Sheila Lowe, a real life forensic handwriting expert, is the author of the Claudia Rose forensic handwriting series and the Beyond the Veil series. You can find out more about her here, see her books here, and read her last post here.
As someone who does a lot of research to get police procedure right, I’ve been annoyed lately by some flagrantly ridiculous missteps in books and TV shows. But then, I started wondering whether I’m too picky, too correct. Do readers care how much the author sticks to the straight and narrow?
There’s got to be poetic license, especially where investigative techniques may take a long time. But how far does that license stretch? I just finished binge-watching a “limited series” Netflix show; in this case, eight episodes. Let me digress for a moment to say how much I enjoy these types of shows that have long enough to fully develop the plot and the characters, and the crime is wrapped up at the end. This one, Clickbait, has much to recommend it. An intriguing story: who kidnapped a happily married family man, Nick, and is forcing him to hold up a sign that says “I abuse women”? And, terrifyingly, one that says, “At 5 million clicks I die.”
The tale is told from the point of view of a different character in each episode (not Rashomon-style. These are different parts of the story). It offers a not-heavyhanded social statement about our modern lives online, and the behavior of the media. With the lead cop being Muslim, and Nick in a biracial marriage, we see aspects of prejudice from a different-than-usual standpoint. The fact that my guess for the killer was wrong says a lot for terrific plotting and storytelling. It sucked me in and kept me coming back to watch all those episodes over two days (okay, so I have no life).
But. It took several episodes for me to warm up at all to the characters, even the victim. I didn’t like any of them. Well, except for Nick’s two teenage sons, who reminded me a lot of my own biracial sons at that age (now 43 and 46). One of the characters kept inserting herself into the case in ways that seemed too far-fetched to be believable. And much of the police procedure didn’t make sense. I’m not a cop, but I have taken classes from cops and have consulted with several. Like I said at the beginning, I go to great pains to make my books believable. But maybe I’m being too picky.
Once, (wo)manning a table at the L.A. Times Festival of Books with an author who wrote police procedurals, I asked about her research. She said she just got it from TV shows. For that reason, I would never read that author’s books. I’ve read a couple of books lately where I got the feeling they followed the same path. So, I’d love to know: does it interfere with your enjoyment of a story when it’s clear the author hasn’t done their homework? Or is it just me? Ms. CrankyPants