Ethics and the Novelist

I’d seeded the presence of a knife murderer in the first three stories, referring to his crimes, with my protagonist worrying that he’s responsible for the deaths he’s investigating. The problem is, that the killer exists in real-life.

I’ve written five crime novels in the last four years, and in the winter of 2019, I am halfway through the sixth story. My stories are set in Cornwall, where I live, and follow the investigations of an erudite, but troubled, detective.

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Botallack Mine


So far, I’ve had Chief Inspector Neil Kettle tackle serial killers, rustlers, human traffickers, drugs and armaments smugglers, poisoners, abusive husbands, racists and escaped lynxes and mountain lions. All typical of dozy old Cornwall….

I thought I knew where I was headed as I started writing the fourth book. I’d seeded the presence of a knife murderer in the first three stories, referring to his crimes, with my protagonist worrying that he’s responsible for the deaths he’s investigating. The problem is, that the killer exists in real-life.

It’s one of the most disturbing cases I know of, as the Dogwalk Slayer has been active for 29 years, killing at least three women. Two other deaths are linked to him, and there have been recent attacks on women and children out walking their dogs. It’s unusual for there to be so long between the murders. If you’re interested, there’s a short article about the crimes, here:

‘Dogwalk slayer’ on the loose: One man behind ‘cold case’ murders, says ex-cop

I’ve decided against writing about these hideous crimes. Fictionalising real murders would be wrong, for there are grieving friends and family still around.

There is, of course, a rich tradition of turning real crimes into stories, as well as chronicling them in non-fiction—think of the whole Jack the Ripper industry, for instance. But these books are published long after the crimes were committed.

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ahttps://www.amazon.com/Five-Untold-Lives-Killed-Ripper/dp/1328663817


I changed direction with the fourth novel, called Sin Killers, to write of a sanctimonious husband and wife team who are kidnappers, killers and cannibals.

Have any of you censored your writing over ethical considerations?