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Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction

By DP Lyle
Crime fiction and criminal investigations are equal parts art and science. Creating compelling crime stories that ring true requires attention to character, plot, POV, voice, and so much more as well as an understanding of forensic science and criminal investigative techniques. Join me and let’s explore all things crime, fictional and real.
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Episode #48: Three Famous Toxicology Cases
Poisons and drugs have been used as murder weapons for many centuries. Sometimes the poison itself does the killing and other times it simply facilities the use of another method. Here are three famous cases involving poisons and drugs. SHOW NOTES:
October 26, 2021
Episode #47: Amnesia and Trauma
Amnesia has been a part of fiction for many years. Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity is a classic example. The character was apparently based on the real-life case of Ansel Bourne, who in 1887 was likely the first documented case of amnesia. Even Agatha Christie suffered her own brush with amnesia—or maybe not. This one has been the source of argument and conjecture for decades. I frequently receive questions from crime writers about amnesia so it remains a common topic. In fact, amnesia questions were included in my Question and Answer books. SHOW NOTES: PAST SHOWS:
August 31, 2021
46: The Critical Opening Scene
Your opening scene carries a heavy load. It must hook the reader, introduce the story question—and often the protagonist/antagonist—-reveal the setting/story world, evoke emotion in the reader, and reveal the voice and tone of the story. That’s a lot of work, and pressure on the writer. Show Notes: Past Shows:
August 03, 2021
Criminal Mischief: Episode #45: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
SHOW NOTES: PAST SHOWS: From FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES: That Sneaky Carbon Monoxide Carbon monoxide is sneaky and deadly. When authorities find a suicide victim in her garage, sitting in a car with the engine running, they can usually chalk up that death to carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, colorless gas that is completely undetectable by humans. It results from the incomplete combustion of carbon‐containing fuels like wood, coal, and gas. Faulty stoves, heaters, and fireplaces can fill the air with CO. Carbon monoxide poisoning kills more people trapped in fires than the fire itself does.
June 29, 2021
Episode #44: Setting As Character
PAST SHOWS: SHOW NOTES: Can a story be set just anywhere? Some can, but most rely on the location and time period to underpin and amplify the story. In the best stories, setting becomes an essential character. Can you imagine James Lee Burke’s iconic Dave Robicheaux being anywhere but Louisiana? What about Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder or Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch? Could they exist anywhere other than Amish country or Los Angeles, respectively? Jaws had to be on an island, The Godfather in New York, The Shining in an isolated mountain hotel, and Star Wars the far reaches of space.
February 23, 2021
Episode #43: Gunshot Wound Analysis
In the criminal investigation or injuries or deaths from gunshot wounds (GWSs), the anatomy of the entry and exit wounds, particularly the former, can reveal the nature of the weapon, the bullet size and characteristics, and of great importance, the distance between the muzzle and the entry wound. This distance can be a game changer when distinguishing between a self-inflicted wound (suicidal or accidental) and one from the hand of another (accidental or homicidal). It can also support or refute suspect and/or witness statements and help with crime scene reconstruction. A wound from a gun several feet away can mean something much different as opposed to one pressed tightly against the victim’s skin. SHOW NOTES: PAST SHOWS:
November 19, 2020
Episode #42: Prior Bad Acts, An Author Reading
“Prior bad acts predict future bad acts.”—Harper McCoy Fear grips an isolated mountain town after drug dealer Dalton Southwell kills a rogue dealer and his entire family. Score settled, message delivered. But, Dalton’s best-laid plans go awry when his brother Dennie takes a bullet in the gut. In a panic, Dr. Buck Buckner is kidnaped from the local ER, a pharmacy is robbed and the owner murdered, and the killers melt into the rugged Tennessee hills. Buck’s physician father calls in Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy to rescue his son from killers who would have little use for him after he saves Dennie, or worse, the wounded man dies. But, which direction and how far did they run? What hideaway did they burrow into? For Cain and Harper it’s a race against time to locate the killers, safely retrieve Buck, and settle their own score. PRIOR BAD ACTS DETAILS/ORDER:
October 20, 2020
Episode #41: Writing Great Thrillers
My dear friend Gayle Lynds recently posted an excellent article on the Rogue Women Writers blog titled “10 Rules For Writing A Best-selling Thriller.” Gayle offers many useful insights every writer should take to heart. In this show I want to expand and offer my views on a few of her points. 10 Rules For Writing A Best-selling Thriller by Gayle Lynds:
October 20, 2020
Episode #40:Nasty Deadly Poisons
Crime writers love poisons. Even those who write the more cozy variety. I mean, arsenic and old lace? Arsenic, the queen of poisons, is often used as are the opioids and amphetamines and a few others. But maybe you want to explore more uncommon, and deadly, options for your story. Some are easy to come by, others a bit more difficult but all have been used and just might add to your story. PAST SHOWS:
October 20, 2020
Criminal Mischief: Episode #39: Do Series Characters Change?
