Aspiring writers are often told to write what they know, and what crime writers know is crime writing. Yes, others write crime: former cops, private investigators, prosecutors. But transforming real-world knowledge into fiction is not an easy or common deed. Unless it is executed very skillfully, a focus on writing in a narrative can be tremendously dull. For a rare example of how to do it well, see the eight seasons of “Castle,” a TV show about a crime writer who hangs out with cops to gather material. The show works because we never reckon with Castle’s writing life: Somehow, he’s a bestseller who doesn’t ever sit in front of his computer playing solitaire or checking his Amazon ranking.

Long before “Castle,” there were 12 seasons of “Murder, She Wrote,” which followed crime writer Jessica Fletcher, a sassy sleuth along the lines of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Fletcher lives in the charming Maine village of Cabot Cove and has a lovely study with bookshelves, a trusty typewriter and piles of paper. Yet she never writes. Instead, she maintains a demanding schedule of solving crimes in her hometown – Cabot Cove has a ridiculous crime rate for a quaint New England village – and traveling to other places, where crimes invariably occur.

The popularity of these shows proves that fans crave the inside scoop of the writing life, as do the many conventions at which authors give advice and try to charm their fan base and gain readers. Between panels, they sign books, mixing with the public by day and buying one another drinks in the hotel bar at night. The business of crime fiction is analyzed, satirized and dramatized in recent books that take us behind the scenes of a typical gathering of crime writers.

In “I Didn’t Do It,” by Jaime Lynn Hendricks (Scarlet, $26.95), a novice writer named Suzanne Shih is determined to break into the best-selling elite at a conference called Murderpalooza (which is a lot like the real-life Thrillerfest, held in New York every summer). Points to Hendricks for making Shih understandable but not so likable. Shih pouts: “I want to be a full-blown celebrity. So many people nowadays get famous on TikTok, but I’m smart too. I wrote a sure-to-be bestseller! Camera flashes are supposed to be blinding me. People are supposed to be shouting my name. My social impressions should be going through the roof.” Her dismay seems disproportionate, but so does that laundry list of goals and dreams. How many living authors can you picture, besides Stephen King? Do any writers have “social media impressions” in the same hundreds-of-millions range as Kim Kardashian or Taylor Swift?

Murderpalooza becomes sinister when a writer named Kristin Bailey is found murdered in her hotel room. Bailey was connected to Shih, who hounded her for advice; to a washout named Mike Brooks, whose connection to Bailey is a secret that emerges after the murder; and to a Lee Child-ish hotshot, Davis Walton. These three writers – one just starting out and desperate to find her mojo; one trying to get his mojo back; and one who is all mojo with a side of swagger – are behooved to join forces by an anonymous Twitter account run by someone who knows who murdered Bailey, as well as tawdry details of their lives. Hendricks’s book is clever and frothy, but it’s also a cautionary tale for authors who fold technology into their plots. There is so much Twitter in the book, at a time when the site’s cultural influence is on the wane.

“I Didn’t” is burlesque compared to the moody “I’m Not Done With You Yet,” by Jesse Q. Sutanto (Berkley, $28), one of my favorite books of the year. Sutanto, author of the popular Dial A for Auntie series, which is a lighthearted treatment of murder and family, has unexpectedly crafted a very dark and original thriller. The plot is another quest for writerly fame and another example of rivalry, fueled by the unrequited passion between two women who were best friends in a creative-writing program. Jane is mediocre, but not for lack of trying. She writes lousy novels with lousy sales, has an agent who doesn’t reply to her emails, and knows the book she’s struggling with may well be her last. She’s married to a man who doesn’t understand or particularly like her. And Jane is still obsessed with Thalia Ashcroft, her rich and dazzling former friend who writes best-selling thrillers. Thalia stopped speaking to Jane after a troubling incident revealed late in the book. When Jane sees her former friend’s name on the ad for a crime writers’ convention, she thinks it’s kismet. She must get Thalia back into her life somehow, and the convention is a convenient way to intentionally bump into her.

“I’m Not Done” takes material similar to that in “I Didn’t Do It” and rejiggers it to be crueller and more seductive. No one is with the right person, and the misplaced or displaced lust is palpable. Sutanto’s novel brings intensity along the lines of books by Layne Fargo or Megan Abbott. The queer aspect of “Done” is just that – an aspect, not a narrative primarily about identity. Having attended one or two crime-writing conventions, trust me: If a novelist can make them seem sexy, they are writing at the top of their game. Alert the paparazzi and set up a velvet rope for the future fans of Sutanto, who is poised to become a top-tier thriller writer.

Val McDermid manages to stay at the top of her game in her latest, “Past Lying” (Atlantic Monthly, $27). Set against the dullness and dread of the early pandemic, she sends her Edinburgh detective, Karen Pirie, to investigate a deadly rivalry between two crime writers, Jake Stein and Ross McEwen. A contact at the National Archives is sorting Stein’s papers when she stumbles on intriguing documents that point to a possible murder, and cold cases are Pirie’s beat. Central to the case is a manuscript called “The Vanishing of Laurel Oliver,” which insinuates that Stein’s wife had an affair with McEwen, a close friend who was also Stein’s chess opponent of choice. McDermid, an avid gamer and early adopter of social media, moves effortlessly between scenes of a musty archive, old-fashioned shoe leather and cutting-edge technology. She captures the camaraderie of those who toil in the keyboard trenches and the never-ending competition for the spoils of literary success.

Lisa Levy is an essayist, a critic, and a founder, columnist and contributing editor to Crime Reads.

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