The Truth is Out There

on June 15, 2006

I read a lot of true crime. IN COLD BLOOD hooked me twentysome years ago, not only because of Capote’s compelling narrative, but because of the story–a real, heartbreaking, tragic tale of a murdered family of four in Kansas and two psychopaths who met in prison.

What hooked me with Capote was his ability to draw the reader into the story, build suspense and emotion, almost as if the story were fictional when, in fact, it’s true. It was also my first look into the minds of killers.

Capote, and subsequently Edgar-award winning author Vincent Bugliosi, a former L.A. prosecutor who tried Charles Manson and went on to write HELTER SKELTER and TILL DEATH US DO PART, among other sensational, true crime books and of course Ann Rule, influenced my adolescence as strongly as the fictional mystery and suspense writers I enjoyed.

My favorite true crime books not only detail a murder investigation, or a trial, but provide background into the people involved–law enforcement, victims, survivors, and of course the criminal. And even though it’s true, most of these books seek to answer the universal question: why do people commit horrific crimes?

Minority Report was an absolutely fascinating movie with a compelling story question: What if you know who is a murderer before they commit their crime? What if you have the power to stop it? It’s 2054 and there are no murders because the department of “pre-crime” has wiped out violent death through advances in technology (and psychics.)

Wow. Civil rights in Minority Report notwithstanding, it’s seductive to want to stop violence before it happens.

Fiction crime writers are about justice. To right wrongs. To put the bad guys in prison. To avenge victims and give solace to survivors.

Nothing–and I mean nothing–that we can come up with in our imaginations is worse than what happens in real life. All my stories stem from real life examples.

The Bozeman Butcher in THE HUNT, for example, is a compilation of several different real-life murderers. One of them is Robert Hansen, who lured prostitutes into his trap, kidnapped them, raped and brutalized them in the Alaskan wilderness, then released them naked and hunted them from his airplane with a big game rifle.

And unfortunately, the child molester and murderer in THE KILL is very close to reality. Too close. He was responsible for thirty deaths in my books, but real child predators often claim more victims before they are stopped. If they are stopped.

The truth is out there. Nothing I can imagine is worse than what has already happened.