Queen of the Typos
Joined: Jan 2012
Thanked 3 times
What I Read
RE: Book writing – how far does author research need to go?
I have just read a DTB first published 1988, "Death of an Outsider" by MC Beaton. It's supposed to be darkly humorous police procedural, and it is mildly funny in places. It's all reportage, which means I didn't feel very engaged with the characters, and the author has got her facts seriously wrong. It's starts end of January in Scotland when Maggie T was Prime Minister, and seems like it belongs to the 1950s with police houses etc. Mayvbe my memory is wrong, maybe things are behind timesup in Scotland. I could forgive the author t6hat, but only in a cosy6y, not a police procedural.
What spoiled it for me was this passage, "A bomb had gone off in 10 Downing Street. Intended to kill the Prime Minister it had not succeeded but it had killed two members of the Cabinet, a policeman, two detectives and a messenger... etc... Hurricane Bertha had struck the Clyde Estuary. Ships had gone down, people had been killed by flying slates... etc etc".
I didn't remember either of these, so I googled. The closest I can get is October 1987 Great Storm and the mortar attack 1991, or the Brighton Bombing. All the wrong date.
At first I thought this was some US writer with a poor grasp of English news as it was first published in America but no, Beaton is British.
It's wrong, so wrong to mangle history like that even in a cosy. It spoiled the wholer story for me because it smacks of disrespect for the reader if an author can't be bothered to get basic facts right, fa cts which actually did not really pertain to the story.
In crime you often end up having to play fast and loose with Procedure or the storyt becomes so bogged down in fact as to be unreadable. Also thwere are some things which should remain undisclosed to the public for operational reasons, so research doesn't always bear fruits.
And there are some things you don't know you don't know unless yuoui are a studfent of certain oestoteric facts, eg in Gladiator School I tried to find out the actual legal position of my protagonist in AD 107 and the academics I asked didn't know that fact, would have had to ask colleagues, and suggested that most readers would not know if I got it wrong, and those who did would forgive me if I had tried hard to get the majority of facts right (Gladiator School or Gladiatrix as my agent wants to call it, is with my agent just now.)
Having whinged about Beaton's high-handedness with false facts I then went on to read three more, and they were very enjoyable in a cosy, Agatha Christie sort of way, but only because I'd picked them all up second hand. If I hadn't got them I would not have bought them because I was really miffed about the pseudohistory.