Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Opposite Of A Criminal Mastermind

Why are the bad guys always masterminds in crime novels? Would you like to have a criminal in your novel who is more like the regular sort of criminal that authorities see every day?

Perhaps you'd want to rethink that.

Literary evil-doers have to outsmart the characters who are in pursuit, and it's asking too much of a reader to believe that all police detectives are bumbling idiots. Unless you're writing farce, your characters need to interact in a way that keeps the reader interested, and ordinary criminals just are not particularly clever.

Writing about a drug kingpin? You would not want to model one after the likes of Peter Shaw, who thought he was a bit of a mastermind himself.
Your assurance of purity...and a guilty verdict

Mr. Shaw had a nice little business going, a home-based operation that brought in the money he needed to support himself. Living in Nottingham, he may have been inspired by the Robin Hood legends, all that taking from the rich to give to himself...the poor. Whatever.

At any rate, Mr. Shaw was selling drugs and processing his goods at his kitchen sink. A good drug lord keeps a tidy establishment. Wouldn't want the clients falling ill. That would be bad for business.

He was so proud of his set-up that he asked a friend to photograph him as he went about his work, to show potential buyers that the drugs they were taking were prepared in a clean facility. There he was, in gloves and mask, not unlike a laborer in a pharmaceutical factory. No worries about purity from Mr. Shaw's drug supply. It was a fact worth memorializing on a cell phone, especially if a client balked at prices. Take out the phone and display the photographic evidence of cleanliness and it's worth a few extra pounds, right?

What Mr. Shaw forgot is that the local constabulary are not at his level of intelligence, which is apparently low. He tossed out a bad batch of crack cocaine using his regular dust bin, and it did not take long for the police to determine whose dust bin it was. One of the first things that police do when they catch someone they suspect of a crime is to check the cell phone for further evidence, and there it was. The advertising photos became evidence that Mr. Shaw was a drug dealer.

Your drug dealing character could fall prey to an act of negligence, but to make him or her as reckless as Mr. Shaw would not give you much room for the narrative arc to run any distance. No, your criminal character should be a mastermind, a person with enough intelligence to know how to cover their tracks and outsmart the authorities on their trail.

Your ordinary, everyday drug lord could only last through a short story, and you'd be hard-pressed to make the chase particularly interesting at all. Not too many twists and turns to a story where the evidence is sitting on a cell phone in a pants pocket. Once the police do a basic pat down and confiscate that phone it's over and would your readers stick with you to the end of that?

No comments: