clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, January 9, 2016

By the Evidence I Will Know Your Guilt

At left, public domain image from wikicommons of the intrepid FBI doing their bits. Picture is unattributed from 2009 of an evidence response team doing the fine-tooth-comb two-step.

We lay out crime in our stories and in those stories we need to leave the breadcrumbs.

We don't have to leave them all. I hate "You Know, Bob..." as much as anyone. Doubly so in a Star Wars film.

We do have to leave some if the story involves pursuit.

In real life, evidence is a mess. There's a chewing gum foil wrapping gum on the curb where neighbors reported the murderer's car to be parked. Oh Joy!

Turns out, probably not from the killer. Also, turns out the FBI doesn't show up in droves to poke about. Big chance no one ever notices the piece of detritus.

I'm going to say that in murder investigations across the US, there isn't a great deal of "usually."  A gunshot through a window in Detroit, in Buckhead, and in Laurel, Nebraska are going to be handled differently.

Detroit had 10,000 unprocessed rape kit of evidence gathered from the medical treatment of rape victims that went unprocessed. The 10,000 were as of 2010.[ actually, reported as 11,219 as of 2015 in this article : kits.]

Point is: you get to have a lot of slack in your lines over the actual process revealed in a procedural crime story. Anything you can say happens somewhere almost every day.

So, there is a strong desire by new writers to be as "accurate" as possible in police procedure and the handling of crime - that is for new writers who have little background with the criminal justice system.

Relax. It's evidence. Reveal some of it to the reader. Don't go bananas over what it means.

You don't have to connect the dots correctly. Works better sometimes when the story connects the dots incorrectly. Some of the best have the detective pursuing a suspect who they falsely believe is the culprit.

That gum on your shoe? It's got a pretty good tail behind it.

Shoot someone. [ paraphrasing Mr. Chandler here. have a guy walk through a door with a gun.]

We have to have a decent crime to have a crime story. We don't have to have decent evidence.

Got to run.

I'm late for the scene of the crime.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Jack--This is very encouraging for this fan of police procedurals who hopes one day to write one. :) Thanks. It's the research that primarily holds me back.

Happy 2016 to you!

jack welling said...

"Anything can happen" is a good mantra for any public institution. Even police.

I'd love to read your procedural. FYI, there is great story in _Kansas City Noir_ which features a cat ... so there's that! The dark side isn't too far from the cozy after all.

I've got to go find knitting needle. I need to invent a corpse and for this particular domestic murder, a bit o' the stitch will work just fine.