BREAKING NEWS: Today we're giving away 3 COPIES of the trade paperback of Julia Spencer-Fleming's Agatha & Anthony-winning debut, IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER to lucky commenters!
HALLIE EPHRON: Today we are delighted to welcome back Lee Lofland -- with more sage advice for crime fiction writers and his take on the credibility of TV crime shows.
Lee, is it ever credible that a civilian would get involved in a police investigation, as so many of our novel plots require?
LEE LOFLAND: Maybe, but not to the extent that we see in many books—actively pursuing the bad guys, fighting with suspects, dodging bullets and shooting it out with armed villains. No, that sort of thing doesn’t happen.
Instead, police sometimes ask for assistance from outside experts, such as a forensic psychologist or forensic anthropologist.
A perfect example of a civilian’s involvement in a criminal case was during the investigation into the murder and dismemberment of a young woman in Ohio. Police uncovered a small amount of skeletal remains, possibly human remains, so the lead investigator (Jim Nugent, an investigator I’d consider one of the top homicide detectives in the country) called on world-renowned forensic anthropologist, Dr. Elizabeth Murray. Dr. Murray worked hand-in-hand with Nugent, and it was her expertise that eventually identified the remains and pointed police to the killer.
By the way, I found that case so intriguing that I wrote about it, and another. The combined stories are scheduled for release later this month in a book called Masters of True Crime: Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre.
Masters of True Crime features true crime tales written by 17 star-studded true crime authors (well,16 star-studded true crime authors, and me). The book is already available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And, Dr. Murray, the anthropologist in the above mentioned case, is a special guest lecturer at the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy.
Civilians get involved in police investigations through civilian search and rescue teams, psychics (this is rare), microbiologists (anthrax/terrorism-type crimes), etc. But civilians do not get involved like we see in so many books.
However, I think it’s the duty of a good fiction author to write believable make-believe, meaning anything is fair game as long as it sounds or seems realistic. A perfect example of fantasy realism is the TV show Grimm. The officer on the Grimm show faces evil fairytale-like creatures, and he uses fairytale-like weapons and power(s) to stop them. Now that’s believable make-believe.
HALLIE: What television crime show most consistently gets it right?
LEE: Hands down, there’s not another show out there that comes anywhere near the realism of Southland (TNT). They get it right because the writers, producers, directors, and actors all do their homework, and lots of it. In fact, prior to filming each season the actors portraying police officers attend a mini police academy, including ride-a-longs with LAPD patrol officers.
HALLIE: Any that consistently gets it wrong?
LEE: Easy answer...Castle. And that brings me back to believable make-believe. In many instances, the show attempts to depict their characters in realistic situations. Unfortunately, they fail miserably.
HALLIE: Darn. I like that show. But I have wondered...
So gentle Reds, what are your favorite crime shows? Have you ever wondered about their "procedures" -- like fail to turn on the lights in a dark house that we debunked yesterday? Now's your chance to find out if it's believable or not.