Most writers build up a personal library for their major projects. Three other mystery writers—Laura Bradford/Elizabeth Lynn Casey, Laura Lebow, and
Sujata Massey—and I will share what we keep at hand during a panel on research at Malice Domestic, a national annual conference for mystery readers and writers.
Here are some titles on my shelves.
Crime and Investigation
Two books I’ve used for years are Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions From Crime Writers and Murder and Mayhem by D. P. Lyle, M.D. The cardiologist and author answers mystery writers’ medical and post-death questions, providing essential details and ideas for ways to kill characters. He also takes questions at http://www.dplylemd.com.
One of my favorite books on police work is Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers, by Lee Lofland, a former police officer. He shows and tells the basics writers need to know even if writing about amateur sleuths. See http://www.leelofland.com.
Other books I open from time to time are Complete Idiot’s Guide to Criminal Investigation, by Alan Axelrod and Guy Antinozzi; Crime Scene, by Cyril H. Wecht, M.D.: Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science, by Richard Saferstein;
Scene of the Crime: A Writer’s Guide to Crime-Scene Investigations, by Anne Wingate; and The Writer’s Complete Crime Reference Book, by Martin Roth.
While writing Show Me the Ashes (coming December 2015), I relied heavily on Practical Fire and Arson Investigation, by John J. O’Connor.
I have numerous books that don’t concern crime but help me in creating setting. With almost every mystery I study the illustrations in American Shelter, by Lester Walker, to create the layout and exterior of homes.
Two other books that receive frequent use are Know Your Antiques, by Ralph and Terry Kovel, and Reader’s Digest’s Nature in America: Your A-to-Z Guide to Our Country’s Animals, Plants, Landforms and Other Natural Features.
Among the other books I dip into occasionally are those on cooking, history, art, and foreign languages.
Tip: Buy references books at library book sales and from used book stores.
In developing the character of former CIA covert operative Phoenix Smith, I read a number of books on the CIA, including these autobiographies: Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy, by Lindsay Moran; Denial and Deception: An Insiders View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11, by Melissa Boyle Mahle; and Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, by Valerie Plame Wilson.
I own a large collection of books on writing and editing in general and a small collection of how-to books on writing mysteries. For a short list that I posted a couple of years ago, go to Show Me the Mysteries, Writing Tips and Resources.
You can’t find everything on the Net, and some books you want to reach out and pick up whenever a question arises.