Do Series Characters Change? A better question might be: Should series characters change? Go through some upheaval that arcs their life into uncharted waters? What is a character arc? Where does it come from? How do you create this in your fictional stories? More importantly, do you even need one?
October 20, 2020
#38: PIs Make Great Characters
Cops are cool, and memorable fictional characters, but P.I.s seem to come in more variable and quirkier flavors. From ex-military types to everyday folks with a knack for sniffing out wrongdoing to little old ladies with cats. The latter tend to be the smartest and toughest. This wide variety is what makes reading P.I. stories fun. Private investigators, both licensed and amateur, tend to be more eccentric, possess different skills (some useful, others less so), and seem to break the rules with impunity. How much fun is that?
June 23, 2020
Episode #37: Who The Heck Is Jake Longly?
Jake Longly is the protagonist of my series of comedic thrillers (DEEP SIX, A-LIST, SUNSHINE STATE, RIGGED).He’s an ex-professional baseball player. Pitcher for the Texas Rangers with an overpowering fastball. Until his rotator cuff injury ended his career. Then he purchased Captain Rocky’s, a bar/restaurant on the sand in Gulf Shores, Alabama. His major life goals now are running his bar and chasing bikinis. Worthy goals for Jake. His father Ray feels otherwise. Ray has some murky background in the US military world of black ops and now runs a P.I. firm in Gulf Shores. He can’t understand why Jake won’t work for him and is constantly trying to drag Jake into his world. Jake’s refusal creates tension, to say the least Show Notes: Past Shows:
May 28, 2020
36: Identifying Skeletal remains
Identifying skeletal remains is no easy task for the ME and the forensic anthropologist. SHOW NOTES: PAST SHOWS:
May 06, 2020
35: Corpse ID
Most corpses that are the victims of foul play are easily identified because they’re found in familiar places and reported by folks who knew them. But those found in remote or odd places with no ID create problems for investigators. In these cases, identifying the corpse is a critical step in solving the case. SHOW NOTES: PAST SHOWS:
April 11, 2020
34: Toxicology Part 3
In the remote past, most poisoners favored botanical products such as hemlock, oleander, deadly nightshade, foxglove, hellebore, monkshood, opium, and many others. These were easily available and untraceable. More recently, various chemicals have been added to this long list of plant-based poisons, which has made the work of the toxicologist that much more difficult. Show Notes: Past Shows:
March 17, 2020
33: Forensic Toxicology Part 2
The biggest problem facing the toxicologist is that there are literally thousands of drugs and chemicals that are harmful, addictive, or lethal if ingested, injected, or inhaled. Some even absorb directly through the skin. Toxicological testing is time-consuming and expensive, and few, if any, labs can afford to perform such testing on every case. For this reason, the testing must be as focused as possible. SHOW NOTES: Past Shows:
February 11, 2020
This is the first in a 3-part series on Forensic Toxicology LISTEN/SHOW NOTES: Past Shows:
January 25, 2020
31: Body Disposal Isn’t Easy
Some criminals attempt to destroy corpses, the primary pieces of evidence in homicides. They think that if the police never find the body, they can’t be convicted. This isn’t true, since convictions have in many cases been obtained when no body is found. And destroying a body is no easy task.
November 28, 2019
30: Evidence
If Locard’s Exchange Principle is the cornerstone of forensic science, evidence is the heart and soul of the crime lab. Indeed, evidence is the sole reason it exists. Without evidence, what would the lab do? Evidence is used to determine if a crime has been committed, to link a suspect to a scene, to corroborate or refute an alibi or statement, to identify a perpetrator or victim, to exonerate the innocent, to induce a confession, and to direct further investigation.
November 28, 2019
SKIN IN THE GAME is the first story in my new Cain/Harper thriller series: Raised as siblings by an itinerant “gypsy” family, knife expert Bobby Cain, trained by the US military in the lethal art of covert eliminations, and Harper McCoy, nurtured by the US Navy and the CIA to run black ops and wage psychological warfare, are now civilians. Of a sort. Employing the skills learned from the “family” and their training, they now fix the unfixable. Case in point: Retired General William Kessler hires the duo to track down his missing granddaughter, a Vanderbilt University co-ed. Their search leads them to a small, bucolic, lake-side town in central Tennessee and into a world of prostitution, human trafficking, and serial murder. The question then becomes: Will their considerable skills be enough for Cain and Harper to save the young woman, and themselves, from a sociopath with “home field” advantage, a hunter’s skills, and his own deeply disturbing agenda?
