Category Archives: Mystery Writing

Ten Books for the Mystery Writer’s Library

After going to a class on crime scene investigation (read previous post), I checked to see what books I had on the topic at home. Not much. I have Book of Poisons by Stevens and Bannon and Cause of Death, A Writer’s Guide to Death, Murder, and Forensic Medicine by Keith Wilson.

While I have my daughter searching through her room for the textbook on forensic science she purchased for a college class she took years ago, I’ve done some research on books that belong on every mystery writer’s bookshelf. Textbooks written for the criminal science
professionals are way too expensive and probably contain more information then we need to write a good mystery. The list I compiled are books that are not only affordable but seem to zero in on just the right amount of information. The prices listed are from

I would love to hear what books are your favorites so be sure to leave a comment.

Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers by D.P. Lyle  $16.76

The Writer’s Complete Crime Reference Book by Martin Roth  $4.75

Howdunit Forensics by D.P. Lyle $28.96

Missing Persons: A Writer’s Guide to Finding the Lost, the Abducted, and the
Escaped by Fay Faron $15.96

The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI’s Legendary Mind-hunter Explores The Key To Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals by John Douglas $7.99

The Everything Private Investigator Book: Master the Techniques of the Pros to Examine Evidence, Trace Down People, and Discover the Truth by Sheila Stephens $10.70

Forensic Casebook: The Science of Crime Scene Investigation by Ngaire E. Genge

Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland $13.59

FBI Handbook of Crime Scene Forensics $9.95

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Criminal Investigation $10.00

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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Mystery Writing, Writing


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Homicide Investigation 101




What does every mystery writer need to know about the real world of crime scene investigation? I found out yesterday when I spent four hours listening to Eric Lopkin, writer and former NYC auxillary policeman, speak extensively about such topics as rules of evidence, police procedures, and who does what at the crime scene. 

Here are some of the take-away points he made:

Private investigators are never hired to investigate a murder. They track a spouse, find a
missing person, locate something that is lost.

The gun never remains in the hand of someone who commits suicide. The gun will always drop out of the hand when it goes off.

Almost impossible for a person to stab someone without getting cut themself. The hand that holds the knife keeps going when the knife slows from contact with the body.

Every suicide, unless witnessed, is investigated as a possible homicide.

The word “murder” is a reader term. The word “homicide” is a police term.

Crime scene investigators never talk to witnesses. They are not the primary investigators. They process the scene, take evidence to the lab, and turn over results to detectives in charge.

Know structure of police department in the setting your story is in before you write your

Gun permits are hard to get in NYC but easier to get in other parts of the country.

Suspected murderers don’t usually go to trial for 2-3 years so writers need to be careful about the time-lines in their books.

Two motives: greed and revenge. For serial killers, it is always about revenge but the
victims are not the real person they want revenge on.

When there is a gruesome body found, the civilian or rookie usually vomits, the veteran
cop/detective will make jokes at the crime scene. The detective is not usually caught emotionally off guard by a particularly gruesome crime scene.

Know the technology that the police force has in the setting of your story. It isn’t unusual
for some police departments to have minimal technology.


Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Mystery Writing, Writing


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A Writer’s Life Interrupted






Reasons for not writing last week:

  1. tired from working forty-plus hours at day job
  2. had to make refreshments for a meeting I was going to
  3. prepared a talk on “Lemon Herbs” for the meeting
  4. went shopping for shoes for a wedding on the weekend
  5. packed my suitcase for out-of-state wedding
  6. three days away with at an incredible resort

Now I have writer’s guilt. I should have been able to write something besides a to-do list. I could have written down conversations I heard at near-by tables at the wedding reception. Instead of taking a Lisa Gardner book with me when I walked to the sandy lakeside beach near our cottage, I could have taken my lap-top or at least pen and paper and written plot ideas for my book. What was I thinking when I drove almost four hours without recording my rapid-firing thoughts on the tension and conflict my protagonist faces? Shame on me for listening to an audio book called “Prayers for Sale”, a gentle story of an old woman and her young friend that was set in a gold-mining town in Colorado during the Depression. Did I even pay attention as I was listening to the book to plot structure and character development? No, I did not as I now hang my head in shame.

