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While the ‘cosy’ mystery still exists, it has been replaced by a much stronger emphasis on authenticity in crime fiction.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

Saturday 3 November 2018

The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths

A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?

A gripping contemporary Gothic thriller from the bestselling author of the Dr. Ruth Galloway mysteries: Wilkie Collins and MR James meet Gone Girl and Disclaimer.

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specializing in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare's life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer's works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...

I first came across Elly Griffiths when I picked up the first in her Ruth Galloway series quite some time ago! Since then, I have devoured nearly the entire series and read the first two installments in her Stephens & Mephisto series, about a magician and a detective. I was delighted when I read about The Stranger Diaries, partly because it was Elly's first standalone novel but mostly because I was intrigued by the synopsis and the description of the book as a contemporary Gothic novel. I say standalone novel because I think that's what it is but, one of the main characters, DS Harbinder Kaur, was fantastic and I would love to read more stories involving her.

The focus of The Stranger Diaries is Clare Cassidy, a divorced forty-something, living with her teenage daughter and dog near the Sussex coast. Clare is an English teacher, lucky enough to teach at a local state school that was also the home of a Victorian writer who just happens to be the subject of a book she is writing. As well as hearing from her point of view we also get to hear from her daughter, fifteen-year-old Georgia, and the inimitable DS, Harbinder. Having three points of view in The Stranger Diaries is not at all confusing, indeed I think it adds to the story and ensures that we see it from all angles. Having finished the book and looking back over my notes, it's also easy to see that Elly Griffiths does sprinkle hints about the identity of our literary-inspired killer here and there in the different p-o-v's, but I was so engrossed in the superb story I missed all of them...

The Stranger Diaries is a splendid mix of Victorian Gothic and contemporary thriller, and I adored it! As much as I love Ruth Galloway, this has definitely leapt into my top five Elly Griffiths books and surpassed all my expectations. There are plenty of literary references, a wonderful doggy character called Herbert (named after the dog in R. M Holland's story, The Stranger), a love interest who is a bit quirky, one of the most genuine teenage characters I've read in a long time, a mystery both in the present and the past (see if you can figure out who the elusive Mariana is!), murder, and as in her other books, really compelling settings. I loved reading her wonderfully descriptive writing and it's so easy to get lost in the story, always a sign of an excellent book in my eyes. 

I shall say no more about the story except to admit to checking all of my journals afterwards, to make sure there were no unexplained entries in someone else's handwriting. The Stranger Diaries was a joy to read, the ending probably was obvious to plenty of people (except me!) but it's almost certainly my favorite book of 2018, and an eminently suitable book to read at this time of year.

If you're in London on November 12th then you might be interested in coming along to the Rooftop Book Club this month, as Elly is one of three featured authors and will be there talking about The Stranger Diaries. Find more information here, and if you do go make sure to say hello! I shall be there as I've only been to one event with Elly in the past and can't wait to hear more about her inspiration for The Stranger Diaries.

The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths
ISBN -  9781786487391
Publisher - Quercus
Release date - November 1st, 2018

About The Author

WINNER OF THE 2016 CWA DAGGER IN THE LIBRARY. Elly Griffiths was born in London. She worked in publishing before becoming a full-time writer. Her bestselling series of Dr. Ruth Galloway novels, featuring a forensic archaeologist, are set in Norfolk. The series has won the CWA Dagger in the Library and has been shortlisted three times for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Her Stephens and Mephisto series is based in 1950s Brighton. She lives near Brighton with her husband, an archaeologist, and their two children. Photo by Sara Reeve.

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Huge thanks to Olivia and Quercus, both for the invitation to take part in the blog tour and for a copy of this hugely enjoyable story. Please do check out the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and other snippets!

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