You Can’t Handle the Truth, So Escape with Some Crime Fiction

The Courthouse in Hull.
The Courthouse in Hull.

I’ve shaken hands with killers. I’ve stood outside their homes and drunk their coffee and made snide remarks about the state of their curtains. I’ve watched them tearfully appeal for witnesses and seen them urge their loved ones to come home. I’ve spoken to murderers on the telephone and made one laugh with a story about my daughter. One particular psychopath brushed past me on his way to take the stand at Hull Crown Court and then humbly apologised for standing on my foot. If he’d been equally repentant about stabbing a young woman to death, there would have no need for a criminal trial…

What I’m saying is that I’ve met the men and women that provide the ‘characters’ in real-life drama. I’ve looked into the eyes of people who have taken another life, and I’ve seen my own features swim on the irises of the damned. But the funny thing is, I’ve never met a single killer who is anything like the murderers in fiction. I’ve never met a Hannibal Lecter or a Gretchen Lowell. I’ve met jealous husbands who have gone too far while holding a pool cue and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, and I’ve met drug pushers who didn’t realise quite how hard it is to just shoot somebody in the legs when you’re holding a gun that kicks like a mule. But I’ve never sat through a murder trial and thought ‘this would make a good novel’.  I’ve never thought that Lincoln Rhyme or Clarice Starling or Kinsey Millhone should be out on the mean streets of Yorkshire trying to get to the bottom of some real-life tragedy rather than trailing brilliant psychos somewhere more cinematic.  

My point? Crime fiction, and crime fact, are a million miles apart.

I would love to think there is a real-life equivalent of the fictional hero. I’d love to think there is a lone investigator with piercing insights and a genius IQ who can see through the villain’s eyes and stop further tragedies. I just can’t convince myself of it. Killers are people who lose their temper, or have easy access to a gun. Despite the brilliant premises of endless books and films, very few killers go to the trouble of pinning notes from the Bible on the corpses of their victims, or nibbling off their fingerprints. No, they tend to just say “you bitch” and then lash out with whatever is closest to hand.

The moral of the story is we need more Jack Reacher’s in our lives to solve our crimes...
The moral of the story is we need more Jack Reacher’s in our lives to solve our crimes…
So, given the gulf between reality and fiction, why are so many people addicted to crime novels? Well, perhaps the gulf is the attraction. The ideas at the centre of most crime novels are so fantastic and unbelievable that even though readers may weep when characters are killed, they are aware that it’s still just a work of imagination.

The reality is somewhat different.

If a real-life case were made into a novel, it just wouldn’t work. I sat through a two-week murder trial a few years ago that has stayed with me ever since. A young, beautiful, sweet-natured woman, had walked home from a New Year’s Eve party to go and check on her new kittens. On the way, she bumped into a young man who was on his way to a neighbouring property after a night drinking with friends. Somehow, he got her into his flat. He killed her and her body was found days later when the police searched every house in the neighbourhood. It was an open and shut case, though the killer came up with some incredible bullshit defence in which he blamed his best friend for the crime. The trial was agony for the family. Her name and character were dragged through the dirt. Her family endured endless torments. The killer told such lies that we in the press pack wanted to puke. And then he was found guilty and given life imprisonment. It was a horrid, raw, and eviscerating experience for all concerned, and at no point did I imagine how a fictional detective would have got to the answers more quickly. I did vaguely entertain the notion of a Jack Reacher simply dispensing a different kind of justice, but in reality, Reacher would be up in court a few months later when the whole process began again.

In essence, reality is just too horrible. So go read a grisly crime thriller for some escapism.

This sweepstakes has entered.

To enter for a chance to win one of five copies of David Mark’s The Dark Winter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at beginning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) October 20, 2012. Sweepstakes ends at 9:59 a.m. ET on October 27, 2012 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010

David Mark has been a journalist for fifteen years, including seven as a crime reporter. The Dark Winter, the first in the Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy series, is his fiction debut. He lives in Great Britain.


  1. Gordon Bingham

    I retired from a law enforcement position recently after 20+ years, and have also joked with murderers, admired drug traffickers pets, and learned the human side of criminals. I have also had to deal with the human tragedy of many of their acts, and this is one of the reasons I enjoy crime fiction. Things tend to be tied up neatly, qucikly and the investigator moves on. Real life is a lot trickier…

  2. L L

    Interesting post.

  3. MaryC

    In crime fiction, there’s a satisfactory conclusion, not always the case in real life.

  4. Betty Breier

    I started reading true crime before I switched to crime fiction. Knowing the monsters were real was too awful. I prefer the fiction with a good ending.

  5. Susan Chester

    I started reading Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder crime fiction. They got me hooked and now I am looking for more crime fiction!

  6. Bob Keck

    These real life stories creep me out more than straight fiction

  7. Andrew Gordon

    this looks great

  8. Vicky Boackle

    this looks interesting.

  9. JULES M.

    looks great!

  10. Cody Endres

    Thanks for the chance!

  11. Michele Baron

    This books sounds terrific….Thank you for this contest.

  12. cheryl wong

    would love to read this

  13. Vernon Luckert

    This looks to be an interesting read.

