Thursday, 15 November 2018

Guest Post: How Important Is Research In The Modern Crime Novel? - MJ Lee

I'm thrilled to welcome MJ Lee to the blog today, talking about researching a modern crime novel!

How Important Is Research In The Modern Crime Novel?

In the old days, life was quite different for crime writers. Agatha Christie didn’t have to research modern forensic science, nor did she bother herself with the minutiae of police hierarchy or the competence of a Coroner.’

Instead, she researched the effects of poisons, a knowledge boosted by her time spent as a nurse during World War One. Hercules Poirot relied on his ‘little grey cells’ to solve a dastardly murder. While Inspector Japp was content to bungle on until his incompetence could be demonstrated.

While the ‘cosy’ mystery still exists, it has been replaced by a much stronger emphasis on authenticity in crime fiction. People have watched CSI and so they are well aware of the methods of DNA analysis or of blood detection in a crime scene. They had watched countless episodes of COPS so they aware of the communication procedures of police on the beat. And ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries of actual cases, the most recent being the brilliant ‘Making of a Murderer’ ensure that the reader has a pretty good idea of what should happen in a crime story.

So it’s important for the writer to get it right if he or she wants to maintain credibility. So before I even touched fingers to keyboard for Where the Truth Lies, I made sure to get the details were as accurate as I could. In short, I had to become a detective of the process of modern detection

For this novel,  there were four main areas where I needed to make sure the facts were correct; the Coronial System, the police force, modern forensic science, and the treatment of cancer.

First, I read general books on the legal system, with particular emphasis on the Coroner’s courts. They were founded just after the Norman Conquest in 1066, created then as servants of the crown (hence coroners) to separate the investigation of death from the legal process of judgment. Not a lot has changed since then. I spent quite a lot of time attending inquests to get a feel for the language and the procedure.

I then researched the modern police forces of the UK, who I’m sure you’re aware have come under immense pressure in the last few years, talking with ex-members of the GMP, Scene of Crime Officers and police support workers. Some of their stories were fascinating and I’m sure will form the background for future novels.

To understand modern forensic science methods, I attended courses on forensics, the science behind DNA, facial reconstruction, the procedures of a Scene of Crime Officer and read extensively in the subject.

Finally, I researched the field of cancer. Luckily, Manchester has one of the world’s leading research and treatment hospitals, Christie's, and I was able to find out from patient’s themselves what it felt like to be diagnosed and treated for Myeloma.

Hopefully, this research is reflected in the book, allowing readers to understand the obstacles police have to endure to obtain a conviction based on evidence. Obviously, it is still a fiction book not a slice of real life, but in doing all this research I hope it helped create a world that feels authentic.

But in the end, all the research in world won’t make a bad book good. Because research only fills in the details making the story believable and authentic, not worth reading.

I hope you enjoy reading Where the Truth Lies. I’m presently editing the second story in the Ridpath series which should be coming out in 2019.

And, guess what, I’m now researching the decomposition rate of bodies. I hope the police never have cause to look at my search history….

About The Author

M J Lee has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a university researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the north of England, in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, and Shanghai, winning advertising awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and the United Nations.
While working in Shanghai, he loved walking through the old quarters of that amazing city, developing the idea behind a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in the 1920s.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, practising downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake, and wishing he were George Clooney.

Twitter - @WriterMJLee


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