June 4, 2022
Art Imitates Life


Art Imitates Life

Mysteries and Thrillers Inspired by Real People or Events

by Birgitte Märgen

Many readers are astounded by the ideas their favorite authors write about, thinking them clever beyond words. It may surprise the same readers to find that these ideas are not always sprung like a lightning bolt idea, but merely plucked from the headlines.

 After all, a writer knows a good story when they hear one, right? Today, we’ll look at the top fiction mysteries and thrillers inspired by real people or events that seem too evil to be true.

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Arguably the most famous mystery writer of all time is not immune to a good idea when she hears one. Murder on the Orient Express is one of her best novels and written in 1934 only two years after the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932. When Hercule Poirot begins to connect the passengers on the Orient Express to Daisy Armstrong, a child abducted from her home and held by a gang, the case becomes eerily similar to the Lindbergh kidnapping. Is it a coincidence? As Poirot’s little gray cells would tell him: “No, I
think not.”

Gone Girl Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The idea of a wife who has gone missing may ring a few bells. It did for Flynn who admitted her idea was inspired by the Laci and Scott Peterson case a decade earlier in 2002. Scott Peterson was later tried and convicted for the murder of his wife Laci and their unborn son. Who could forget the pictures of the Peterson’s seemingly perfect wedding day? Flynn didn’t. In Gone Girl, the Dunne’s wedding anniversary
day is the perfect setting for a modern mystery.

The Wicked Girls

Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman and The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

The two titles by Lippman and Marwood speak of secrets and wickedness, and that is what both deliver. The two books, however, have another commonality: The 1993 James Bulger case. The tragic true story of a two-year-old boy being abducted, tortured, and ultimately murdered by two ten-year-old boys is one of the most gruesome tales of our time. How can small children murder an innocent child? Both books explore this topic, leading to a gruesome conclusion about human nature.


The Perfect Nanny

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

The idea of a nanny turning into a killer would scare any working-class parent. When a nanny named Louise is hired in The Perfect Nanny, things go horribly wrong. If the idea sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. Nanny Yoselyn Ortega was convicted in 2012 of killing two children she was caring for and is currently serving life in prison. As they say, good help is hard to find.

The Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Thomas Harris made Dr. Hannibal Lecter a household name and brought us face to face with the most intriguing serial killer of our time. But Harris, working as a reporter in the 1960s, had interviewed a similar serial killer, Dr. Alfredo Ballí Treviño. Even the name ‘Alfredo’ sounds like a sauce Hannibal would approve of. And that cast on Buffalo Bill’s arm as he lures the Senator’s daughter into the van? That’s so Bundy. But the largest influence for Buffalo Bill seems to be Ed Gein. Which leads us to the next book in our lineup.

Psycho by Robert Bloch

Psycho by Robert Bloch

Norman Bates owes a lot to Ed Gein, whose twisted obsession with his own verbally abusive mother led him to kill other women. Like Bates, Gein liked to keep corpses around for company, earning him the nickname the Butcher of Plainfield. And like Buffalo Bill, Gein stitched the skin of women to make a ‘suit” so he could put it on and become his mother. Norman Bates was not so theatrical and settled for a wig and dress.

It may equally surprise people to hear that Stephen King’s It was not inspired by John Wayne Gacy, also known as “Pogo the Clown.” According to King, it was Ronald McDonald that inspired Pennywise, the shape-shifting clown that terrorizes the children of Derry, Maine. Regardless, the idea of an evil killer
clown has serial killer Gacy written all over it. Next time you’re reading a novel and something sounds familiar, remember that truth is sometimes
stranger than fiction.

About the Author

Birgitte Märgen is a groundbreaking author whose eclectic style of writing is known to cross over many genres. Whether she is writing about a serial killer, a pandemic, or mental illness, she tackles topics that are relevant today. Her books include the dark serial killer thriller THE PVRITAN, the bone-chilling thriller THE RED DEATH, and the gothic fairytale, Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore. She lives in the mountains with her family.

Learn more: Goodreads | Amazon

Serial Killers in Novels Birgitte

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