  14. Rian Moon

    Great contest! Looks like a great read!

  15. runner


  16. Joe Hauser

    Very nice!

  17. Matt Streett

    looks good!

  18. Cheryl McCauley

    Seems to be a good read.

  19. Susan Meek

    I prefer fiction where they get the bad guy. Too many real-life bad guys are still out there. Also, did you have to show Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher? If you’ve read the books, you know Cruise can’t possibly be Reacher! Grrrr!

  20. dale grim

    i would really love to read this !!!

  21. erin f

    thanks for the great post and congrats on the new release!

  22. Connie Schultz

    It sounds like you really get to know people like your characters. I would like to read more. thanks for the giveaway!

  23. Patricia

    Woah. Just reading this gave me the chills. The book sounds it would be awesome!

  24. daryia dinkins

    this sounds awesome and I would love to read this.

  25. Heather Martin

    We’ve had some murders in my small town. I’ve seen how they tear the famlies apart- especially the children. I agree w/ you. I would love to read how you handle writing a character like this.

  26. Bob Alexander

    Books written by experienced journalists have the potential to be very entertaining. This one falls in that category.

  27. Diane Pollock

    Sounds like a great read!

  28. Pam Howell

    Great contest. Thanks. I think crime thrillers have the smarter than average killers. That is what makes it interesting. In real life people make irrational decisions and without a lot of thought and that usually means they make mistakes. But that is not as interesting to read as the smart fiction crime thrillers.

  29. Robert Banning

    Real life is just too scary nowadays.

  30. Catherine Farah

    First post makes me want to read it.

  31. Joy B

    I’m an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction mystery. This article was very interesting.

  32. Jackie Wisherd

    I’d love a chance to read this book….always looking for new authors to add to my list of reads.

  33. Patricia Hill

    Reading True Crime always amazes me hoe close fiction and truth are.

  34. Marilyn Lewis

    I love to read crime fiction.

  35. Gregory Sparks

    This may be true, but there’s quite a few crime novelists who worked “in the business” before writing their novels. Kathy Reichs and Julie Kramer come to mind.

  36. Diane Chenier

    I love to read crime fiction, but it’s true crime that keeps me up at night and listening to every creak and sound in the house.

  37. Marie-Louise Molloy

    [b][color=rgb(64, 224, 208)]Always love a new crime novel~thriller/suspense, my favorite genre! ;)[/color][/b]

  38. Kelley Tackett

    The Dark Winter looks fantastic. I can’t wait to read this book!

  39. Pam Howell

    would love to win!
    PICK ME!!

  40. Marjorie Pawley

    Could surely enjoy some fictional crime–too much of the real stuff going on these days!

  41. D.A. Whittemore

    I do love some crime thrillers!

  42. Cheryl English

    I love the thrill it gives you to read crime stories. Fiction or NonFiction it doesn’t matter.

  43. jane

    Reads like a book I would enjoy.

  44. Leslie

    Not sure why so many are attracted to crime novels, but I’m a fan! Thanks for the giveaways.

  45. Charles Fraker

    Sounds like a good story. Sign me up.

  46. Bee Murray

    Winning a copy could only make reading it better 🙂

  47. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  48. georgiann

    sounds like a fantastic read

  49. BARBIE Hodges

    cant wait to read

  50. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    I can handle the “truth”!

  51. Sherry

    Just love British police proceduals.

  52. Allison Moyer

    I like true crime when it’s written with compassion. Ann Rule is my favorite. But sometimes I prefer crime fiction because you get all the intrigue and suspense without the painful reality.

  53. John Maline

    This book looks like it is worth a shot! Always open for new upcoming mystery authors.

  54. Benno Kiewe

    Sounds good…. I’d like to give it a ‘shot’


    The closest I’ve ever been to a serial killer was the Night Stalker Richard Ramirez when we lived in the Temple City / Arcadia area ,that was really scary.

  56. Andrew Kuligowski

    The best fiction is stuff that COULD happen, but probably won’t. Dumb criminals being caught right away doesn’t make as decent a drama.

  57. Susan Pertierra

    In crime fiction, the criminals aren’t stupid but in real life they tend to be and make mistakes.

  58. Taylor Duncan

    Awesome. Looks great!

  59. Cindi Hoppes

    Great post and one that makes me very excited at the possibility
    of winning this suspenseful book!
    Many thanks, Cindi

  60. Jeane Howell

    Occasionally I read true crime books, but the reality is so frequently horrible that I prefer something fictional. Some of the things that happen are not things I want to read about.

  61. Vera Davis

    Looks like a good read.

  62. Joan Boose

    I’ll take the escape!


    I think I’d really enjoy reading this!

  64. Karen Gordon

    Sounds like a fun read.

  65. Beth Talmage

    I really appreciate this essay. I do not read “true crime” but I love mysteries. I think there is truth and insight to be found in novels in which we can find metaphors and life lessons in fictional towns. I would not want to spend time with a killer, even in the pages of a book–I don’t want to give them one moment of attention.

    Though I do like books that give a glimpse of real-life policework. No glamorizing of murderers there.

