Monday, 22 August 2016

Diana Bretherick: Criminology and Crime Fiction.

Shotsblog is pleased to be the first to welcome Diana Bretherick to the blog as part of The Devil’s Daughter blog tour.   Diana Bretherick was a criminal barrister for ten years and is a former lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. Her first novel, City of Devils (Orion, 2013) was selected for the 2013 Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club. Her latest novel The Devil’s Daughters is recently published by Orion in paperback.

As a former criminal barrister and criminologist specialising in the study of crime and popular culture it was perhaps only a matter of time before I tried my hand at writing crime fiction. My experiences in these fields have certainly informed my novels.

Both ‘City of Devils’ and ‘The Devil’s Daughters’ are set in the Italian city of Turin in the 1880s and feature the world’s first criminologist Cesare Lombroso. Criminology is essentially the study of the causes and consequences of crime. Its history, in common with that of crime fiction, reflects changing social attitudes of all kinds as well as those towards crime and criminals. Before Lombroso’s influence the study of crime was little more than a ragbag of different ideas from various thinkers and it wasn’t until he began to write on the subject in the 1870s that it started to become an academic discipline in its own right. Having said that, Lombroso’s ideas were somewhat unusual although they should be viewed in the context of their times. Essentially he thought that some criminals were born rather than created by their environment. Such offenders, he decided, were throwbacks to primitive man and could be identified by their physical characteristics. A thief for example would have an expressive face and a thin beard, his forehead would be sloping and his nose would be distorted. Habitual murderers had bloodshot eyes, hawk like noses and thin lips and rapists, he decided, had jug ears.

Despite these rather odd observations Lombroso’s main contribution was to bring the study of crime to the public’s attention, which is why he is known as ‘the father of modern criminology’ and why we still teach criminology students about him today. In fact I decided to write about him as a result of a question asked by one my students in a seminar. They wanted to know if this so called criminal ‘expert’ had ever investigated any actual crimes. I was intrigued by the possibility and started to read Lombroso’s work, which had recently been translated into English. What I found changed everything for me. Although as far as I could see he didn’t catch any criminals he regularly gave expert evidence in criminal trials about whether their physical characteristics made their guilt more likely. It seemed to me that he might well have investigated crimes as part of this exercise. Reading his work took me into his world and also gave me his voice – bombastic, apparently sure of his ground but also quite insecure underneath all his bluster. He was also essentially a kind and humane man who saw his work as a step towards a crime free world benefitting everyone.
Although my knowledge of criminology helped me to paint pictures of a world where views
 of crime were quite different to ours, my background as a barrister was also useful. I would
think of offenders, lawyers and judges I had met whilst in practice and use them to create my characters and I also drew on cases for court scenes. But it isn’t just my own knowledge that informs my writing. I am lucky to have lawyers, historians, criminologists, psychologists and forensic experts as well as other writers as colleagues and friends all of whom give generously of their time to answer my many questions. Writing fiction is often seen as lonely pursuit but where the research is concerned it’s much more of a team effort.

The Devils Daughter by Diana Bretherick is published on 27th August 2016 (£13.99, Orion)

1888. When young Scottish scientist James Murray receives a letter from Sofia Esposito, a woman he once loved and lost, he cannot refuse her cry for help. Sofia's fifteen-year-old cousin has vanished but, because of her lower-class status, the police are unwilling to investigate.  Accompanied by his younger sister Lucy, Murray returns to the city of Turin where he was once apprenticed to the world-famous criminologist, Cesare Lombroso. As he embarks on his search for the missing girl, Murray uncovers a series of mysterious disappearances of young women and rumours of a haunted abbey on the outskirts of the city.  When the body of one of the girls turns up bearing evidence of a satanic ritual, Murray begins to slot together the pieces of the puzzle. But as two more bodies are discovered, fear grips the city and a desperate hunt begins to find a truly terrifying killer before he claims his next victim.

You can find out more information about Diana Bretherick and her work on her website.  You can also follow her on Twitter @DianaBretherick and find her on Facebook.

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