Turning a Crime into a Story

A few years ago, I attended a crime writers conference where one of the speakers told us true crime stories were less interesting than crime fiction.

Although true crime stories hold a certain fascination for some – there will always be people who want to know all the gory details about who was having sex with whom and how that led to murder or whatever – the point the speaker was making was that, in the main, most real crime is committed for very banal reasons by fairly stupid people. A straight retelling of such stories generally does not make for a good reading experience.

So, what’s a crime writer to do with all that true crime material the world delivers each day? 

You select a crime and turn it into a story using your imagination. You rewrite the boring bits into a story with a few unexpected twists. You transform the fairly stupid people into interesting characters and give them some less banal motivations for their criminal activities. And, you add in the dimension of seeing it through the eyes of the investigators, which allows the story to unfold and draw you into sorting out the mystery of how the crime came into being.

Let’s consider an example from the Stella Bruno Investigates series: A Gun of Many Parts. This story is based on the facts of a true crime committed in Australia.

The basic facts of the crime are:

A man fired a pistol in a suburban street after an argument with a woman and drove off in his car.

The incident was reported to police, along with the registration number of the car of the shooter.

The police pulled over the car and discovered the driver in possession of a Glock pistol, a prohibited import in Australia.

The shooter wouldn’t divulge details of how he’d come into possession of the pistol.

At this point, we’re dealing with a crime committed for a banal reason – an argument – and a stupid act by someone smart enough to keep his mouth shut. But the story took a twist when the police examined the pistol – the three main components of the Glock had different serial numbers.

To most of us, that little fact doesn’t mean much, but to a police ballistics expert it was a red flag, because when a Glock leaves the factory in Austria, those component have the same serial number.

This led to the uncovering of another crime, one committed by three men with a brilliant idea that unravelled thanks to the stupid act of one of their customers, their own lack of foresight, and meticulous record keeping by Glock.

So, what did I do with those facts? First, I shifted the scene of the crime into South Australia, where Stella Bruno does her thing. Then, I invented the characters I needed and wove their story around the bare bones of the real crime.

You can see how it turned out in A Gun of Many Parts.

A World of Ideas to Keep a Crime Writer Busy

Crime writers will not have to worry about a lack of source material for their story ideas any time soon.

Now that the pandemic and the protests are slipping down in the news headlines, we’re seeing the normal run of everyday crimes getting some media attention again.

Despite the lockdown, we still seem to be murdering each other and stealing other people’s stuff, while our political and corporate leaders continue playing their corrupt power games. 

While most of us have been happily surfing the web to distract ourselves from or to follow the pandemic and protests, several state actors have been actively engaged in cybercrime, espionage, and the dissemination of false information across social media. And, that’s without mentioning the antics of that man in the White House.

There are story ideas everywhere you look. 

Guess I’ll be writing a few more books like the Stella Bruno Investigates story I’m currently working on.

Books to read while social distancing

If you’re looking for something to read while staying at home, I’ve written a few books you might want to consider.

Looking for some crime fiction? Check out my Inspector West and Stella Bruno Investigates series.

How about a few ideas on Living Alone?

Or maybe you want to brush up on a few skills while you have the time. Check out my Everyday Business Skills series.

Thinking about writing a book? Take a look at Field Notes for Writers.

Maybe you’re looking for something light and contemporary. The New Girlfriend might be just what you need.

Perhaps you’ve reached that point where you need something a little more introspective, something a little more deep and meaningful. I’ve got a selection of books from my writings as a Mystic that might be just what you need.

None of them will cost you much. They’re all reasonably priced.

Reading The East Park Syndicate

The East Park Syndicate, like any good murder mystery, starts with the discovery of a body. In this case, the body of the mayor of East Park – businessman and political insider – Doug Clarke. 

The story is driven by several questions:

  • Who killed Doug Clarke?
  • Why was he killed?
  • Will Inspector West and his team solve the mystery and arrest the killer?

As you’d expect, I’ve also thrown in a few curveballs to make solving the crime just that little bit more of a challenge for Carl West and his team.

Continue reading “Reading The East Park Syndicate”

The Cobalt Sky

The Cobalt Sky is book 10 in Keith Dixon’s Sam Dyke Investigations series.

