The minefield of Historical Crime Fiction

About a year ago, I started work on a historical crime fiction set in Arkansas City, KS in 1934. It is far different in tone and setting than my previous works. Swan Song is a neo-noir hardboiled tale while The 9 mm Solution is more of a procedural. Not all crime fiction is alike.

However, I am already discovering the challenges of working in a time period dramatically outside my own. Here are a couple of examples:

The bad guy is making every effort to escape when suddenly his car breaks down. He pulls out his cell phone…no, wait. He doesn’t.

The policeman thinks he has seen the bad guy before but he can’t place him. Using the police department’s facial recognition software on the computers…ah, no. That’s not quite right either.

What we currently take for granted in our daily lives must be erased, in essence, in order to consider exactly what would have been done over 80 years ago. It’s not just the technology, or lack thereof. The minutiae that make up our days has to be re-examined. There is no Walmart, perhaps not even a grocery store per se. Telephone service is limited; long-distance calling requires a different kind of connection. Communication is not as pervasive. There is no television and radio is the most “real-time” information system available. Perhaps there is the picture show or people getting together to play bridge or canasta. Going to the bathroom, taking a shower, doing the dishes — they are all different from what we are used to.

Naturally, in this piece, I don’t need to show my protagonist brushing his teeth or doing laundry. However, it is necessary to know how these things were done. It may be discussed in dialogue or referenced. I know there are readers who do nothing but pick apart every detail and nuance looking for an error, and I am certain I will make some. So, the task in working my way through this minefield is to show just detail to provide the feeling of the period without going overboard so that it detracts and allows the picky individuals to declaim the work.

Wish me luck.


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