By Bette Golden Lamb & J. J. Lamb
There are two major problems in doing research for a crime novel—too little or too much.
This becomes even more hazardous when writing about something you believe you know everything about, and/or are so lazy you skip over minor details that you think are trivial and no one will notice an uh-oh here and there.
You’ve no doubt read books where you know the author hasn’t done any research and simply relied on hearsay, old wives’ tales, urban legends, and the like, or includes seemingly infinite details on the specifics of a technical procedure or piece of equipment to the point of your falling asleep, or worse, becoming so bored that you toss the book across the room.
That’s not a place where you want your readers to be.
Some years back, a best-selling mystery writer had a very tense scene going when the protagonist jumps into a Porsche 356 and is surprised by someone hiding behind the seats. Setting aside how much of a cliché that scene has become, it’s obvious the writer was trying to impress by using a classy automobile, but had never actually looked behind the seats of that model Porsche—there is only enough room for very small children or possibly legless adults. Yet, the scene was integral to the plot.
For us, our medical thrillers often also include significant references to art, journalism, and automobiles—Bette is a Registered Nurse and artist; J. J. is a former journalist and a life-long auto enthusiast/mechanic.
Yet, when using our background knowledge, or writing about “common knowledge” stuff, we never assume that what we put down on paper is correct. A little research (beyond Wikipedia) cuts the number of post-publication nightmares.
In Bone Dry, the first of the five Gina Mazzio medical thrillers, much of the story was built around a cancer treatment known as autologous blood marrow transplant (ABMT). This came after much reading, talking with nurses and doctors involved in the procedure, and visiting an actual unit at the University of California at San Francisco.
Just as Bone Dry was going to press, ABMTs started losing favor among oncologists. So, we added an “Authors’ Note” to the effect that oncology was a fast-moving field of medicine and ABMT might be obsolete by the time the book was read. (At this writing, there seems to be renewed interest in ABMT.)
Sin & Bone required deep research into the scary, dangerous, and illicit trade in human body parts. Bone Pit made us take a close look at Big Pharma and how drug trials are conducted; we also discovered an investigative agency few people know about—the Federal Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation; and we threw in some exciting mountain driving through Nevada’s isolated gold country (where we lived for a time).
Bone of Contention is a “ripped from the headlines” kind of story where we had to look at and try to understand both sides of the on-going battle between pro-abortion and anti-abortion people and organizations. And our newest, Bone Dust, gets very bloody as we unravel the background and motivation of a twisted phlebotomist’s deadly involvement in bloodletting.
Throughout, the trick has been to make medical and psychological events accurate and believable without inundating readers with pages and pages of scientific babble to the point where they want to throw our books up against the wall.
Bette Golden Lamb, a feisty ex-Bronxite, writes crime novels and plays with clay. Her sculptures and other artistic creations appear in exhibitions, galleries, and stores. She also hangs out with her 50+ rose bushes, or sneaks out to movies when she should be writing. Being an RN is a huge clue as to why she writes medical thrillers and Sci-Fi novels. Award-winning Rx Denied, is due out from Assent Publishing later this year. J. J. Lamb intended to become an aeronautical engineer/pilot, but was seduced by journalism. An AP career was interrupted by the Army, which gave him a Top Secret clearance; a locked room with table, chair, and typewriter; and the time to write short stories. A paperback PI series followed, the most recent of which, No Pat Hands, a 2014 Shamus Award nominee from Private Eye Writers of America. The Lambs, who live in Northern California, have co-authored five medical thrillers - Bone Dry, Sisters in Silence, Sin & Bone, Bone Pit and Bone of Contention - and a suspense-adventure-romance novel, Heir Today. Website: www.twobacksheep.us Blog: www.bettelamb,wordpress.com