Conspiracy Theories: A Tool For Crime Writers

A recent NY Times essay explains a widespread human behavior crime writers can put to good use: 1) people like conspiracies that go along with their beliefs and 2) there is some truth to every conspiracy theory (which makes them more believable).

A few conspiracy examples: A lone shooter didn’t kill Kennedy, A scientist may change their mind which is suspicious, UFOs are out there, the Army caused Lyme disease.

My response to these claims and (the underlying truths):

• The President’s Assignation: Given what happened it’s not surprising there are doubts that Oswald acted alone when President Kennedy was assassinated. Instead, many still believe that Fidel Castro, the Mafia, Russia etc. must have been responsible. (It is true that Castro etc. had plenty of reasons to dislike Kennedy).

• Scientists are always changing their mind and that is suspicious. (Yes, many scientists modify their claims, but it is in light of new data, ideas, plus other scientist’s questions and comments. That’s how good science is done).

• UFOs exist: (According to a recent Pentagon document, many reports fail to provide sufficient evidence for such events. UFO sightings can essentially always be tied to terrestrial or celestial phenomena, such as lights from human-made vehicles and reentering space junk.)

• Lyme disease is an escaped military bioweapon: Theoretically, this is possible because ticks do carry infectious agents that could be used as biological weapons. (This is unlikely because Lyme would be nonlethal and therefore ineffective against an enemy as opposed to chlorine gas, etc. Also, ticks require hosts which may well not be dense enough to ensure its spread.)

Numerous popular novels feature conspiracy-based real events including:

  “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederick Forsyth is based on the attempt to assassinate French president Charles de Gaulle by a right-wing extremist group. Forsyth was there on the ground in 1962 when a right-wing extremist group known as the OAS made one of its most brazen attempts on the General’s life. The novel remains a very popular thriller.

“11/22/63” by Stephen King is a science fiction epic in which a Maine high school teacher time-travels to September 9, 1958 and struggles to change the outcome of Kennedy’s assassination. 



Dan Brown’s popular 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code” draws on conspiracy theories involving the Roman Catholic Church and Opus Dei.

About Charlene DAvanzo

I'm a marine ecology/college professor who never, ever thought I'd write fiction. That assumption changed in an instant as I listened to another scientist - a climatologist named Ray Bradley at UMass, Amherst - describe being harassed by climate change deniers. The idea to write mysteries with climate change understories to help readers understand what's happening to our climate in the context of a fast-paced exciting story came to me out of nowhere. That's what I do in my "Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi" series.
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