My guest for the next few days is Lee Barwood. She writes about the road she followed to write her excellent thrillers.
Welcome, Lee. We're paying attention!
Sometimes the road to crime can be paved with good intentions, just as the proverbial road to Hell. When that happens, it’s a reminder that the human mind is a very complex thing. People, as well as characters, can be drawn into actions that they never thought they would take—or that, under other circumstances, they would recognize as crime.
Fiction is rife with examples, such as police officers so determined to catch a killer that they will plant evidence to ensure conviction because they know they will never nail him any other way. But that is a very dangerous road. Two real cases are that of the Nebraska CSI director, David Kofoed, who in 2010 was convicted of evidence tampering in a 2006 murder case, and that of a
police detective who just recently was convicted of planting drugs on innocent people. New York City
Kofoed, as reported by the blog at the Innocence Project, was accused of planting a specimen of the victim’s blood in the car of two suspects who later proved to be innocent. His attorneys claimed he had used a contaminated testing kit, but the judge said there was no evidence of that. Kofoed, in prison, is working on appeals on the grounds that a former coworker set investigators on him.
The police case is a bit different. Detective Jason Arbeeny was found guilty November 1 of official misconduct, offering a false instrument for filing and falsifying business records, as reported by The New York Times, in the case of planting drugs on an innocent woman and her boyfriend. Testimony in the case included that of a former detective, Stephen Anderson, who said that rules were often bent or broken and evidence planted so that police could meet arrest and conviction quotas.
There are plenty of avenues that lead straight to wrongdoing, and in my books the antagonists, like real people, find that various well-meaning motives seduce them into actions that under other circumstances they might find—well, criminal.
For instance, in A Dream of Drowned Hollow, my paranormal environmental thriller, Trevor Dalton thinks he has long since shaken the dust of the little Ozarks farm community where he grew up from his shoes. But in his childhood and youth he was surrounded by poverty and violence, self-interest and hypocrisy, and these shape him far more than he knows. The orphan child of a man led down the path to despair and murder by desperation,
has seen some of the worst of human nature at work. Dalton
Regarded as a charity case with “bad blood” after his father kills his mother and then himself, Trevor is taken in by a well-to-do man respected in the community who treats him as little more than slave labor. There he sees and hears much as community leaders protect their own turf and their own businesses rather than do anything to alleviate the poverty that surrounds them.
The lessons strike home but in all the wrong ways, as Trevor determines to become wealthy and powerful himself so that he can bring jobs and prosperity to the people he left behind. But his use of the power and influence he acquires is as hard-edged as what he left behind, and he becomes as ruthless as those who kept his community bound in poverty in the first place: any resistance to his original well-meaning goal is met with force—subtle at first, then increasingly obvious, though still not visibly tied to him. In his blind determination to right one wrong from his youth, Trevor becomes the instrument of far worse wrongs, until he is guilty at a single remove of intimidation, blackmail, and even murder—not to mention the environmental destruction his projects bring in their wake.
In Some Cost a Passing Bell, Tim Carthan wasn’t a very nice fellow to begin with. He had quite a sense of entitlement when it came to women and power, although he hid it well—had he lived, he most likely would have continued to deceive those closest to him that he was an all-around good guy, while those far enough removed to see him for what he was would observe how he manipulated people and used them for his own ends. In this case, however, death intervenes and takes him very far down the road of wrongdoing until he becomes a returned-from-the-grave murderer who will do anything to take back what he believes is his—his widow, Camilla, and her psychic abilities.
And in A Lingering Passion, my most recent paranormal, Stan Richards has the ego that his show business success would seem to demand. Yet he is only following in the steps of his great-grandfather Duncan Lorean, a talented but not gifted actor who believed his acting skills to be far greater than they actually were. Both men had a heady sense of self-worth, and Lorean crossed over into obsession, committing murder when his own rise to fame was threatened. Stan, in uncovering the truth about his scandalous family history, awakens more than memories in his quest to learn why Lorean fled the country—and the line between life and death blurs even more as Stan, influenced by Lorean’s lingering presence in the theater he has bought, is unable to see his single-minded pursuit of fame for what it is: megalomania. Other lawbreakers are at work in the story, adding their own complications, as Stan goes beyond what once he would have considered unthinkable behavior and is willing to put the lives of those around him at risk to succeed in his new goal: vindication of his murderous ancestor.
Thanks, Lee for a very inciteful essay on the road to crime. Criminals might learn something, if they wre smart enough to learn anything.
Gerrie Ferris Finger