By Chester Campbell
Google gets a lot of bad press, about how it's full of inaccuracies and all that. But for me, it's the greatest tool around. Granted, you can't take all that information in hundreds of thousands of links to your query as the gospel. But this is fiction, folks, and if you know how to use it properly, Google is a great tool for the mystery novelist. I use it to look up items almost daily when I'm writing.
One of the more interesting sites I found when working on a character for my current mystery is titled "HIT MAN ON-LINE - A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors." There's a picture of the book involved, shown at right, which is now only available online. The why of its appearance here is as intriguing as the what. Here's the introduction:
"In 1993, a triple murder was committed in Montgomery County by a man who was alleged to have used this book, Hit Man, as his guide. He was caught and convicted and sentenced to death. Wanting to profit from their loved one's murder, and realizing that the murderer himself was too poor to be worth suing, the family of those killed by the hit man sued Paladin Press, the publisher of the book Hit Man, saying Paladin Press 'aided and abetted' the murder.
"May 21, 1999, Paladin Press settled the case, giving the families of those killed by the hit man several million dollars, agreeing to destroy the remaining 700 copies of the book in their possession, and surrendering any rights they have to publish and reproduce the work. While the families were successful in profiting from their loved one's death, they have not been successful in stifling the book. With the surrender of the publishing rights by Paladin Press, the book has entered the public domain, and was published on the Internet at www.overthrow.com in its entirety on May 22, 1999.
"The book was initially published in 1983. 13,000 copies of the book are now in existence. There has only ever been one case where the book was associated with a crime, in that case the criminal had recently finished a lengthy prison sentence and had a history of prior violent crime. It is our opinion this book has never incited a murder, that the settlement of the Paladin Press case was wrong and forced by the insurance company, and that this book, and no book, should be banned. We invite the public to judge for themselves."
I don't know if it was written by a true professional, but it sounds authentic enough for me and for my purposes. If you'd like to read it, you'll find it here. It's one of those things that come with the warning "don't try this at home."
Sometimes I use Google to confirm my recollection of historical dates and places. It's also handy for getting background on places you've never been or haven't frequented lately. I like to use actual restaurants, particularly ones that add color to the story. I had heard of one called South Street but had never even driven by. I got the website off Google and it turned out to be just what I was looking for. It's official name is South Street Original Smokehouse, Crab Shack and Authentic Dive Bar. That last part refers to the Tree House Oyster Bar atop the restaurant, with a tree growing up through the floor.
My book involves Medicare fraud, and Google provided a wealth of links to both government and non-governmental sources. Google maps are great, too, for establishing locations and routes. In one chapter I wanted Sid Chance to reflect on some memories from his younger days. Recalling my own experience, though it was thirty years earlier, I took him past an old shopping center anchored by a theater no longer used as a movie house. I found enough history to update the area and a street-level view provided its current appearance.
For a lot of local spots I could have driven across town, but Google saved both time and gas, meaning money. That's reason enough to put up with some of the questionable shenanigans of the guys that occupy the Googleplex in Silicon Valley.
Visit me at ChesterCampbell.com.