Modus Operandi: A Writer's Guide to How Criminals Work

Writer's Book Review Modus Operandi: A Writer's Guide to How Criminals Work By Mauro Corvasce and Joseph Paglino


Two familiar sayings. The first is: genius is in the details. Details can make or break a character, a scene, or an entire novel. Grasp of detail is essential to a writer.

Second, remember high school English class? It is in the high school English classrooms that well-meaning educators perpetuate a dangerous myth. What myth, you ask? Have you ever heard the phrase write about what you know? 'Nuff said.

Be honest: how many of you writers have shoplifted some candy from the local convenience store during your childhood? Still being honest, how many readers would sit through a mystery novel centered around a nine-year-old's crime spree of lifting Bubble Yums and Lifesavers from 7-11, until the determined detective brought the criminal genius to justice? If you only wrote about what you knew, this would be your masterwork.

Fortunately, Mauro Corvasce and Joseph Paglino have written Modus Operandi: A Writer's Guide to How Criminals Work. This book covers the details of planning and carrying out crimes that are a tad more interesting (and dangerous) than The Great Bubble Yum Heist. Now, you can write so convincingly about skyjacking, cons, kidnappings, and murders that determined ol' mom will begin to wonder exactly how you were able to pay cash (in small unmarked bills) for that 1978 Chevette you drive.

Each 15-20 page chapter covers those details that bring realism to your writings about crime:

  • Arsonists
  • Art, Antique, and Jewel Thieves
  • Car-, Hi-, and Skyjacking; and Auto Theft
  • Con Artists
  • Fencing Stolen Goods
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Prostitution
  • Armed Robbery
  • Safecracking and Lockpicking
  • Smuggling
  • Shoplifters, and
  • White-collar Crime and Money Laundering

Modus Operandi: A Writer's Guide to How Criminals Work carries a cover price of $16.99 (U.S.) at , but I've seen used copies offered there for as little as US$8.99. It is part of The Howdunit Series published by Writer's Digest Books. Other titles in the series include:

  • Murder One (also by Corvasce and Paglino)
  • Malicious Intent
  • Armed and Dangerous
  • Private Eyes
  • Police Procedurals
  • Scene of the Crime, and
  • Deadly Doses

The Bottom Line -

For anyone who writes mystery and suspense, for profit or pleasure, I recommend the entire Howdunit Series. However, if catching a murderer is a primary goal, I'd start with Modus Operandi, Malicious Intent, and Murder One.

Mike Morgan is a freelance writer and editor of the Writing Resources Directory, a growing collection of Web sites for writers. Browse the directory or add your site at

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