Confessions of a true-crime TV junkie

Note: Leave a comment on the blog through Wednesday to qualify for our $50 gas card prize! We’ll draw the winning name out of the hat!

I’ll admit something straight away: I’m addicted to true-crime TV shows.

My TiVo never misses a taping of America’s Most Wanted. I get a rush of adrenalin whenever host John Walsh announces the capture of another “dirt bag.” When he profiles the nasty dudes who are still at large, I study their pictures and video, trying to memorize their features. My only problem is that I actually have a lousy memory for both names and faces, so if I ever spot anyone on the lam in my hometown, which is known for its beach volleyball and beer bars, it’s possible I’ll be fingering, not an America’s Most Wanted, but an America’s Most Wasted Party Animal.

Another one of my absolute favorite shows is The First 48. The show follows homicide detectives during the critical first 48 hours of an investigation. It shows the gritty reality of their routines, and their race against time to find the suspect. The best part of the show is the interrogations. I have to admit I’m always amazed by how easily some of the bad guys confess. If I were a killer (and don’t worry, it’s not in my game plan), I’d be one of those who “lawyer up” and never say a word to the cops.

These true-crime shows fascinate me because as a mystery author, I needto know what makes both sides tick—the criminals and the crime fighters. And I’m always fascinated to learn how real homicide detectives work. What is it, exactly, that makes them able to crack a complicated case with few clues to go on?

In an attempt to find the answer, I once made a pilgrimage to Hollywood, where LAPD Chief William J. Bratton was signing a book of photos for which he had written the foreword. I bought the book, got his signature, and then waited patiently for the Q&A.

Then, I raised my hand.

“What is the major quality that distinguishes a great homicide detective?” I asked. “How are they special?”

The Chief spent a moment considering. Then he said, “The really good ones look at a room differently than you and I do. They can simply see more—the crime, the layout, and how it must have happened.”

Ah, that’s it. A different type of sight—that’s the key, according to Chief Bratton. I wonder how that special vision affects the everyday life of homicide cops. They must see less of a safety zone around the average person’s life than we do. They’re too used to seeing that zone violently assaulted. They’ve got cop’s eyes.

I’ll never be able to “see” the world exactly the way a homicide cop does. But I’ll keep trying. And that’s just one of the reasons I’m a crime show junkie.

How about you—as writers, how do you study real crimes to inform your fictional ones? Have you found any shows or sources to be particularly useful? Anything you can share with me? I’m on the prowl for my next true crime fix.

0

Villain week, continued: What I love about bad guys

By Kathryn Lilley

Yesterday Clare asked us to describe our notion of the ‘ideal’ villain in fiction.

I’ll be honest—when I pick up a thriller, I want the slayer to be super-sized. My killer’s got to be so cold and bad-ass, he’s doing the Monster Mash all over the page, leaving behind a trail of bloody footprints.

Fiction-wise, that makes Hannibal Lecter my kind of evil doer. Also Dexter Morgan of Darkly Dreaming Dexter—and Dexter’s actually likeable as he plunges the blade into his victims.

I don’t know why I prefer to read about fictional villains who are larger than life. Maybe it’s because I came of age in the seventies, an era when serial killers seemed to be stalking the nation’s youth as well as our collective psyche via the nightly news. Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz, John Wayne Gacy, and later the BTK Killer—each psycho’s saga chilled me to the bone. I started to dwell on all the ways I could possibly die at the hands of a cold sociopath. I probably got way too carried away with my projections, to the point that I’d scan the faces of charming, needy young men and smiling clowns, searching for signs of a hidden killer within.

It’s the recreation of that goose-bump factor that gets my reader’s juices flowing these days. But I also know that there’s no lack of chill potential in “everyday” murders. To do some research for today’s blog post, this morning I pulled a book off my shelf called Scene of the Crime, Photographs from the LAPD Archive. It’s a picture book filled with vintage images of murder victims and crime scenes.

One photo and its caption from 1951 haunted me all day. A platinum blonde is shown slumped in the passenger seat of an automobile. A black rivulet of blood streams from one ear. According to the caption,her name was Libby. She’d been shot four times by her boyfriend, who’d left a message written on the back of a check:

“She died instantly,” her sweetheart killer wrote. “…painlessly and mercifully, happy with joyous thoughts that could never be brought to reality…The back of her head faced me. I looked at her beautiful new silver blonde hair and I squeezed the trigger…I have no beliefs other than that the end fully justifies the means. And a few paltry dollars made her so happy!”

Now that’s chilling.

Breaking News: Last week’s winner of DYING TO BE THIN

Seanchai won last week’s contest for a copy of DYING TO BE THIN over at the Kill Zone!

Seanchai, send me your mailing address and I’ll mail you a signed copy this week! (I tried to post a notification to your blog but I couldn’t get it to post). Best, Kathryn

0

Capturing fear on the page

By Kathryn Lilley

As a young girl, I hated feeling afraid.

But as a grown-up mystery writer (or at least, grown older), I love describing fear.

Like many authors, I’m a professional scaremonger. Give me any type of fear—it can be emotional, physical, healthy, or deluded—and I’ll do my best to exploit it into the stuff of page-turning prose.

Becoming a suspense writer was the only logical career choice for me. My family hails from the Deep South, where the art of self-protection (and its spawn, gun ownership) is a time-honored tradition. During my formative years, while other families were discussing events of the day around the dinner table, my father and I were drafting sketches for an all-terrain escape vehicle—just in case nuclear war broke out. (I believe the final design resembled a cross between a modern-day Stryker and an M48 Patton tank. Among its more notable features was a dedicated flamethrower).

The mission of guarding against life’s dangers, both real and imagined, ranked high in our priority of family values. We had a loaded M-16 hanging on the wall, and a vintage cannon in the dining room. I think it was some kind of Austrian Howitzer—all I know is, the old brass weapon made a truly deafening roar when we fired it on New Year’s Eve at the turn of the millennium. During the celebratory bang, everyone stood way, way back in case the damn thing exploded and blasted off part of the hill.

Gun play features heavily in my family stories and legends. People love to tell the story of my great-grandmother Nell. She left her house one afternoon for a stroll, then was approached by a couple of men asking for directions. Nell pulled a pistol from her fur muff and casually waved it about in the air to indicate which way they should go. Which they promptly did.

Even our ancient family history is fraught with mystery. At some point in time, one of my ancestors was “disappeared” from the family Bible; the man’s name was simply scratched out. For a couple of generations, no one seemed to know what had happened to him, and his name was never mentioned by the living. Eventually, an enthusiastic family genealogist turned up an old church funeral log in Texas that revealed his fate. The log noted that his body had been discovered—beheaded—lying on a train track. Next to the dead man’s name, the minister had written a single-word question: “Murdered?”

With this kind of genetic legacy, is it any surprise that I feel compelled to write novels that feature danger, suspense and murder? I really had no other choiceit’s all in the family.

What about you? As a mystery or thriller writer, what events started your interest in exploring the darker side of life? As a reader, why do you think you’re drawn the genre?

* Win a copy of DYING TO BE THIN *

I’ll send a signed copy to the author of the best comment today, as judged (extremely subjectively) by moi!

0

Stay tuned for Killer Sundays! Upcoming guest schedule for the Kill Zone

We’re pleased to be hosting some great guest authors on Sundays in the near future, and we’ll be adding more to our guest list. So stay tuned for Sundays with the Killers!

Here’s our current guest schedule:

Sunday, August 24: Tim Maleeny http://www.timmaleeny.com/

Sunday, Sept. 7: Alafair Burke http://www.alafairburke.com/

0