My crime novels: getting to the heart of true crime stories
Narratives about major French criminal cases
by Viviane Janouin-Benanti
Novels inspired by criminal cases are a classic feature of French literature. You may have heard of some of the most famous: Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, François Mauriac’s Thérèse Desqueyroux. Anglo-Saxon authors are also fond of the genre; think of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, for example.
My training as a lawyer and my passion for true stories have naturally led me down this path.
A novelist first and foremost, I go above and beyond the facts revealed through painstaking documentary research. Certainly, for each novel, I read newspaper accounts of the events, the court transcripts, the interrogations, the testimonies of the various witnesses. But to bring my characters to life, I also study the historical, social, religious, and political contexts in which they lived. Finally, I undertake an in-depth analysis of their psychology and the motivations that likely lead to their tragic actions. My characters are often complex, and I do not try to simplify their personalities; on the contrary, I try to portray their innermost thoughts in all of their complexity.
Once the documentation is gathered, the long and patient work of writing begins. My goal is to create books for the
general public that both engage and entertain my readers. At my work table, I spend time every morning refining my writing style. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to read comments by book critics who say I am a skilled writer, that my style is
alive," that I always "
choose just the right words,", and am even sometimes poetic.
That is the best reward for all of my efforts. That said, what makes me even happier is when the critic or the reader forgets the writing style and only remembers the incredible stories and enjoyable moments spent reading my novels.
For each of my books, I spend a year with my characters. It goes without saying that I choose my stories carefully to ensure that my characters and their actions are especially unusual and worthy of interest. As a socially engaged writer, in each of my novels I address the divisions, conflicts, and social issues brought to light by the cases I deal with. Here’s just a glimpse of some of my most popular crime novels: