By Corrie Tan

Singapore Straits Times

The crime-writing novelists of the Singapore Writers Festival panel Criminal Minds explored humanity’s dark underbelly – with plenty of morbid laughs along the way.

Best-selling British crime novelist Peter James, journalist Lucy Hawking (daughter of the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking) and American mystery writer Ed Lin spoke to an audience of about 100 at the Singapore Art Museum’s Glass Hall last Saturday Evening. It was moderated by literary agent Jayapriya Vasudevan.

James, best known for his crime thriller series revolving around the hard-nosed detective Roy Grace which has sold millions of copies worldwide, made a wry dig at Dame Agatha Christie several minutes into the talk, saying he had always wanted to ask her leading investigator character, Hercule Poirot, who often revealed the crime’s denouement in a library or sitting room: “Show me the forensic evidence, fatso!”

But he later added, on a more serious note: “There is something very good about being in that very dark and uncertain world, to be able to pick up a crime novel in which you have control.

“You get to the end of the book, the detective has actually solved it, he’s put the world back into some sort of order and it kind of gives you a feel-good factor.”

Hawking chimed in: “Normal life is random and scary and unpredictable, but that’s the satisfaction of fiction, isn’t it? It gives you a sense that there is some kind of resolution.”

Hawking, who has written popular adventure science fiction for children in addition to her career in journalism, also seemed to take over the role of moderator for large parts of the panel.

An audience member asked if the panel had ever worried about readers copying the crimes in their books, to which the writers felt that fiction could never quite compare to the awful absurdity of real life, citing the example of horrific American murder Ted Bundy, and mulling over sociopathic criminals without empathy or a conscience.

But the panel ended on a thoughtful note as the writers pondered the thousands of very real crimes that go unresolved every day.

Lin had discovered the body of a young woman on a beach more than 10 years ago while jogging between New York City and Brooklyn. He was never able to find out what had actually happened, even from the police. The award-winner has written a series of crime novels featuring the Chinese-American cop Robert Chow, set in New York’s City Chinatown in 1976.

He said: “I feel any story in which the world is set right again is definitely pegged to a more innocent time. And that’s something that doesn’t really exist anymore.”