My Two Cents

Today’s Review – 5 Resources for Writers of Crime Fiction

by Dec 21, 2011Reviews2 comments

Three questions most asked by those who write crime fiction are: How will the victim die? What evidence and clues should I plant? How will the police or detective investigate and identify the villain? Unless you happen to be a detective and a forensic specialist, you need help answering those questions. Here are three books and two blogs that provide some of the answers.


Cause of Death—a writer’s guide to death, murder & forensic medicine, by Keith D. Wilson, M.D. Part of “The Howdunit Series” by Writers Digest Books, this book has good summaries of various causes of death (including sudden death, accidental death and chronic illnesses), and information on determining whether a particular death was murder, suicide, accidental or natural. The topics are not treated in great detail, but you will probably obtain sufficient information to identify where you need to do follow-up research. The book also discusses procedures for handling bodies, determining time of death and autopsy procedures, but there are other better resources available for those topics. I would use this book for basic information on causes of death, rather than for information on forensics.

Police Procedural—a writer’s guide to the police and how they work, by Russell Bintliff. This is another of “The Howdunit Series” and deals primarily with how police investigate different crimes (for example, procedures relating to investigation of robbery, arson, homicide and vice), and how they interview and interrogate. There are also sections that deal with the general organization of police departments, arrest procedures, and the justice process. For writers who set their novels in Canada, these last sections may or may not be reliable, since the book is based on American procedures. Still, the sections on investigations and interviews are very helpful and will give a Canadian writer enough information to flesh out the plot and to identify areas where you need to double-check with a Canadian source.

Howdunit – Forensics—a guide for writers, D.P. Lyle, M.D. This is an excellent resource written by a medical doctor who also happens to write thrillers (and teach at writers’ conferences, and consult on manuscripts.) The book has three sections: introductory information about forensics; autopsies and related tests; and crime scenes and the crime lab. The section on autopsies deals with autopsy procedures, identification of the victim, determining time of death, determining the cause and manner of death, and identification of wounds. It also provides information about toxicology, DNA testing and serology. The section on crime scene investigation deals with fingerprints, bloodstains, impressions, trace evidence, arson, firearms and examination of documents, as well as a discussion of criminal psychology. Each topic is addressed in detail. The writing is accessible – you do not need to be a medical doctor to understand the contents. This book is the first place I would look for answers to the question “what evidence and clues do I need to plant in my manuscript?” It will also give you many of the answers you need to determine how your detectives will solve the crime. According to his website, Dr. Lyle has another forensics book coming out in April: More Forensics and Fiction – subtitled: Crime Writers’ Morbidly Curious Questions Expertly Answered. Sounds to me like a fun read and a “must buy.”


Recently discovered blogs that I wish I had found much earlier – I use the first primarily for information about crime scenes and how the crime scene investigators might process a crime scene, the second for information about evidence, autopsies, medical matters, and forensics. But they both cover many of the same topics. I think you will find both of them valuable.

forensics4fiction: a blog by Tom Adair, a retired senior criminalist. The posts are concise, easy to read and very well illustrated. This blog is chock-full of great information about crime scene investigation techniques, autopsies, and evidence analysis. Plus a few gross things to do with body decomposition (see, for example, the video of the leaping larvae – it still makes my scalp crawl.) Yesterday on forensics4fiction I learned that if villains in my novel use a white board, my detective can recover information that the villains have erased! Now that is news you can use. In fact, many of the posts on this blog provide tips on how to use the scientific information in your novel, either to deepen a character or to add authenticity to a scene. This blog is an excellent resource for crime scene investigation and evidence matters. Here’s a link for foresics4fiction. You can follow Tom Adair on Twitter: @authortomadair.

The Writer’s Forensics Blog: D.P. Lyle M.D.’s blog on all things forensic and a few other things as well. This blog is an excellent resource for information about evidence analysis, autopsies, crime scenes and forensics. The posts are clear and straight-forward and provide gobs of great information. An interesting category on Dr. Lyle’s blog is “Q&A”, in which he answers questions submitted by writers. If you have a medical or forensic question relating to your work in progress, you can submit it to Dr. Lyle and he will attempt to answer it. Check out the guidelines for submitting questions under “Have a Story Question?” on his website home page. For questions about evidence and forensics, if Dr. Lyle’s text (Forensics) doesn’t provide the answer, I would go to his blog. Or, if you just want to relax and read several cool posts about forensics and file the information away for future manuscripts, you couldn’t go wrong reading his blog. Here are links for The Writer’s Forensics Blog and Dr. Lyle’s website. You can follow him on Twitter: @dplylemd.


  1. Colleen Cross

    Great post, Charlotte!

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