A Criminal Christmas List

Oh no! The Discovery Channel’s talking Joe Kenda bobblehead is out of stock and you still haven’t bought gifts for your favorite crime buff.

Fortunately for you, there’s this thing called “the Internet,” and if it existed for no reason other than facilitate last-minute shopping and distributing cute kitten videos, that would be reason enough.

Does someone you know need a little extra warmth in a cold, cruel world? Get them a “police tape/do not cross” scarf from Blazing Needles. Just $35, these unisex scarves are hand-knit and the perfect accessory for crime-solving in chilly climates.

Would your mystery-loving grandmother like a new t-shirt that celebrates her love of the genre with a wickedly smiling Jessica Fletcher confessing, “I killed them. I killed them all!” Buy from TVShowTees for just $15.99.

Remember when watches were a thing? Go old school at The Sleuth Shop, where officially licensed Nancy Drew watches (featuring seven different styles of vintage cover artwork, plus Dana Girls and Hardy Boys models too) are available for $25 each. 

For the DIY detective on your list, there are many festive forensic options. Start with a copy of mystery writer Val McDermid’s Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime, and add novelist/former cop Nigel McCrery’s Silent Witnesses: The Often Gruesome but Always Fascinating History of Forensic Science. Throw in the latest edition of Forensics for Dummies, and you have a trio of books that will fascinate and inform a reader way into the new year. 

See also: Review: Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid

Want something a little more hands-on? A visit to the Writer’s Police Academy might be just what the coroner ordered. Described by its organizers as “Disneyland for writers,” participants in the three-day program (held every August in Michigan) will have an opportunity to experience an “interactive and educational experience [that will] enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement and forensics.” This one-of-a-kind event features real police, fire, and EMS training at a real police academy. Last year’s cost $395, excluding transportation and hotel costs. WPA Founder Lee Lofland also has a great book for procedural pundits, Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Howdunit). For more information: Writer’s Police Academy.

Speaking of writing, is there a would-be author on your holiday list? Would they like tips from master craftsman James Patterson himself? The James Patterson MasterClass can be his/hers for $90. Twenty-two video “lessons” on topics ranging from “where do you get your ideas” to doing research accompanied by a downloadable and printable workbook, with online support groups for critiques and Q&A opportunities. Digital and physical gift cards are available so you can tuck it neatly into a stocking. (Full disclosure: I was a beta tester for this course and enjoyed it tremendously.)

And, if you left everything to the very, very last minute—we’re not judging—you can still come up with something better than a gift card to Starbucks. (Although really, who doesn’t like a gift card to Starbucks?) And if you’ve got that one relative who keeps saying, “I don’t need anything,” but you still want to let him/her know you’re thinking about them, remember the “D word”—donations. 

The options to give a gift that keeps on giving are virtually limitless, whether you purchase a flock of geese from Heifer International, donate to Operation Winter Rescue through the Native American Heritage Association, or help build affordable housing for homeless and at risk people through Habitat for Humanity. But, if you’re keeping to a theme, here are three worthy causes that are dedicated to solving crimes and bringing truth to light. Consider a donation to one of these organizations. Lt. Kenda would approve.

The Civil Rights Cold Case Project

The Civil Rights Cold Case Project combines investigative reporting, narrative writing, documentary filmmaking, and interactive multimedia production to reveal the long-neglected truth behind unsolved civil rights murders and facilitate reconciliation and healing. Support the Civil Rights Cold Case Project.

Project: Cold Case

Project: Cold Case is focused on helping with unsolved criminal homicides. Criminal homicides are classified as crimes like murder, manslaughter, and vehicular homicide (hit and runs). Support Project: Cold Case because “one unsolved homicide case is too many.”

The Innocence Project

DNA testing has exonerated more than 345 innocent people in the United States—and others are still waiting for justice. The Innocence Project works nationwide to free the innocent and reform our criminal justice system. Give the gift of freedom, support the Innocence Project.


Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun HoneyA Twist of NoirLuna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird NoirPulp Ink 2Alt-DeadAlt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She sees way too many movies.

Read all posts by Katherine Tomlinson for Criminal Element.