Sunday, September 23, 2018

Forensic Art 101

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear from one of the most interesting people in the crime fiction business. Robin Burcell is a bestselling author and a former police officer, who is also an FBI Academy-trained forensic artist. She spoke at a Mystery Writers of America event about that job and some of her cases. The information was not only fascinating, it was very useful for a room full of writers!
Camille Minichino, Robin Burcell, Ann Parker, Barbara Holmes and Tom Williams
Sketches of suspects are used to eliminate, not to identify, she said. So, looking at a sketch of a blond, thin-faced suspect, you can eliminate the dark-haired, chubby cheeked guy just happened to be near the crime scene. If you find a blond, thin-faced man, the sketch isn’t definitive proof that he’s your criminal, but it’s one element a detective can use to prompt further investigation of him.
The other thing I think will be particularly useful for my writing is how Robin described the interview process. When she would sit down with a victim of, or witness to a crime, she would talk with them in a very specific way. The questions need to be open-ended? “What stood out to you?” instead of “Was his hair curly?” As an investigator, you don’t want to suggest anything to witnesses, she said. You want the description to come only from them. I plan on using this frequently when I write interview scenes.
We had a good crowd of mostly Central Valley, California-based writers and readers. A few brave souls trekked from the Bay Area, and it was great to see them.
Catriona McPherson, Robin, and me
Robin’s latest book, The Romanov Ransom, just hit #1 on Publisher’s Weekly’s bestsellers list! It’s part of the multiple-bestselling Sam and Remi Fargo series she co-writes with Clive Cussler. 

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