The perfect crime is probably happening at this very moment. No smoking gun or partial shoe print left in the mud. No strand of hair or fiber of clothing left behind for investigators to uncover. No witnesses to the incident. No angle—no detail—that hasn’t been considered. Not a single shred of evidence to link the perpetrator to the deed.
There is, in fact, no suspicion that a crime was even committed.
And yet . . . the risk of apprehension is not zero. Something was overlooked; I’m sure of it. It is a catastrophic error in judgment to cling to the belief that it was not. Because the truth is that there is no perfect crime, just as there is no perfect crime novel. And while readers expect the details to be above reproach, for the characters and setting to leap from the page, indistinguishable from reality, writers know that no matter how much we focus on the details, something will inevitably slip by us. The gun, for example, could not have been fired in the way we depicted. Given the conditions described in the chapter, the rope would’ve snapped. The gas-forming bacteria in the corpse’s intestines would’ve caused the body that was tossed into the lake to float to the surface days later.
Not that I would know such things from personal experience, you understand.
In crime novels, it’s tough to get it right. Research can help, and I’m not talking about ten minutes with an on-line search engine here. The best research is practical in nature. To write about something, it’s best to experience it for oneself. One’s got to get their hands on the intended murder weapon—or, in some cases, the body—to see how it actually behaves in the real world. Because the physical world does not bend to one’s improper understanding. The mistakes become obvious. Anyone who’s ever attempted to submerge a body in a lake without the proper weights to keep it anchored to the bottom could tell you that.
Granted, this can pose a problem for crime writers. For most of us, our experience is incomplete. There are only so many bodies one can toss into the lake before the neighbors start getting suspicious about all those midnight excursions in the rowboat.
What can I say? Writers do what we can. And while police ride-alongs and some time spent at the firing range can do wonders for improving the authenticity of our novels, too much “research” might also land us in the slammer. Or the electric chair.
Unless . . . well, unless there is a perfect crime, after all. And one doesn’t just happen upon that by chance, let me tell you. It takes planning, cunning, discipline, and more time out in the rowboat than I care to admit. Which is only to say that good research—when done properly—becomes invisible to the reader. (And to the police.) Because the details of the story are so accurate that it ceases to be a story at all, but rather something else entirely. It becomes something real.
This is why research matters. This is why it’s important to get it right. Anything less gets in the way of the story becoming real. For writers, that’s a capital offense.
As for me, it’s worth the effort. The reader deserves the best I can deliver, and I don’t want to get caught dishing out anything less. I’ve even come to enjoy it—the research, I mean. It’s addictive, and quiet out there on the lake: a place where I can really think. Sometimes I’ll take others with me, although mostly I prefer to be by myself.
Especially on my way back to shore.
(c) John Burley
About No Mercy
No Mercy is a harrowing tale of suspense, brutal murder and the dark secrets that lie beneath the surface of a placid, tight-knit town.