen's Blog

New UK/US Publisher

From the 1st of August 2010, Chasing Shadows will be available from my new publisher, CallioPress. I am to be published under their mainstream imprint, CallioCrest.

CallioPress are a global, independent publisher that are aiming to provide worldwide access to their books via the internet, high street book stores and other retail outlets. With offices in London and Florida, I am excited that Chasing Shadows will be reaching an American audience.

Callio Press


Why I write crime thrillers?

As a guest on Dolly Garland’s ‘Writer Revealed’, I was asked: why write crime thrillers? This is how I replied:

Crime thrillers allow me to explore human emotions at their extremes, whilst writing about what interests me, such as, love, death, betrayal, vengeance, the pursuit, and the pursued. By placing an ‘everyman character’ (one that people can identify with) in a criminal world, I can invite the reader to experience a dangerous journey from the safety of their imagination.

There is an old adage that you should write what you know. I prefer to say, you should write about what interests you. It follows then, that you should write in the genre that you most often read. My enjoyment of fast-paced, plot-driven, American crime thrillers inspired my desire to write and influenced my style.

Over time, my reading developed a familiarity with a structure that would enable me to entertain and excite to maximum effect. In a vague chronological order:

1. An event/action that poses Intriguing questions.
2. The presence of obstacles or Conflict.
3. Chapter ending - what next? - Hooks.
4. Gripping Suspense.
5. Unexpected revelations and Twists.
6. More conflict - pile on the pressure to an enthralling Climax.
7. A surprise Resolution.

The key to keeping the pages turning is the need to know; what happens next? This need is why I read and write thrillers.

John Baird, author of Chasing Shadows, coming to America in the summer of 2010.





Three is the magic number

In the words of David Frost: ‘Hello, good evening and welcome.’
Q: Why is it that repeating something three times is effective?
A: Because our brains love the pattern of three.
It's true, place three items on your mantelpiece and see how nice they look.
Three is so effective that by simply repeating the same word three times gives impact. Education, Education, Education. And that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Sports use the power of three. Athletics and swimming begin with a version of ‘On your marks, get set, go!’ And football matches end with three blows of the referee’s whistle.
The recent election debates as reveling in the dynamic of three, as the third cog provides all the drama. You see, three’s a crowd and that creates conflict.
Stories love conflict and use the magic number all the time. From the nativity with its three kings (and Christianity its holy trinity), to the three bears, blind mice, little pigs and musketeers. Three characters are all you need for a ratings busting soap opera (they adore love-triangles) or lauded movie (e.g. The good, the bad and the ugly).
But it’s not just drama that loves the number. Jokes are often created with a set up, anticipation and punch-line (e.g. The Englishman, Irishman and Scot).
And quotes are made memorable by its use. We are taught road safety with the mantra ‘Stop, Look and Listen.’ Then learn to drive with, ‘mirror, signal, maneuver.’
Remember these?
“Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over, is it now.”
“I came, I saw, I conquered.”
“Friends, Romans, countrymen.”
“Lights, camera, action.”
“Blood, sweat and tears.”
etc, etc, etc.
Perhaps most importantly, is its use in novels. What would they be without a beginning, middle and end?


What's in a title?

Samuel L. Jackson said of Snakes on a Plane, “All I needed to hear was the title and I knew I wanted to be in this film.”
Snakes on a Plane may be a dubious movie but it has a title Ronseal would be proud of - it does exactly what is says on the tin. But is it even necessary for a title to hint at its content? As Homer Simpson once said, “I read To Kill A Mockingbird and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds!”

Maybe there are no rules when it comes to great titles: You just know one when you see it.
John Gray didn't get much attention with his book What Your Mother Couldn't Tell You and What Your Father Didn't Know. He shortened it to the now famous, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.

In 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald sent his new novel - Trimalchio in West Egg - to the publishers. They hated the title so he changed it to The Great Gatsby.

Jane Austen's father submitted an early version of Pride and Prejudice to a publisher, under the title First Impressions. It was rejected by return of post.

Strangers from Within was the title of William Golding's first novel until an editor changed it to Lord of the Flies.

You get the idea!

Titles can benefit from being snappy, symbolic or memorable but most of all they just need to look and sound right.


Crime: Short Story V Novel

In the consumption of a novel, not every reader will have invested money but they will all have invested their time. It is this commitment that places demands on the author. The upshot of which: readers will put in the hours, providing the following is met: a) The crime is solved. b) The protagonist survives relatively unscathed. c) The bad guys get their comeuppance.

Breaking these rules is doable, but risky. Novel writers aim to cultivate a deep emotional attachment between the reader and their characters. This restricts what the author can get away with. Ultimately, good has to prevail. My point is this: The more time a reader invests, the more they will expect to be rewarded with the payoff, and that folks, means a happy ending.

Pssst, keep this to yourselves. Short stories are different, not all the rules apply.

The engine of the novel is the what happens next, each passage should be crafted with the purpose of keeping those pages turning. Short stories are concerned with the what happens now.

Authors of short stories can ultimately shock in any way they please. By all means kill off your heroes, reveal them as evil, or end with the bad guy becoming the true victim. But aren’t these twists familiar to novels? Nope, they break the formula, and are therefore rare and hard to pull off. Readers won’t accept a journey of trials and suffering only for your main character to be unmasked as the murdered. In a short story, you don’t even have to root for your hero, you just have to be interested in them. (Sit-coms are aware of this. Characters like Basil Fawlty, Blackadder and David Brent, work well in the short - 1/2 hour - format).

So short stories are easier to write than novels, right? Wrong.
Shorts are best set over a short period of time, usually an event, or in the case of crime writing, the crime itself. But crimes are concerned with much more than this. Predominantly, crime novels are about how the perpetrators are caught. But motive must be also explained and victims sympathized with etc…All of which is difficult in a short story. Your protagonist hasn’t the time to fail a few times, or overcome obstacles, before solving a case. There is only one pace to a short story. FAST. Writers of short stories and novels can be as different as a sprinter and a marathon runner. One is built for power, for full-throttle energy. The other is a master of pacing, tactics and timing (whilst holding enough back for a final burst).

Short stories can still follow the basics: The Hook, The Conflict, The Climax, The Resolution, but often they fail because they do just that!