How often do we see it on news broadcasts after the capture of criminals and terrorists? When searching the personal belongings of the perpetrators, police discover pamphlets on how to make bombs, books on forensic procedures and internet searches on where to dispose of bodies. Who would ever have thought that writers, the architects of awful acts in the imaginary realm, would have so much in common with criminals and terrorists, the agents of awful acts in the real one?
It’s not really that surprising. After all, nobody is born bad, not even fictional characters. We learn how to be bad through a combination of factors: parental influence, peer pressure, imitation of heroes (even if they’re anti-heroes), warped ideologies, poverty, greed, a failure to turn the other cheek. So sometimes writers need to do a little research in order to give their stories a sense of reality and their characters realistic knowledge and backgrounds.
When I was writing my debut novel, Enemies Closer, I was neck deep in internet searches of topics I am sure landed me on several watch lists. The US Marine Corps. The Pentagon. Laser weapons technology. China. Aeroplanes. Helicopters. The CIA. The FBI. Heckler & Koch, the weapons manufacturer. Benzodiazepines, also known as date rape drugs. Espionage.
Of course, I didn’t have a network of known criminal associates or a history of getting into trouble and even a cursory investigation into what I was doing would have revealed sample chapters containing all of the above research being shared in an online classroom populated by master’s students writing books.
I wrote several weeks ago about the impression the police would have of me if they searched my home (crazy cat lady). Once they have waded through the cats currently occupying the study/library, here’s a selection of books they would find that might have them rethinking if that’s the appropriate label.
Firearms by Chris McNab
Illustrated Guide to Combat Weapons by Jan Suermondt
Small Arms of the World edited by Peter Darman
The main character in Enemies Closer is supposed to be a weapons expert, a former Marine working as a weapons designer and the owner of an antique gun collection. I, however, have never even held a gun. (I want to say that I’ve never even seen a gun, except on television and in the movies, but it’s possible I might have. I have a vague memory of going into a gun store during my final year of high school and asking questions for a physics project I was doing on the velocity of bullets.) So these are some of the gun books I own. They don’t make me an expert – not even close – but they allow me to sprinkle references throughout my action adventure novels that at least make my main character look like one.
Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray
No, that’s not a misspelling of the name of a television show. For those who aren’t aware, this is the definitive book on the anatomy of the human body. It was written a long time ago but it still has plenty to offer. It allowed me to write a scene in which a serial killer cut a victim’s vocal chords to ensure he couldn’t scream while avoiding the major veins, thus enabling a terrifying, lengthy but silent murder.
Profile of a Criminal Mind by Brian Innes
Mindhunter by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
Journey into Darkness by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
There’s almost always a bad guy in the novels I write and understanding why they are bad is crucial, otherwise he (or she – I believe in equality when it comes to doing evil) could end up being a caricature or a stereotype. John Douglas is the famous (or maybe it’s infamous) FBI profiler who almost every fictional FBI profiler ever written is based on, including Jack Crawford in Thomas Harris’s books and Terry McCaleb from Michael Connelly’s Blood Work. If you can stomach them, these books offer insight into some of the most terrible crimes ever committed. And there are a lot of fictional serial killers based on composites or aspects of real ones, so these texts may also help with developing a genuinely scary and evil villain. It’s on my to do list.
Perfect Crimes by Marvin J Wolf & Katherine Mader
Forensics: Crime Scene Investigation from Murder to Global Terrorism by Dr Zakaria Erinclioglu
Why is one thing and how is another entirely. If it’s worth writing about, then surely it’s worth the possibility of getting away with it.
The Book of Mormon
I’m always on the lookout for books that might one day come in handy as references for my writing. I haven’t used any of these for that purpose yet but it’s why I bought them in second-hand stores. I hope the police don’t mistake me for a multi-faith terrorist.
The Anarchical Society by Hedley Bull
Despite what it might look like, this was one of the textbooks from my undergraduate university course. I can’t remember which subject it was for (something to do with politics; it was nearly twenty years ago – oh my God, I am old!) and like most university textbooks, I’ve never read it in its entirety. And, of course, it remains in my library because – as a previous post explained – I never get rid of books.
KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Gorbachev to Lenin by Christopher Andrew & Oleg Gordievsky
History is a very fertile ground for inspiring fictional stories and the current state of Russian politics and international diplomacy suggests not much has really changed, so a book like this would be able to infuse a novel with a sense of reality. I’ve never written a story with Soviet baddies as I like to mix it up and make the baddies the people you would least expect but it’s there just waiting. However, I suppose the police trying to form an assessment of me from my library could add “possible communist” to the list.
Of course, these books are a relatively small proportion of my library and are dwarfed by poetry, fiction, television and movie tie-ins, books on writing and more general (and innocent) reference materials. And if that doesn’t convince the police that I’m no threat to public safety or national security, this should: nowhere amongst my large collection of books is there a copy of Mein Kempf.
*First published in Project December: A Book about Writing