My 40 Years in Forensic Pathology Seems to Be Mainly Standing over Corpses in Muddy Ditches at Three in the Morning; from Sherlock Holmes to the Glossy CSI Franchise, Mass Audiences Continue to Be Fascinated with Crime Drama and Fiction. SAM MALONE Caught Up with Leading Welsh Crime Writers and Criminologists to Investigate the Phenomenon
Byline: SAM MALONE
FOR aficionados of the genre, there is nothing quite like a juicy murder mystery full of anticipation, suspense and drama.
It is the classic formula of familiar characters, settings and events along with an irrepressible thirst for justice which time and again draws people in.
Professor Bernard Knight, the former pathologist who now spends his time penning crime novels, is in a unique position to dissect the reading public's thirst for crime fiction.
During his 40-year career with the Home Office, he performed more than 25,000 autopsies, and was involved in many high-profile cases, including that of Fred and Rose West, as well as the case of child killer Mary Bell.
"Robberies are not exactly the most dramatic are they?" he said. "They do not have the same cachet as murder. Murder is the ultimate crime and has much more drama associated with it and that's why people are interested in it.
"Most people generally don't know about what happens after a murder so to be given the chance to explore this is exciting for them."
The Cardiff-born author, who helped solve hundreds of murders during his 55-year career is now better known for his Crowner John Mysteries series of crime novels.
He has written more than 30 crime-related books and while he said he is influenced by his former work he maintains there always needs to be an element of artistic license used by the author.
Speaking at yesterday's official opening of a special Scenes of Crime House - designed to house mock-ups of serious crime scenes - which has been named in his honour at the University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd, Prof Knight added: "I'd say it is probably a 50-50 split of fact and fiction in my novels. Some of the historical ones are obviously based on fact but being a forensic pathologist is a lot more boring than you might think, we do our stuff and then go home."
He said if he included some of the more mundane parts of the job in his novels people would not be interested.
"The abiding memories of my 40 years in forensic pathology seems to be mainly of standing over corpses in muddy ditches or on freezing hillsides at three in morning."
John Dean, author of crime books House of Evil and The Long Dead, meanwhile, said his readers are captivated by the stories he tells.
He said his readers can tell the difference between normal real-life events and the novels he writes because it is "just a piece of fiction".
"Ultimately they acknowledge it's entertainment and are not fooled by the fantasy put in front of them," he said.
Mr Dean, who is a member of the Crime Writers Association, said the best murder mystery novels often stuck to the tried and tested formulas.
"I guess one of the reasons why crime as a subject works so well in novels is that it's so dramatic - you don't get much more dramatic than a murder mystery.
"Crime provides a large scope for the author to work with and to create a sense of drama which is to an extent believable.
Things always happen in crime novels and there is a sense of intrigue and mystery."
A journalist by trade, Mr Dean has frequently covered crime stories but, like Professor Knight, his novels are only partly influenced by his work.
"When you look at the headlines you sometimes think if I invent that people aren't going to believe it.
"It's therefore really important that crime novelists research all their work because if they get something wrong then I think it diminishes the experience for the reader."
Meanwhile, despite the thrill of the moment when the hero solves the crime in a good murder-mystery, Professor Knight said he was concerned with the unrealistic expectation of forensic pathologists and scientists which has stemmed from what he described as the "CSI effect". …