Punctuate: ‘caught by a real former detective fiction writer’

Are you caught out by punctuation?

The meaning of the title depends on the punctuation. Try these two examples.

  1. Caught by a real former-detective fiction writer.
  2. Caught by a real former detective-fiction writer.

The first means I was caught by a former detective who is now a fiction writer, whilst the second means I was caught by a person who used to write detective fiction. I expect you could find other ways of punctuating it to give other meanings. As a writer, I have to be careful how I punctuate my sentences. I also value my editors, as they always spot something I had overlooked.

In which way was I really caught recently?

I met a detective-fiction writer who is a former detective. When we discussed reasons for creating an amateur detective, which I have written about previously, he caught me out by spotting one I had conveniently forgotten to mention. As a real detective, he knew all about police procedures and the culture of a police station, but if I wrote about a police detective, I would undoubtedly make a lot of mistakes, damaging my credibility.

A detective with a magnifying glass. Who has he caught?
A detective with a magnifying glass. Who has he caught?
Won’t I be caught by my readers anyway?

Of course, even an amateur sleuth has to deal with the police. Do I not risk being caught by my readers when I make incorrect assumptions about the police? As I write in the first person, any such mistakes can appear to be due to my character’s lack of knowledge in that respect. And police procedures are less central to my plots than they would be if my hero was a police officer. This does not mean that I don’t try to be accurate and realistic as far as possible. It just gets me off the hook.

Have you caught me yet?

Have you read Accounting for Murder, Double Entry? If so did you spot any clangers regarding police procedures or anything else? I would like to hear from you. If you haven’t read it, now could be a good time, before the sequel, Old Money, comes out.

Buy it here on Amazon or here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it.

Accounting for Murder


When former athlete Patty Rogers decides to divorce her unfaithful husband, Ray, she calls on accountant, Frank Hill, to find Ray’s conveniently missing investments. The trail leads from Cardiff to the financial heart of the City of London and to Aberystwyth, where the mystery turns into a murder. The police regard Patty as their one and only suspect. Frank and his teenage daughter Jane try to find the real killer, unaware of the dangers they are facing from corrupt accountants, racist thugs, a dog-fighting gang, uncooperative policemen and Ray’s mistress, a pop star with many faces and a rock-solid alibi. To see justice done they will need all Frank’s investigative skills and Jane’s youthful energy. And more.




Is time another advantage for the amateur detective?

Do I mean time in fact or fiction?

I have written about reasons why we need amateur detectives in real life as well as in detective novels. Now I will look at the different perspectives amateurs have from the police when it comes to the question of time.

Is crime-solving time limited?

I suppose you will agree that time is important for anyone solving any crime and especially for serious crimes. You may know that the police believe that the first hour is the most important and then the first twenty-four hours. Criminals can destroy evidence. Physical evidence can be lost or damaged naturally or accidentally. If out of doors, the weather can wash away clues. Some people keep CCTV footage for only short times. Memories are best when fresh.

Detectives should not waste time

You will probably agree that the CID should make the most of the first hour and the first twenty-four to secure evidence and follow up leads as quickly as possible. They are likely to be in a far better position than any amateur in that respect.

Risk DiceA man leaning on a question-mark, pondering. Is he wasting time or solving a crime?
A man leaning on a question-mark, pondering. Is he wasting time or solving a crime?
How is the pressure of time a bad thing?

There is a lot of pressure to solve a case in that first twenty-four hour period. If the police identify a prime suspect by then, it is likely that all attention will focus on that person. They are not likely to follow other lines of enquiry beyond that point. This is even more true where the press are taking an interest. A press-release saying, ‘we’re following a number of leads’ is not what anyone wants. There is a strong incentive to ‘wrap the case up’ – which is not the same as solving it.

What is different about an amateur’s time?

Amateur detectives rarely have arbitrary timescales imposed upon them and don’t have the press to worry about. They may need to solve a case before a wrong conviction occurs, but the deadline will be the date of the trial, or of the appeal, not the next press conference.

What about cases that take a very long time?

Some cases take years to solve. Others are re-opened after several years, either because they were not closed in the first place or because of allegations of a miscarriage of justice. Cold case reviews work on a different timescale and will be the subject of another blog.


Be alert – here are more ways to spot fake news

I have written before about fake news, saying why it is a bad thing and suggesting clues to help you tell the fake from the genuine. Here are a few more. Although no one thing can usually prove a story is fake, you should apply some of these tests before you believe everything you read.

Is old news fake news?
  • Does it say when the incident happened? How relevant is it now?
  • Something people did when they were children or teenagers may not be relevant now. Imagine reading Candidate in drunken brawl, and it didn’t say it happened when he was 17 and he is now 40?
  • War declared on USA would be misleading if it did not state that it was declared in 1812. Things are different now.
A mediaeval scribe writing old news
A mediaeval scribe writing old news
Read beyond the news headline.
  • Headline writers tend to go over the top. Read the article, or at least some of it, to get a feel for the whole story.
  • I remember a headline saying cure found for cancer. In the article, it said scientists could cure cancer in mice. They were about to investigate whether the treatment would work in humans.
Whose news?
  • If news is genuine and important, it will be in several papers, bulletins, blogs and news-sites.
  • If only one is carrying it, be wary, especially if it is only on social media. Why is it not on the BBC or in the papers?
  • Most social media sites do very little to check their facts, unlike TV and newspapers.
A picture can tell a thousand lies
  • If there is a photo or video with a story, try to find the connection. Is the picture just a general illustration of, say, soldiers going into battle or trees being cut down by contractors, or is it the actual ones in the story. How similar are they?
  • Pictures and videos can be altered or edited. This can be for good reasons, such as to cut out unnecessary detail but it can be for bad reasons, such as to give a different impression.
  • A photo shows only one moment in time but, without knowing the context, you can get a wrong impression. A kiss, a punch, the handing over of money, can all be wrongly interpreted out of context.
  • Even a video can be misleading if it is out of context.
  • Beware of letting a picture or video, especially an emotive one, determine your reaction to supposed events.
Get a second opinion on a news story
  • Do you know a reliable website or other source for information about stories on the same topic? Can you check the facts?
  • Even general background information can help make sense of a story.
Know yourself!
Two masks. Which shows the real you?
Two masks. Which shows the real you?

Try to be honest about your own biases and don’t just believe things you want to believe, things that will confirm your prejudices. (What do you mean, you haven’t got any?)

Truth is important. Let’s all beware of fake news and expose it for what it is.