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By Milton C. Toby

Murders come in all shapes and sizes, whether in fact or in fiction, and the motivations of killers can be as varied as the crimes they commit.  Getting inside the head of a real-life murderer is an essential part of creating a believable fictional character, but that’s a task easier said than done.  After all, few writers have an opportunity to sit down with a killer and chat.  For everyone else, author R. Barri Flowers offers the next best thing.

THE DYNAMICS OF MURDER: KILL OR BE KILLED, the prolific author’s most recent effort, is part criminology text and part true crime book.  It’s “an indispensable sourcebook for anyone interested in American homicide, from law-enforcement professionals to armchair criminologists,”according to Harold Schechter, Professor of American Literature and Culture at the City University of New York’s Queens College and a bestselling author of both fiction and non-fiction in his own right.

It’s also a guidebook of sorts for authors who want to probe the minds of people who kill others.

“The book is a multifaceted examination of murder, offenders, victims, and characteristics of homicide in American society,” Flowers explained.  “It is generally intended for an audience of students in criminology and other disciplines, as well as professionals in law enforcement, psychology, and sociology.

“But I also believe the book will appeal to thriller writers as a great resource on the crime of homicide. For instance, I have chapters on serial killers, mass murder, domestic homicide, and terrorism—common themes in many of today’s thriller novels.”

THE DYNAMICS OF MURDER is a serious treatment of murder in all its varieties—not light reading by any stretch of the imagination—but neither does it deserve the dry-as-dust reputation enjoyed by most text books.  Satisfying an academic audience without boring everyone else was one of the author’s biggest challenges.

“One must definitely walk a tightrope when writing textbooks and sticking with the facts and figures without putting the readers asleep,” Flowers said.  “I have actually benefited in this regard from writing true crime and fiction, in that I understand how to put together books that can hold the attention of my audience. As such, with academic books, I try to make them as interesting and challenging to the readers as possible without sacrificing the premise of the book.

“I tend to avoid overdoing it with graphs and charts as is the case with many textbooks. Instead, I rely more on readers’ common sense and ability to put two and two together on their own without needing to have a hand held every step of the way.”

Scheduled for release this month from CRC Press, a prominent textbook publisher and a member of the Taylor & Francis Group, THE DYNAMICS OF MURDER is the latest step in what Flowers calls his “natural progression” from one genre to another:

“I began my writing career by getting my thesis, CRIMINAL JURISDICTION ALLOCATION IN INDIAN COUNTRY, published not long after graduating from Michigan State University with a Master’s in Criminal Justice. Following a string of successful criminology titles, the evolution into true crime seemed apropos as it brought the study of crime and criminals from an academic slant to narrative nonfiction. This allowed me to apply my knowledge as a criminologist to an audience more interested in specific crimes rather than general criminology.

“THE SEX SLAVE MURDERS, about a serial killer couple, Gerald and Charlene Gallego, was my first bestselling true crime book and has become a classic in the genre. I am the editor of the recently released bestselling true crime anthology, MASTERS OF TRUE CRIME.

“As for then moving into thriller and mystery fiction, this too seemed par for the course in my writing career. Having long been a big fan of some of the great mystery authors such as Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Ludlum, and Raymond Chandler, I was excited to lend my voice to this type of fiction.

“It was really a great fit for me as I was able to combine my knowledge of criminology, true crime and criminal justice, and incorporate them into some compelling and credible thrillers and mystery suspense novels.”

Writing in different genres is one thing; finding readers willing to make the leap from one to another, from non-fiction to fiction or vice versa, is another.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not so well, Flowers said.

“I do find crossovers for my works,” the author said.  “There is a definite kinship between thriller and true crime readers. Both tend to enjoy stories with wicked killers who are eventually brought down. As my writings in these genres closely resemble one another in reality, characters, and law enforcement procedure, I often have readers of true crime buying my thriller fiction, and vice versa.

“This notwithstanding, there are, of course, some readers where the lines are solidly drawn. For instance, some of my true crime readers are interested only in real-life criminals and not fictional ones. Conversely, I have thriller and mystery fans who get nauseous at the thought of reading about murders that really happened to people, real life suffering and such.

“With respect to academic and nonfiction readers, there are some who don’t care much for fiction. But on the whole, I have found that most readers of nonfiction also enjoy fiction. In the case of textbooks, most read these as a school requirement, whereas fiction (especially thrillers and mysteries) is something for pleasure reading that readers have no trouble differentiating.

As an author of multiple genres and my best promoter, I certainly work hard to get readers to see the appeal in every type of book I write!”

Flowers is a self-styled “literary criminologist,” an appellation that might sound pretentious coming from someone else.  For Flowers, though, a successful author with 60 books to his credit, it sounds just about right.

“I define this as a writer of fiction who also happens to be a criminologist in the study of crime and criminals,” he said, “combining these to give my fans and those yet to discover me an author who can deliver both fiction and nonfiction with equal conviction and authority.”


R. Barri Flowers is the award winning and bestselling author of thrillers, true crime, criminology, and young adult mysteries. His titles include thrillers, MURDER IN MAUI and MURDER IN HONOLULU, true crime, THE SEX SLAVE MURDERS, SERIAL KILLER COUPLES, and MASTERS OF TRUE CRIME; and young adult thrillers, GHOST GIRL I SHADOW BAY and DANGER IN TIME. Follow the author on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, CrimeSpace, Goodreads, and LibraryThing.

To learn more about Barri, please visit his website.

Milton C. Toby