Some time ago, while surfing the web, I discovered The Vault, an online archive where the FBI has made available to the public pdf copies of hundreds of classified police cases.
Among many others we can find the files of investigations about famous criminals as Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, or even famous unsolved cases such as The Black Dahlia or Zodiac.
Apart from being a source of entertainment for amateur investigators or nonfiction aficionados, these police documents can also be a source of inspiration for crime writers.
Police records as a source of inspiration
Without going any further, the Scottish author Val McDermid, who has just published a book on forensic science, said in this brief interview that when she writes her books she often takes advice from experts who help her giving more credibility to the investigations on her books. In fact, she even states that these queries with consultants have inspired some starting points for her novels.
I think any crime or detective story author should take a look at The Vault to know the kind of material officers work (or have worked) with in real investigations, paying attention to both its content and its graphical format.
Then it’s in the author’s hands to decide how to use that information to inspire and give credibility to the investigations of his books. Val McDermid herself implied in this interview that the key is not to replicate actual data and procedures to the letter, but to adapt it and make it’s suitable for narrative fiction.
So we have the inspiration. Now we only have to imagine a mysterious and exciting case.