Agatha Christie may have been dubbed “The Queen of Crime,” but fellow bestselling writer Lynda La Plante has secured a title even her illustrious predecessor would have coveted.
La Plante has received the ultimate accolade for a crime writer, becoming the first lay person awarded with an honorary fellowship by The Forensic Science Society.
The international body for forensic scientists, scene of crime officers, police and those working in related disciplines has embraced the Prime Suspect creator as one of its own for the meticulous research that goes into her novels and television scripts.
“This honour is really lovely,” La Plante told The Independent. “I feel very proud because it’s a culmination of my respect for them and their respect for me.” She added that her work has “never been left without their fingerprints”.
Even the creation of DCI Jane Tennyson, one of La Plante’s most enduring characters who was played by Helen Mirren, was born out of frustration over accuracy. Jacki Malton, who inspired the character, had complained that writers never got police processes right.
La Plante has cultivated contacts across all fields associated with criminal investigation and has even met with criminals to get the tone and the facts of a crime scene right. The details are crucial, she said: “And rather than making the works lag, I feel it interests people.”
From her earliest writing, a screenplay for Widows in 1983 followed by debut novel The Talisman four years later, La Plante has gone “right to the source. Always when you’re writing something, you think you’ve got it then you talk to an expert and realise you didn’t at all.”
The Forensic Society said it had awarded the honorary fellowship “in recognition of the accurate portrayals of forensic science in all of La Plante’s creative works”.
Dr Ann Priston, president of the society, said that many television programmes “are bordering on pure fiction” before adding: “Lynda brings a level of realism and understanding to her writing that is refreshing and exciting.”
Writing for novels and screenplays has to stay up to date with the latest laws, and she has also tapped up some attending the FBI training centre in Quantico.
Her work has taken her to major crime scenes, mortuaries, prisons and even on a drugs raid and continues to do so. “The time they gave me was extraordinary, because they wanted me to get it right. Their work is often made into a farce, because writers take dramatic licence.”
It never proved difficult to meet experts, even from her debut novel. “I’ve never ever had anyone be dismissive and say they didn’t have the time. Because I found it informative, I was respectful,” she said, adding she would show the experts her manuscripts.
The research has left a profound effect on the writer. After attending some crime scenes “you never get over it. You can see a vicitim and it looks like a mannequin doll and you realise it was a 20-year-old girl,” she said. “They haunt you. Some live inside you and just don’t go away.”
As well as her vast contact book in the crime field, there is an ex-high ranking detective from the Metropolitan Police working full time for La Plante Productions. The detective now makes the contacts for La Plante.
After decades working closely with the police, La Plante said she is most affected by their “deep regard the police have for victims, and the kindness. I know there is a bad apple here or there.”
She is putting the finishing touches to her 18 novel Wrongful Death, which is due for release in August, and for which she called on the expertise of a scientist specialising in botany for passages covering poison.
The Forensic Science Society was founded in 1959, becoming a professional body nine years ago. Its patron is High Court judge, the Hon Sir Nigel Sweeney.