Every time I receive the tried and true question – “Where do you get your ideas?” – I answer honestly: “A lot of the time I steal them from myself.”
By this I mean, as a veteran journalist (a decade in newspapers and more than twenty years now with The Associated Press), I have plenty of material at hand. Certainly, I often study plot lines and scenarios for my mysteries about Andy Hayes, a former Ohio State and Cleveland Brown quarterback who became an investigator in Columbus, Ohio. But more often than not, I have already done much of the initial research through my reporting.
In my first novel, for example, one of the characters works for a shady finance company for healthcare. To set up the fictitious company, I watched no more than the five weeks I spent the 2005 lawsuit against executives with National Century Financial Corporation, a suburban Columbus-based company accused of running a comprehensive Ponzi scheme with investor money . With 1.9 billion. Dollars in losses is considered the country’s largest private fraud scheme on a par with cases involving listed companies such as Enron and WorldCom. My second novel, Slow burning, was loosely based on the still unresolved arson that killed five college students – three students at Ohio University and two students at Ohio State – in a house off campus in Columbus in 2003. A suspect was briefly arrested but then released in that case. . By twisting the narrative, I evoked a defendant who was easily convicted but could actually be innocent.
Over the years, I continued to draw inspiration from my reporting, whether I covered politics at the Ohio Statehouse, wrote about human trafficking and its victims, or interviewed the armed vigilantes who in 2015 appeared uninvited outside a military recruitment office to “guard” staff inside after a shooting at a recruiting station in Chattanooga (my novel The third brother used the latter event as a springboard).
My new book, An empty tomb, just released by Ohio University Press, basically uses the story of Niki “Nick” Cooper, a Columbus police officer who was shot in 1972 during an armed confrontation with a burglar who was also wounded. For reasons still unclear, the burglar escaped prosecution, and was eventually found in 2016 after committing other crimes outside the state and living a quiet life in Dayton. A judge ultimately ruled that the window of prosecution of him was closed, destroying the officer’s family, who had been waiting decades for justice. In my narrative of the case, it is up to my private eye to find the unnoticed burglar who may or may not still be alive.
Crime novels based on or inspired by real events are hardly new. The murder in London in 1922 of Percy Thompson by Frederick Bywaters, the lover of Thompson’s wife, Edith (both Bywaters and Edith Thompson were convicted and hanged), inspired several novels, including F. Tennyson Jesse’s A pin to watch the Peepshow. Josephine Teys novel from 1948, The franchise affair, about a mother and daughter’s alleged kidnapping of a teenage girl in Britain after World War II and considered a classic in the genre, was based on a non-fiction conference about a real 18th century case of the abduction of a servant. IN The black dahlia, James Ellroy recounted the infamous assassination from Los Angeles in 1947 by Elizabeth Short, the woman whose mutilated body was found in an abandoned lot. In the same way, Margaret Atwood based her Alias Grace on Grace Marks, a poor Irish-Canadian immigrant convicted in 1843 of the double murder of her employer and his mistress. Novelist Joyce Carol Oates has incorporated real-life events into several works, including Black water, a 1993 Pulitzer finalist inspired by the death of Mary Jo Kopecne in 1969 on Chappaquiddick Island when she was a passenger in a car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy.
Critics may argue that this approach is cheating, with writers simply cutting and pasting reality on the page and then covering it in a veneer, thick or thin, of fiction. They may have a point where it’s a paint-by-number novel novel, where literally nothing but names change. In that case, it may be better to stick to a genuine method of crime that has become an art form even in recent decades through the lens of narrative nonfiction. Look no further than Peter Houlahan’s 2019 book, Norco ’80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History, to see the literary heights that this approach can reach. But when it comes to fictional retellings, even though the usual expression is “art mimics life”, art often elevates reality as well. As we see again and again, the literary world provides an opportunity to explore the stories, motives, and emotions of characters involved in crime that can fill gaps – and answer questions – left blank in reports and testimony, no matter how detailed, of a violent incident. and its victims.
Here are nine books of plots taken from real life, expanded and transformed, like straw into gold, into a whole new creation.
To die forby Joyce Maynard
Maynard’s 1992 novel and a subsequent film starring Nicole Kidman took their inspiration from the 1990 New Hampshire case of Pamela Smart, who was convicted of coordinating the murder of her husband with her fifteen-year-old high school boyfriend. Smart was accused of telling the boy she would stop having sex with him if he did not commit the murder. Maynard wrote that she used “in a romantic way the facts that were made known to me through television and newspaper reports. But as these facts contradicted my imaginative and fictional necessities, I chose to pursue my own imagination. “The Pamela Smart case was also the subject of several genuine crime books.
