Sunday, 14 May 2017

Research Pick-and-Mix. Discover what you didn't know that you wanted to know.

Research is often very firmly targeted towards obtaining the information that you know you are going to need. If you’re a crime writer it may be looking up on line the outward signs of a particular sort of violent death or asking questions of your local police. If you write historical novels it can be studying the food or fashions of the time and visiting museums or historical houses to get a glimpse of reconstructions of the real thing. All this research has to be focused around what you need to know or, if you’re like me, there’s a danger of being side-tracked along wonderful side roads and never get the actual writing done.
However, occasionally it’s valuable to allow yourself a day off to do ‘pick-and-mix’ research and go out to meet people who approach your subject from a very different angle. Sometimes it can be a panel event, or an exhibition or lecture put on by a museum or gallery and, something I particularly enjoy, a public information open day run by an educational establishment. The value of this pick-and mix approach is that you sometimes find out things you didn’t know you didn’t know and, even better, you discover things that you didn’t know you wanted to know.
This weekend I gave myself a day off from writing, editing or research specifically focused on things I had to know and went to the University of Portsmouth’s Forensics Open Day. For a crime writer it was like being a kid in a sweet shop where you were allowed to sample all the goodies and friendly shop keepers smiled approvingly and discussed what flavour you liked best.
I found out about a wide range of subjects: memory, eye-witness identification, wildlife crime, the illegal ivory trade and the antiques market, cyber crime on social media, and what a professional burglar looks for when targeting a house and what objects are the ones they go for, crime scene interpretation. Added to which, I talked to a selection of delightful and fascinating people who were doing cutting-edge research and appeared happy to share their knowledge.

All of my books are grounded in the psychology of crime and need a good knowledge of forensics so days like those offered by the University of Portsmouth are invaluable.

I’d recommend attending something that interests you on a serendipity basis. For me it was a day of renewal, in which I rediscovered my delight in finding out about new aspects of psychology and crime. As an extra bonus, I found the theme and title for my next Scene of Crimes novel, it’s not due to be written for two or three years but it’s good to be prepared.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Review: Masking Evil by Carol Anne Davis

I first met Carol Anne Davis many years ago at The Crime & Mystery Conference, St Hilda's, Oxford, and I have always been impressed by her vast knowledge of real-life crime and even more impressed by her powerful crime fiction.

 This non-fiction study of violent criminals high-lights the serious problem that when people have power and position and wear the mask of respectability, they can escape detection for a very long time and commit an unbelievable number of barbarous acts.

This selection of true-crime studies outlines the cases of thirty-seven criminals who committed violent crimes – in most cases murder – and, at first, were shielded from suspicion by their social position and respectable jobs, which often allowed them to offend again. The chapters consist of a study of the perpetrators' childhoods, their lives and the circumstances that moulded their personalities. Many of these personalities were terrifyingly warped and ego-centric.
The perpetrators ranged through several killers with positions in law enforcement and education, there were also health workers, lawyers, a vet and an airline pilot, and a large number of people with positions in religious organisations. Indeed one of the most disturbing aspects of the book as a whole was the number of violent offenders who had religion – often in an extreme form – as part of their upbringing. The chapters often conclude with comments from psychologists and psychiatrists, analysing the nature of the crime and perpetrators, and these are fascinating.
Although the front cover includes the caption 'When good men and women turn criminal,' I did not feel that the majority of the perpetrators were 'good,' they merely had the position and reputation to camouflage their true natures. Because they were respectable people who could hide behind a mask of authority, religion and good deeds, those around them could not believe them capable of serious evil. Added to which, official agencies (such as the Social Services in the case of abusive foster mother Eunice Spry) are very wary of challenging the outwardly respectable and unwilling to offend people whom they regard as 'like themselves.'
Carol Anne Davis is an outstanding authority on true crime, and Masking Evil is a fascinating, although chilling, study of criminals who shelter (and are sheltered by those around them) behind a mask of respectability. A book that is well worth reading for those who are interested in true crime and the psychology behind violent actions, not to mention a good source of plots for crime writers. An authoritative and very interesting book.

Published by Summersdale Publishers
ISBN: 978-1-84953-883-1