November 28, 2019
28: The MacGuffin
What is a MacGuffin? Since Alfred Hitchcock coined the term, his definition—such as it is—might be best: “The main thing I’ve learned over the years is that the MacGuffin is nothing. I’m convinced of this, but I find it difficult to prove it to others.”
November 28, 2019
27: ABO Blood Typing
By simply typing the blood at a crime scene, investigators narrow their suspect list and completely exonerate some suspects by using the population distribution information for the four ABO blood types.
November 28, 2019
26: Storytelling In Dixie
Here’s the thing about the South—if you can’t tell a story, they won’t feed you. They’ll simply deposit you behind the barn and let you wither away. That doesn’t happen often because everyone down there can spin a yarn. Some better than others, but a story is a story. This is a rich tradition and congers up names like William Faulkner, James Dickey, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Conner, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Truman Capote (who spent much of his childhood in Alabama), James Lee Burke, and the list goes on and on.
November 28, 2019
25: A Stroll Through Forensic Science History
Let's take a stroll through the history of forensic science
November 28, 2019
24: Common Writing Mistakes
Writers, particularly early in their careers, make mistakes. Often the same ones over and over. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid.
November 28, 2019
23: Apollo 11 & Me
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years. Exactly 50 years. This show has nothing to do with crime writing or the science of crime. It is rather a step back in world history. And in my personal history. Yes, I was there. Inside the gates of the Cape Canaveral Space Center. July 16, 1969, 9:32 a.m. I remember it like it was yesterday. Please indulge me and join me for this trip down memory lane
November 28, 2019
22: Common Medical Errors in Fiction
Too often, fiction writers commit medical malpractice in their stories. Unfortunately, these mistakes can sink an otherwise well-written story.
November 28, 2019
21: Autopsy OF A Thriller: The Terminator
THE TERMINATOR just might be the perfect thriller. Here it is dissected scene by scene to see why.
November 28, 2019
20: Elements Of A Thriller
What elements make a great thriller? Let's explore them.
November 28, 2019
From Publishers Weekly: In Lyle’s ingenious third mystery featuring retired major league pitcher Jake Longly (after 2017’s A-List), Jake, who runs a restaurant in Gulf Shores, Ala., is again roped into working for his father Ray’s PI firm. An attorney has contacted Ray on behalf of Billy Wayne Baker, a convicted serial killer. Though Baker pleaded guilty to strangling seven women, he insists that he killed only five of them, and wants that assertion validated. When Jake meets Baker in prison, the murderer refuses to name the other killer, claiming that doing so would lead to accusations that Jake’s inquiries were biased. The investigator’s task is made even harder by Baker’s not even identifying which of the dead women were killed by someone else . (To his credit, Lyle makes this complicated scenario credible.) Along with his girlfriend, Jake travels to Pine Key, Fla., the scene of three of the strangulations, where the couple pretend to be researching a documentary examining the impact of the killings on the small community. The clever plot twists will surprise even genre veterans. This entry is the best in the series so far.
November 28, 2019
18: Gunshot To The Chest
Gunshot wounds (GSWs) come in many flavors and those to the chest can be particularly dicey. Yet, a chest GSW can be a minor flesh wound, a major traumatic event with significant damage, or deadly. If you have a character who suffers such an injury, this podcast is for you.
November 28, 2019
17: DNA and Twins
For years it was felt that the DNA of identical twins was indeed identical. Since they come from a single fertilized egg, this would seem intuitive. But, nature likes to throw curve balls—and the occasional slider. After that first division of the fertilized, and after the two daughter cells go their way toward producing identical humans, things change. And therein lies the genetic differences between two “identical” twins.
November 28, 2019
16: Arsenic: An Historical and Modern Poison
Toxicology is a relatively new science that stands on the shoulders of its predecessors: anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and medicine. Our knowledge in these sciences had to reach a certain level of sophistication before toxicology could become a reality. It slowly evolved over more than two hundred years of testing, starting with tests for arsenic.
November 28, 2019
15: Introducing Characters
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The same is true for your fictional characters. So, make them vivid and memorial. How do you do this? There are many ways. Let’s explore a few of them.
November 28, 2019
14: Rules of Writing
There are many "Rules" in writing. Fortunately, most are like STOP signs in Italy--merely suggestions.