What they died knowby Laura Lippman
A woman who was arrested for leaving an accident scene admits to police that she is Heather Bethany, a girl who disappeared with her sister from a local mall in the 1970s, a case that until that moment was never solved. Lippman based the book on the real disappearance of sisters Katherine Mary Lyon, 10, and Sheila Mary Lyon, 12, from a mall in Wheaton, Maryland, in 1975. (Although the girls’ remains have never been found, a career criminal has finally admitted guilty of their murder in 2017). “We were brought up to believe that we were sure to go out in pairs, and the fact that two girls went out and never came home seemed particularly haunting,” Lippman told NPR in 2007.
The art forgerby BA Shapiro
March 18, 1990, the theft of thirteen works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, is one of the most infamous art robberies ever, when two men disguised as police officers tied and gagged two security guards and then removed the art. While several suspects have been identified over the years, none of the art – including five works by Edgar Degas – has been recovered. Shapiro uses the theft as the starting point for a literary thriller about the mysterious appearance of one of Degas’ paintings in a young artist’s studio, and the secrets the missing work may contain. Shapiro says, after years of thinking about a novel focusing on Gardner and theft, the inspiration finally came when she considered a question, “What would any of us be willing to do to secure our ambitions?”
Deadly harvestby Michael Stanley
The writing team that is Michael Stanley – Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip – chose one of the more horrific crimes in recent African history as a focal point for their 2015 book in their series on Botswana Inspector David “Kubu” Bengu. In 1994, a girl named Segametsi Mogomotsi was killed in the Botswana village of Mochudi in a muti murder or witch doctor practice killing people for body parts to be used in potions. No one was ever charged. In the novel, characters express fear of revealing the identity of a witch doctor involved in such activities. “But you know it’s happening,” Kubu counters. “And unless we stop it, unless we find the few witch doctors who commit such horrible deeds, it will never stop.”
Quiet Dellby Jayne Anne Phillips
The real story was chilling: Asta Eicher, a widow of three children in Chicago during the Depression, was captured by letters sent by Harry Powers, a Dutch-born American who specialized in looting – and ultimately killing – women he the lid. through “Lonely Hearts” ads. Phillips recreates events that led to the murder of Eicher and her children based on actual characters along with a few, selective inventions, including the fictional journalist Emily Thornhill, determined to see justice done. Thornhill is a tribute to Phillips’ mother, who, she writes, first told her about the murders in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, that passed the crime scene, “a dirt road in the hot sun, lined with cars on both sides as far as I could see, and people who took the place apart piece by piece for souvenirs. ”
An unlawful crime for Samuel Craddockby Terry Shames
In August 1992, a man named Anthony Graves was arrested for killing a family of six in Somerville, Texas. He spent eighteen years behind bars before being acquitted of a crime he did not commit. Shames uses the incident as the basis for this prequel novel for her series about Craddock, Chief of Police in the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. In the book, Craddock investigates the deaths of five people and must overcome a racist investigator’s belief that a black man committed the murders. Shames said the crime “had been on my mind for a long time as the basis of a story.”
Girl waiting with a gunby Amy Stewart
The true story of Constance Kopp, the first “under sheriff” in the United States (appointed in 1914 by Sheriff Robert Heath of Hackensack, New Jersey) inspired Stewart’s novel and several sequels about Kopp. Although Stewart created some characters and took liberties with real people, she also extensively researched Kopp’s story and interviewed descendants of people from the era. “My job as a writer was to take the public record – compiled in newspaper articles, genealogies, court documents and other sources – and invent the rest of the story,” Stewart wrote in his afterword. She picked the novel’s engaging title from an actual one Philadelphia Sun. headline that ran across a story about Kopp on November 23, 1914.
Your house will payby Steph Cha
Several painful secrets and personal stories are revealed in this touching novel about the impact of the murder of a black teenage girl in Los Angeles just before Rodney King struck. Cha, author of the Juniper Song amateur trilogy, based his book on the March 16, 1991 murder of fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du, the woman who owned the grocery store where Latasha had gone to buy a bottle of Orange Juice. Soon, Yes You was convicted of voluntary homicide, but received no jail time. Cha moves his novel from 2019 back and forth in time and tells the story of both the girl’s and the woman’s families in a strong reflection on race, violence, family and love.
Sincerely, Jeanby Lee Martin
Martin’s book recounts events that led to the assassination of Jean De Belle in 1952, the new high school librarian in Lawrenceville, Illinois, by her former fiancé, and then follows the event’s impact on several characters. The story was inspired by the real-life killing of Georgine Lyon in Lawrenceville in an English high school classroom and includes several details lifted from the case, such as the murderer Charles Petrach’s hearing loss from serving in an army demolition team and his arrival in Lawrenceville by taxi for to confront Lyon about interrupting their engagement. Martin’s book is a classic example of taking such details and then creating exquisitely drawn fictional character studies of the people whose lives were touched by trauma. Martin, who grew up near Lawrenceville, wrote much of the book during home visits. “The crime is true; the rest is pure imagination, ”he wrote in the acknowledgments.