  66. Denise Bacher

    Like BLB above I started off reading true crime and would be stunned and left shaken by what I read. That people could actually do that to one another.

    So I am glad of fictional crime and cop procedurals so I can get the “crime” and say “It’s not real though” at the end of the book.

  67. melissa brown

    would love to win!

  68. Jessica Ellibee

    Sometimes I feel that true crime is very anti-climatic. The reality lacks the intensity of a novel, and the true brashness of a villain character. Honestly, that makes me grateful. I don’t think we could handle those who would be so over the top.

  69. Patricia Fultz

    Read crime fiction all the time–usually more than one at a time.

  70. Maureen Mulligan

    Thanks for the chance to win! I would love to be a charter member in the Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy readers fan base! I would be happy to talk it up on FB after reading it also! Interested to read what you would consider a good crime novel after your real life experiences, David Mark. :^)

  71. Shelley Scaramuzzo

    Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher?! How absurd. Not ot nitpick, but wasn’t Jack Reacher 6 feet tall and change?

    Well written crime fiction is some of the best escapism. Forget the 50 Shades series or any other romance mmpb. I read crime fiction in the bathtub.

  72. Marianna H Ballard

    I love crime thrillers!

  73. Suzanne Gonneville

    This is my comment—

  74. Steven Wilber

    Count me in…

  75. Jean Feingold

    Since there are no perfect people, how can there be a perfect crime?

  76. Clayton Klein


  77. Donna Badour

    I would love to read this. Both real crime and fiction can be a great read.



  79. Ronald Roseborough

    Count me in.

  80. David Vinther

    sounds good

  81. Peter Tomaszewicz

    Think it will be a good read

  82. Virginia Campbell

    it’s the tock that follows the tick that makes all the difference

  83. Michael Gonzales

    I’ve won books at other sites and would like to win one from Criminal Element, hopefully this is the one.

  84. vicki wurgler

    crime fiction and crime fact are a million miles apart-interesting

  85. Bill White

    Sounds like a good book, can not wait to read it!!!

  86. Daniel Morrell

    looks like a good one!

  87. Vikki Micco

    Sounds good.

  88. kathy pease

    Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in 🙂

  89. Laura McLendon

    Absolutely love this genre and have fingers crossed to win this addition to my home collection of books.

  90. Esther Whatley

    Sounds like an awesome read, would love to win it.

    I agree with earlier comment that Tom Cruise is [u][b]NOT[/b][/u] a good choice to play Jack Reacher. My friends and I picked at least 20 better choices while we were sitting on the beach last week.

  91. Ed Nemmers

    I would love to read David Mark!

  92. tracey johnson

    i would love to read this book, ty

  93. Susan Smith

    Sounds like a great book

  94. Heather Cowley

    Ooooo, sounds good.

  95. Buddy Garrett

    It sounds great. Thanks for the giveaway.

  96. Sand Lopez

    This sounds like a great book!

  97. Debra Kidle

    Sounds great, please enter me!

  98. David Kidle

    I’d like to read this.

  99. Helen Gibbs

    Sounds interesting.

  100. Tatiana deCarillion

    wow, I even like the way this article was written!

  101. Carol Gowett

    The same things hold true about the forensic crime shows (which I enjoy a lot). It is amazing how everyone confesses when confronted by the forensic team–not to mention the fact that I somehow doubt the lab people are normally the ones who are questioning the suspects! But you have to get it wrapped up within the hour, unless you have a 2 or 3 parter!

  102. Kimberly Hilbert

    This sounds like a great read. I love finding new books. Thanks.

  103. Jennifer Fajer

    sounds great, thanks!

  104. Shirley Zolenski

    Sounds like a great read and right up my alley.

    fb/ shirley greenawalt zolenski

  105. kelleyboo

    Sounds like a good book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

  106. Margie Hunter

    I love getting in on the beginning of a new series! Thanks!

  107. Melissa Keith

    OK, what does it say about me when I wondered WHAT HAPPENED TO THE KITTENS!?
    I read a lot of ‘grisly crime thrillers’. I want to write one. Show me how, Mr. Mark! Thank you. HAPPY HALLOWEEN.

  108. Beverly Price

    It sounds like a great book. I would be interested in getting in on the beginning of a new series.

  109. Micheal Shea

    Pick me, pick me!

  110. Billie Deese

    Please enter me in the contest! Thanks

  111. Joanna Hernandez

    I would love to win this!

  112. Robin Weatherington

    Looks great

  113. @law_ender

    I’m in the unusual position of knowing David Mark rather well in the real world, and can confirm that, despite being a bit of a twat, he really does have an excellent insight into the world which he describes here. The Dark Winter genuinely is a fabulous book (painful though it is to admit – see aforementioned “twat” comment), peppered with real-life observations which lend the more thrilling, fictional elements added weight.
    A few posters such as Maureen above have wondered what David considers to be a good crime novel – I have it on authority that an article by David on just such a topic is due soon. Keep an eye on his Twitter if you’re interested. Or don’t – he is a bit of a twat, after all…

  114. Andrea Wickman

    Sounds enticing!

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