Tag Archives: rage begets murder

“Anyone Can Commit a Crime” by Marshall Stein


I’ve asked a number of authors I admire to answer the same question–why do criminals fascinate us so much?–and I will be posting each response here on my blog. It’s a question all writers–especially crime writers–should consider every once in a while. In my debut novel, Toxicity, I’ve dug deep into the minds of criminals. I have written about the bad guys. The ones we love but hate at the same time. If you haven’t pre-ordered a copy yet, I highly recommend you doing so for purely selfish reasons.

And now that you’ve done that, we will pass the time hearing what other writers in the industry have to say about the posed question.

Today Mr. Marshall Stein drops by my blog with his take on the subject. Stein is a retired lawyer. Early in his career he was an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston, and later served as the Chief Staff Attorney for the First Circuit Court of Appeals. During 28 years in private practice Marshall has tried both civil and criminal cases and argued appeals in state and federal courts on every level. Since retiring from his law practice Marshall has been selected for master level fiction workshops at Grub Street Writers in Boston, Massachusetts. He currently lives in suburban Boston with his wife. His novel, Rage Begets Murder, is currently available from Post Mortem Press.


“Anyone Can Commit a Crime”

by Marshall Stein

There are many kinds of criminals: some are losers, ending up dead or in jail; some are wealthy, escaping punishment for years or forever; others commit unforgivable acts, and we struggle with what is the appropriate punishment; others we know only through their crimes, like following footprints in the snow where we never catch up with who made them. Some hold themselves out as Robin Hoods or Freedom Fighters, committing crimes in the name of the common good. The one thing they all share is the commission of a crime. That’s where the fascination begins.

To commit a crime is to exercise power over others in an act of destruction, leaving aside for the moment that it is also likely to destroy the criminal. The power of harm fascinates us. While some have power other than through crime, very few do. There are only so many Bill Gates or Warren Buffets, only one sitting U.S. President, only a handful of Nobel laureates, etc. But anyone can commit a crime. The weakest, the poorest, the least gifted, anyone has the capacity to destroy something: to take a life, to set fire to a building, to rob, to do something that creates harm. That is what draws our attention, makes our palms itch. Each of the different criminals fascinates in different ways. Professor Moriarty by his intellect; the Butcher Boy by his unlimited violence; the Boston Marathon terrorists by the unforeseeability of turning a festive sports event into pools of blood and body parts. But all of them fascinate by their power to harm.

Once focused on this power to harm, it becomes irresistible to try to figure out why a particular criminal acted as she/he did: for money, for anger, to follow what the voices in his head commanded; to try to sooth an unhealable pain, to have a moment of control in a life without control. The need to figure out what caused the criminal to act provides us with the illusion that there is reason and order in the world. Sometimes it is the mirror of what motivated the criminal’s need to be seen in a world in which he is otherwise invisible.

It is no accident that there are so many crimes, often murder, described in the canonical books of Western civilization, whether it is Cain and Abel or Clytemnestra and Agamemnon.