November 28, 2019
13: Alice in Wonderland Syndrome
One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small And the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall White Rabbit, The Jefferson Airplane
November 28, 2019
12: Fentanyl—A Most Dangerous Game
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is as much as 300 times more powerful than morphine sulfate. It can be injected, ingested, inhaled, and will even penetrate the skin. It is used in medical situations frequently for pain management, sedation, and for twilight-anesthesia for things such as colonoscopies. Fentanyl is the number one cause of drug ODs.
November 28, 2019
11: Civil War “Limb Pit” and the History of Infectious Diseases
Here in the 21st century we know a great deal about infectious diseases. We can treat bacterial infections with antibiotics, immunize people against numerous diseases, understand how viruses work, and have a huge fund of knowledge about surgical sterility and disease prevention. This was not always the case. In fact, in the history of medicine, all of this is fairly new.
November 28, 2019
10: Rattlesnakes and Murder
All sorts of weapons are used for committing murder. Guns, knives, poisons, explosives, ligatures, drownings, and gentle pushes off buildings or cliffs. Oh, don't forget rattlesnakes.
November 28, 2019
09: The Mysterious Human Brain
The physical and psychological corners of the brain can malfunction and create an array of character problems
November 28, 2019
08: Mood and Tone in Crime Fiction
Setting the mood and tone in crime fiction should be done up front. The opening passages tell the reader the type of world they are entering and what they can expect. The opening might give character insights, setting, and the basics of the crime—and reveal the voice. What’s the difference between mood and tone? Tone is the author’s attitude Mood is the atmosphere and emotion the author creates So, tone reflects the author’s attitude while mood is how the reader feels about the story. Mood and Tone can be revealed through word choice, sentence structure, formal vs informal writing, point of view, objective vs subjective, rhythm, setting, action, dialog, voice—in short, all the tools of storytelling. Like other fiction, mood and tone in crime stories runs the gamut—dark, light, noir, cozy, suspenseful, humorous, quirky, creepy, supernatural, you name it.
November 28, 2019
07: Famous and Odd DNA Cases
The history of forensic DNA analysis has involved some fascinating cases
November 28, 2019
06: Is It Harder To Write Crime Fiction Today?
Do modern forensic science and police investigative techniques make creating compelling crime fiction more difficult? Are there simply too many balls to keep in the air? Too much to consider? Or is now little different from then?
November 28, 2019
05: Making Characters Compliant
Bad guys, and girls, seem to always need some way to overpower or control another character. There are many ways to that.
November 28, 2019
01: Murder Motives
Motives for Murder: Financial – – insurance, inheritance, business takeovers, avoidance of alimony Property disputes Revenge Political Cults & Religions Murder for hire Empathy and sympathy Crimes of passion Domestic Protect self image or secrets To protect others Blackmail To cover another crime Social and hate crimes Sex, jealousy, obsession Mental illness – – delusions and hallucinations Drugs and alcohol
November 28, 2019
02: Cause and Manner of Death
MANNERS OF DEATH: For what purpose and by whose hand NATURAL: Natural deaths are due to the workings of Mother Nature in that the death results from a natural disease process. Heart attacks, cancers, pneumonias, and strokes are common natural causes of death. This is by far the largest category of death that the ME sees. ACCIDENTAL: Accidental deaths result from an unplanned and unforeseeable sequence of events. Falls, automobile accidents, and in-home electrocutions are examples of accidental deaths. SUICIDAL: Suicides are deaths that come by the person’s own hand. Intentional self-inflicted gunshots, drug overdoses, or self-hangings are suicidal deaths. HOMICIDAL: Homicides are deaths that occur by the hand of another. Note that a homicide is not necessarily a murder. Homicide is a determination of the ME; murder is a legal charge that is determined by the courts. Though each would be ruled a homicide by the ME, the legal jeopardy is much different for a court verdict of negligent homicide as opposed to first- or second-degree murder. UNDETERMINED OR UNCLASSIFIED: This extra category is used in situations where the coroner can’t accurately determine the appropriate category.
November 28, 2019
03: Time of Death
DETERMINATION OF THE TIME OF DEATH Determining TOD is critical Both an art and a science The sooner after death the more accurate the estimate Changes death variable and unpredictable. Physiologic TOD, Estimated TOD, Legal TOD Always a best guess None of the methods are very accurate Body temperature Rigor mortis Livor mortis (lividity) Degree of putrefaction Stomach contents Insect activity Scene markers
November 28, 2019
04: POV in Crime Fiction
Who is telling the story? Is he/she also the protagonist or an observer? Is he/she reliable? How many POV characters is too few/too many? Which characters know too little to drive the story/or know too much and might spoil the story?
November 28, 2019