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Writing in the Crime Fiction Genre; sorting fact from fiction

May 24, 2012

As a writer in the genre, Crime fiction has, in my opinion, entered into a kind of golden Age. There are so many Crime fiction (and faction) TV shows like CSI, NCIS, Castle and Law and Order, to name just a few that the popularity of the genre is undisputed. The Underbelly series which has been going for several years now advertises itself as a representation of actual events. Whether or not that show or movies like ‘The Godfather’ have glorified gangsters is an ongoing discussion and depends on your point of view. When actual mafia gangsters began aping these fictional characters like Mario Puzo’s Don Corleone (Puzo also worked on the hugely influential film starring Marlon Brando and directed by Francis Ford Coppola) influencing the all too real Dapper Don John Gotti, I think the case was settled. There are echoes of that film and its language everywhere even 40 years after its release.

So Crime Fiction can indeed have an impact on our culture in real time. Why is this so? I was recently interviewed on the subject (posted on my website davidjamesbwriter.com) and my theory is that everyone, or almost everyone, has been a victim, an observer or an actual participant in crime. As someone who works in the security industry (as well as in teaching and training) I know from hard reality on the ground that it is much better to experience crime vicariously than to experience it for real.

I am interested in Speculative Fiction, which includes Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror fiction yet there is something inherently more credible in the Crime genre. For example, an entire micro-world of a future LA besieged by Replicants was created in great detail by Director Ridley Scott in his film Blade Runner in 1982. Yet even though this vision inspired a whole sub-genre of SF called Cyberpunk, his vision of LA in the year 2019 was widely off the mark if you want to talk about reality on the ground.  His newest film Prometheus is even more fantastic yet well in keeping with the often over the top visual and verbal imagery of Science Fiction. We the readers, viewers and writers can relate to Crime Fiction in a way that is not as easy to do so with other genres.

I think the genre really came into its own in the early 20th century   through the LA hard boiled school of crime fiction in writers such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet. Hammett by the way was a Pinkerton Detective and this field of security in general can give you an insight into people’s motivations or triggers for crime. This is a very useful tool for writers as several police turned writers have shown. I think it is also interesting to note that the high tech surveillance and policing techniques employed in the 21st century have caught up with the scenarios described in novels like ‘Minority Report’ by Philip K.Dick.

Contemporary writers in the crime genre are awash with material they can use. The American based Australian author Janet Turner Hospital has remarked that she got much of her material from the New York Times. When I was living and working in London, as well dealing with my hectic day job as a teacher of English in an inner city school, I read up to three or more newspapers a day so as to get a better take on this ancient megalopolis. When I was there I saw quite a few tensions that I wanted to write about. These tensions and divisions included resentment between the haves comprising high spending billionaires and the have nots of the many penniless or even homeless young men and women on the dole. Many of these young men saw themselves as without a future and this ultimately exploded into the violence of the August 2011 city wide riots. In my work and in the pubs I saw this up close and without claiming clairvoyant powers I did have a kind of presentiment which resulted in just such a riot in my novel even if the context was somewhat different in the fictional account.

Other tensions I read about and even experienced first- hand were between various religious faiths and within Islam. Work as a teacher of religion in a predominantly South Asian background student body gave me a window into this ongoing, global problem. There were even times when I was on the sharp end of violent encounters on the streets of London and this experience was certainly something this writer made use of.

Other material that was and is topical and which I managed to include in my narrative was the sometimes peculiar arrangements between the press or media and the government including the police. This has been a long running issue that has just come to a head with the UK Leveson Inquiry into Media Ethics. One character in my novel London’s Falling is not unlike a younger , hungrier version of Rebekah Brooks even though it was largely written well before the actual phone hacking scandal broke a couple of years ago. Keeping abreast of current events as well as the morphing speech patterns of the full spectrum of our society is a convenient too for all writers in my view.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 27, 2013 3:13 am

    I do a little writeing as suspense[crime] and sci fi dealing with myth and legends a sample Lost Time/Dark World an Something in the Wind .I have challenge some people will not accept unsolicited material contract issue ,now where to go. J.D.Chaffee 918-616-6418

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