The story is driven by the theft of an artwork and the dysfunctional relationships of the artist’s family. The more Sam looks into the people associated with the artist, the more dysfunctional the family appears, and the less likable the artist becomes as a person.

The investigation is hampered by a lack of honesty in several key players, one of whom is the thief. No surprise there, but there are a few surprises in the telling of this tale. A good read.

You can get a preview and purchasing details at: The Cobalt Sky.

The Bank Inspector

The Bank Inspector is the first book in a trilogy of crime stories, featuring Detective Sergeant Brian Shaw, set in the banking world of 1950’s South Australia by Australian author Roger Monk.

The world of the 1950s is a place most of us only know from television shows, and the intricacies of its banking and police worlds have slipped from our working memories.

Although I lived through most of the 1950s, as a small boy I had no idea how things worked in the adult world. This story is an intriguing look through a window into that world.

Continue reading “The Bank Inspector”

What it’s like being a teacher.

Here’s another social issue I slipped into After. This snippet comes from chapter two, where Sgt Marie Wood ponders why Josie Ford may have decided to take some time out.


She turned her thoughts to Josie. Why would an apparently happily married mother of two teenage boys disappear first thing in the morning? Well, she was a teacher. The things they had to put up with would be enough to push anybody over the edge. Teachers didn’t get much respect these days and it was becoming fashionable to blame them for everything that was wrong with today’s young people. So much for parental responsibility. Now it was all some teacher’s fault for not disciplining little Johnny or not teaching him properly. Parents were even going into classrooms and threatening teachers when their little darling was called to account for his latest outburst of anti-social behaviour and it wasn’t just the boys mucking up in schools. Just last week she had attended the local high school when an angry parent had turned up and threatened to shoot the principal.


Continue reading “What it’s like being a teacher.”

Racked by Sue Coletta

Racked is the fourth book in Sue Coletta’s Grafton County series, based on the lives of crime writer Sage Quintano and her husband, Niko, the Sheriff of Grafton County.

I imagine being the wife of a sheriff would be trying enough but, somehow, Sage Quintano manages to bring more excitement into her life by attracting people intent on doing her or her family harm.

The story in Racked centres around the unsolved disappearance of five boys and Sage finding out they were all given a similar item prior to their disappearance – a stuffed animal like the one someone has mysteriously given her two-year-old son, Noah.

There is plenty of tension, much of it generated by the actions of Sage, who takes things into her own hands – despite her husband reminding her that she’s the writer and he’s the sheriff.

It’s a page-turner. It’s one of those books where you want to know what happens, even though the main character is driving you nuts with her impulsive behaviour. 

But, be warned, It’s not your usual police procedural. Sage Quintano is an amateur investigator who thinks the State Police and her sheriff husband aren’t doing enough, so expect a bit mayhem. I enjoyed it.

You can find out more about Sue Colettta and her books on www.suecoletta.com.

Scrublands

If you’re looking for a good read, take a look at Scrublands by Australian author Chris Hammer

Scrublands is set in Riversend, an isolated town in regional Australia, where people are barely holding on through a prolonged drought and coping with the after-effects of a tragedy.

The story follows Martin Scarsden, a journalist coping with his own problems, who has been sent from Sydney to write a feature story on the anniversary of the tragedy. 

What sounded like a fairly straight forward assignment to Scarsden, soon develops into a complex, twisted adventure as the truth slowly leaks out and events overtake his story and the people of Riversend.

You’ll meet some interesting characters, get a taste of life lived in the middle of nowhere, and see through a window into a town coping with drought, tragedy, and the loss of opportunity.

I picked up a copy from the book tent at Adelaide Writers’ Week and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Available from

Book Depository Kobo AMAZON

and other online stores.

Reading Twisted Justice

There are times when it feels like taking the law into your own hands is the only option you have for obtaining justice. Fortunately, most of us resist the temptation to act on that impulse and put our trust in the justice system. Sometimes, though, people take the other option.

The opening story in Twisted Justice explores what happens when Trent Mitchell takes that option and administers the justice the system refused to give him. 

I’m sure very few people take that option lightly, and Trent is no different. He’s agonised over his decision for years but there are only so many sleepless nights and tormented dreams a man can endure.

Continue reading “Reading Twisted Justice”