Sunday, September 23, 2012


by Earl Staggs

I miss the days when a cop or a PI had to prowl the mean streets to solve a crime. Remember when Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer would pin a snitch to a wall, duke it out with a gunsel in the alley, or kick in a few doors to track down the bad guys?  How about when Columbo would put on the rumpled raincoat, coax the rumpled little car to life, and visit suspects to learn that “just one more little thing?” 

Now, on TV and in movies, we see squints pull DNA evidence from a tiny spot of blood or find a suspect in a data bank with a few strokes of flying fingers on a keyboard.  Or they access security cameras from every street corner in the city and spot the getaway car.

Okay, that’s progress.  Uberscience and superforensics.  Technology has taken crime investigation into a whole new world.  On the screen anyway. 

Will this eventually have an effect on crime writing? 

I know amateur and cozy sleuths don’t have the multi-million-dollar forensics labs to rely on, so they find clues and suspects the old-fashioned way.  Same for small town police departments with limited resources.  

But in recent years, something has come along called the “CSI Syndrome.”  Judges and juries are not satisfied unless prosecutors have the accused’s DNA taken from the victim or, at the very least, fingerprints on a murder weapon. 

But I’m wondering if mystery readers will adopt that kind of thinking.  Will we who write crime stories, in order to satisfy our readers,  have to include more modern forensic science into our stories?  Will our fictional protags have to spend more time in the lab and less time on the mean streets? 

I hope not.  The old-fashioned way of figuring out whodunnit is a lot more fun to write.  For me, it’s also more fun to read.


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

I agree with you, Earl. Forensics takes away all the fun in crime solving--

And besides--talking about Columbo putting on that rumpled raincoat -- did he ever take it off?

Morgan Mandel said...

My books are more psychological and tend to be character based, so I don't use a lot of science in them, but after the mystery is solved, verification by DNA or other methods makes the result seem more authentic.

Morgan Mandel

Earl Staggs said...

Sylvia, I'm sure he must have taken off the raincoat at times, but I think people remember him with the raincoat on. Crime solving was a lot of fun with him around.

Earl Staggs said...

Characters are certainly the key, Morgan, whether the investigation takes place in the lab or on the streets.