I recently finished writing a short story which centred around a murder committed by a surgeon who wants to get rid of a woman who is threatening to spill the beans about their affair. I asked myself if this is a plausible motive for murder in this day and age, and decided that given the conservative nature of the medical profession and the fact that it happened thirty years ago, it was fine. So imagine my interest when I opened a newspaper the other week and read about a hospital consultant who spiked his mistress’s coffee in order to induce an abortion and ended up jailed for six years. I guess most writers have had the slightly eerie feeling of writing about something and finding that something similar has happened in real life.
On the other hand events that occur in real life aren’t necessarily plausible in a work of fiction. All writers use real events in their own lives or in other people’s as starting points, but the closer you stay to that real event, the less convincing it is. The story has to take on a life of its own, and it won’t do that if you stick slavishly to the facts. And then, too, sometimes real life has to be toned down. Things happen that in a novel would have the reader throwing their hands up in disbelief: bizarre coincidences, solutions to problems coming completely out of the blue, freak accidents. So, yes, it’s a cliché, but truth often is stranger than fiction and the novelist walks a fine line, the crime novelist perhaps more than most.