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READERSVOICE.COM aims to collect a few interesting reading tips. A few months ago, I came across a book called Forensics, True Stories from Australian Police Files (The Five Mile Press) by Vikki Petraitis. Cases covered include the police investigation of a fatal hit and run collision on the Hume Highway; the tale of Poison Ivy, a drug addict who met men in Melbourne bars, went with them to their rooms, drugged their coffee and robbed them; and the story of a woman bludgeoned to death in an empty house at St Albans in Melbourne’s west. Some of these cases involved an extensive, even excrutiating amount of police footwork over many months. But the author tells the stories in a fast-paced and interesting way. Vikki Petraitis is the author of a number of true crime books, including The Frankston Murders, and she gives some good reading tips in this interview.

READERSVOICE.COM: I like the way the stories in Forensics, True Stories From Australian Police Files, are packed with information. Is it difficult finding the central thread of some stories, which chronicle a lot of police doing a lot of work, like all the footwork and chasing up of leads that went into Death at Violet Town?

VIKKI PETRAITIS: The central thread of a story usually comes to me in an interview. When someone is telling you a story of the most amazing case they’ve ever worked on – which is what I usually ask them for – the central theme will become obvious straight away. It might be dogged pursuit, or it might be good triumphing over evil, or it might be the cops fighting for justice for a victim who had no one else to fight for them. True crime stories are a little easier to do than fiction, because they all have a chronology to follow. As a writer, I can interfere with that a bit – like when I show an ending at a beginning, but the chronology is there to be followed which takes a lot of decision-making out of the picture.

RV: The police procedurals in the book have fast-paced plots, although the investigators face a frustratingly drawn out process. Is plot the main attraction for you for crime stories and writing in general, and what makes a good plot in true-crime? The need to avert a recurrence, for example, in the case of the rapist in The Blooding?

VP: It might sound funny, but I don’t usually choose the story. With a lot of these, I simply approached cops from different squads and divisions and asked for their best story. These were usually ones that either touched them personally in some way, or used all of the resources of the squad and stretched their investigative abilities. Sometimes it was the helplessness of the victim who begged for justice. Sometimes I might get the choice of a couple and choose the one that sounds the most interesting. Before I began writing, I read a book about writing true crime and it suggested that the best true crime stories are the ones with lots of ‘and then’ elements. A guy was killed in a hit-run and then it turned out to be murder and then the cops found out that his twin sister was his sole beneficiary and then… I think that works as a formula for deciding on a story. If it’s too clear cut, then it doesn’t make a good true crime story.

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-copyright Simon Sandall