But today is another day and last week is just a memory. I am refreshed and renewed. The first draft of “Old Age is a Killer” beckons me to finish Chapter 10. The TV is off. The only noise is the sound of a neighbor mowing his lawn. The cats and dog are fed and sleeping. This blog post is almost done. So it is time.

Talk to you later!

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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Mystery Writing, Writing


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Using Drive-Time As Write-Time




Can you pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time? I never could. Can you write when you drive? I think I can.

My day job as a visiting nurse means long hours on the road with stops along the way to check on my patients. When I am in the car my time is my own. I can listen to the radio, blast a CD, talk on the phone (speaker phone, of course), or just bask in the sun and silence of driving solo. Or I can write. Loosely speaking that is.

Since I work full-time at my day job and write evenings and weekends, squeezing in extra time for writing isn’t always easy but I think I’ve found a way to take advantage of my down-time during the day to advance my writing. Here is how I do it:

I jot notes at red lights. Amazing how long some of the lights can be. This is when I work on my plot outline. My notes look like this:

Bernie meets Andrea.

House gets broken into.

Bernie stumbles on to the body.

Enough red lights and my chapter outline is almost done. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Mystery Writing, Uncategorized, Writing


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First Lines Are Like Hamburgers







I am working on making my opening sentences sizzle like a juicy hamburger just off the grill. I can’t resist taking a big bite into that burger and letting the juice drizzle down my chin. There is no stopping me from finishing it. I like my novels like that.

Writing juicy, sizzling openings isn’t easy but a writer can’t risk losing the reader on the
first page. Admittedly, I am very much a newbie without the polish of a seasoned writer.
My first manuscript started like this:

I have a name that sounds like a cat with a hairball. Hollis. Gather a lot of saliva in
the back of your throat then draw out the first syllable when you say it. Isn’t just like a cat hawking up a hairball?…….”

Do you want to read more? If you do then that puts a big smile on my face. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on June 11, 2011 in Mystery Writing, Writing


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Just Get It Written

Don’t get it right, just get it written.” James Thurber

I have no muse coaxing, nurturing, and praising me for every word I write. Instead I have the muse’s evil twin, the critic, sitting on my shoulder. The moment I turn my laptop on, this twin perks up from his resting place, alert and ready to tell me what not to do. Every time I struggle to find just the right action verb, he claps ecstatically. When I type each ..word…very…slowly because I want to create the perfect sentence, he is jumping around laughing hysterically at me. Not nice at all, Mr. Evil Twin. I can’t help it. Where is my muse?

When I set a timer and write for ten minutes without stopping, the Evil Twin starts to yawn.
He’s not very happy when I reach my goal of 1500 words a night. And he absolutely hated it when I participated in National Novel Writing Month because I was able to crank out over 30,000 words without his critical chatter.

I would love to have a muse whispering encouraging words in my ear. As a mystery writer, I am pondering ways to get rid of Mr. Evil Twin. Could someone please push him off my shoulder so he could meet a sudden death? If I could get him out of the picture then maybe I won’t worry so much about getting it right. I’ll be able to focus on getting it written.


Posted by on June 8, 2011 in Mystery Writing, Writing


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Whodunnit? Writing The Modern Mystery: A Workshop

Whodunnit? Writing The Modern Mystery: A Workshop

Green Street Arts Center, Middletown, Ct.
Instructor: Eric Lopkin
SATURDAY, July 16th
10:00 am – 12:00 pm and 1:00 – 3:00 pm

From Sherlock Holmes to Philip Marlowe to Alex Delaware, in Part 1 we’ll discuss the different types of mysteries, the difference between a mystery and a thriller, and the elements that will bring realism to your story – details on cause of death, plausible suspects, and the red herrings that will take your detective and readers down different paths. In Part 2, we’ll delve into the world of forensics, criminal behavior, rules of evidence, and how real world detectives differ from those you’ll see on television.

For more information:

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Posted by on June 1, 2011 in Mystery Writing, Writing


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