What does it mean to tell the truth in fiction?


I’ve been a fan of legal thrillers all my life. The idea of an innocent person, wrongly accused fighting for his or her freedom— and often for life— never fails to get my attention. I never get tired of reading about the efforts of the homicide detective to put together the bits and pieces of evidence that’s needed to solve the case and the courtroom battle pitting the lawyer for the accused against the ambitious prosecutor. These are the stories that motivated me to become a lawyer, and the reason why I have continued on this path as a judge.

After years of defending, prosecuting and taking verdicts, I decided to use my legal knowledge and experience to tell the kinds of riveting stories that captivated me as a reader of legal thrillers. But there was one precondition: The stories had to be conceivable.

One of the things that bothered me as a reader and legal expert was that there were so many novels with farfetched circumstances that could not happen in our system of justice. Obviously, works of fiction are made-up stories. But for me, telling the truth in the context of a made-up story means not proclaiming something that isn’t possible or probable. Readers are smarter than some authors give them credit for. I think we can all agree that people don’t outrun explosions nor can they jump from a fast-moving train without being seriously injured or dying (though that makes for a great action film!).

As a writer, I aimed to show what it was really like to go to an autopsy, visit a crime scene or interview a crime victim.