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Interview

VIKKI PETRAITIS p2

Vikki Petraitis talks about some developments in forensic investigation...

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you contact the police detectives and crime scene investigators for your books, and earn their trust, particularly when you were first starting out?

VIKKI PETRAITIS: Ironically, it was easier when I was first starting out. There were very few true crime writers so I was a bit of a novelty. It got a bit easier once I had a couple of books published because people knew me by my writing reputation. In the early days, I would ring a squad, ask to talk to the boss and ask him or her if they had any good stories. Nowadays, you have to go through the police media unit and it is a lot more complicated.

RV: Is it important to write in such a way that readers empathise with the killer or criminal to a degree, if not as much as the victims and police (of course), for the story to be interesting? If so, what makes people almost feel sorry for a killer or criminal in true-crime stories? For example, Poison Ivy although callous was pathetic in some ways.

VP: I try never to have my readers empathise with the killers I write about. In my writing, I want to explore how every day people react when something catastrophic enters their lives. How do people cope when someone in their family is murdered? How do people cope when they were duped by someone they trusted who turned out to be a monster? I see incredible patterns where people thrive when they choose to let what happened to them be something to learn from. People don’t thrive when what happened to them becomes who they are. Survivors are much more interesting than offenders.

RV: It was interesting reading about the difference between real-life crime scene investigation and forensics and tv show versions. And I once read a James Ellroy book where a cop said no evidence should be thrown out, because one day they might be able to get a photo from a drop of blood. What ways do you think crime scene investigators might like to see forensics technology evolve?

VP: One of the most exciting advances that I’ve seen recently which hasn’t received a lot of press is forensic linguistic analysis. There is a growing number of experts who study patterns in the way people write. They are trained to spot deception in simple things like event order or pronouns. These techniques have been adapted an applied to 911 calls in America. If you got home and found a loved one murdered or attacked on the floor and you raced for the phone, an ordinary person would begin with a cry for help – Send an ambulance! Quick! Someone who might have had something to do with the crime – as often a family member does – will begin with a back story rather than a cry for help – I was out shopping and I just got home and found my husband lying on the floor… Forensic linguistic analysis is a bit like the TV show Lie to Me, but with spoken and written words rather than micro facial expressions.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.

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