Why We Love Crime Fiction Philip Marlowe, Easy Rawlins, Lennie Briscoe — readers love the characters and the crimes they solve. Crime novels fly off the shelves, and crime dramas often stay at the top of the Nielsen ratings. Mystery writer Walter Mosley and Law & Order executive producer Rene Balcer discuss the art of suspense.

Why We Love Crime Fiction

Why We Love Crime Fiction

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Philip Marlowe, Easy Rawlins, Lennie Briscoe — readers love the characters and the crimes they solve. Crime novels fly off the shelves, and crime dramas often stay at the top of the Nielsen ratings. Mystery writer Walter Mosley and Law & Order executive producer Rene Balcer discuss the art of suspense.

'True Crime'

Read Walter Mosley's article in Newsweek.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

The most recent Nielsen ratings put 10 reality shows in the top 20. This is summer, after all, when most network television shows are in reruns. There are a couple of sitcoms, "60 Minutes" and seven scripted crime dramas. Come the fall, you expect shows like "CSI," "NCIS" and "Law & Order" back at, or near, the top.

In an article in this week's issue of Newsweek on our fascination with crime fiction, the celebrated mystery writer Walter Mosley concludes we need forgiveness and someone to blame. So the story of crime fills our TVs, theaters, cinemas, computer files and book shelves. We are fascinated with stories of crime, real or imagined, Mosley writes, because we need them to cleanse the modern world from our souls. In a moment, we'll speak with Walter Mosley and with Rene Balcer - one of the principal writers and producers associated with the "Law & Order" TV shows - about the attraction of crime fiction and how they craft their stories to answer our needs.

And we want to hear from you. As consumers of crime fiction, what do you want from your heroes and villains? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, back channel diplomacy wins the release of two American journalists in North Korea, but at what price? And first, though, Walter Mosley joins us from our bureau in New York. His latest book is "The Long Fall."

Nice to have you back with us on the program.

Mr. WALTER MOSLEY (Author): It's great to be here. Thanks.

CONAN: And with him there in New York is Rene Balcer, Emmy-award winning executive producer and head writer for "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Nice to speak with you again, as well.

Mr. RENE BALCER (Executive Producer, Head Writer, "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And Walter Mosley, let me begin by asking you about the vulnerability so much - so many of us feel about the crime - the story just today of the man who opened fire on women working out in a spa in Pittsburgh. Several of the women who worked here gasped and said, that could be me.

Mr. MOSLEY: I know. It's true. The - I think that people feel extraordinarily vulnerable in this society and this culture. And one of the reasons that people are so interested in crime true and imagined is they're - it's something they're worried about. It's something they're thinking about. It's something that they want to solve. They want to know: Could that happen to me? And they want to know: How can I make it so it doesn't happen to me?

CONAN: And they also, it seems to me - and you write about this in your piece. They want to know why it happened. And the fact is, that in the real world, often, it's ambiguous. We may never know.

Mr. MOSLEY: No, that's very true. But I think that we have lots of suspicions in our hearts why things go wrong, because partially, we're involved in what's wrong in the world. And we know that. You know, we know what America's based on. We know that we came here and stole the land and killed all the Indians. We know about slavery. We know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in the hills of Iraq. We know, and we're kind of worried that maybe, in some way, we're responsible for what's going wrong in our world.

CONAN: So that's why you conclude one of the reasons we're so interested in crime fiction, either on TV or in print, is that it assigns blame, and it's not us.

Mr. MOSLEY: Or, if it is us, we kind of try to figure out how to deal with it.

CONAN: Rene Balcer, is that story in Pittsburgh - remember the old slogan ripped from the headlines. Might it provide fodder for "Law & Order" next season?

Mr. BALCER: Well, I - that I don't know. But it's interesting, the reaction that could be me, because there are probably a lot of people who might be thinking of that gunman and saying that could have been me.


Mr. BALCER: Because, you know, one of the things that one of my detectives has said is, you know, bad men do what good men dream. But I think that's also a reason why people watch crime stories, because, you know, they may think, you know, it's kind of a vicarious way of seeing how it might play out for them if they were that person robbing the bank or killing their spouse. And also, you know, true crime dramas kind of reinforce the fact that, well, maybe the better angels of their nature will prevail. Society will stop the criminal and stop the evil from happening. I think also, people watch as a matter of survival. You know, the zebra's always interested in how the lion kills, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I wanted to play a clip of tape from this season's season finale of "Law & Order." Now-District Attorney Jack McCoy, played by Sam Waterston, confronts the sleazy and corrupt governor of the State of New York, who's - and he's played by Tom Everett Scott.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Law & Order")

Mr. SAM WATERSTON (Actor): (as Jack McCoy) It seems like every day we hear about another corrupt civil servant, corrupt banker or businessman, athlete. It seems that behind every success story of the last 10 years, a scandal is exploding. We're facing a rising sea of corruption, and we wonder: Who will be the next to be drowned? Who will be saved? And what will become of our good works? When will it stop, Donald, and who will stop it?

CONAN: Well, Jack McCoy is going to stop it, after all. But those - Rene Balcer, that's good stuff. That…

Mr. BALCER: Thank you.

CONAN: That's about everything.

Mr. BALCER: Well, we try and be about everything, or as much as we can cram into 42 minutes every week.

CONAN: Walter Mosley, as you listen to that, there are things they do in their stories on television. There are things that you do in your stories in print. You're obviously allowed a lot more scope for areas of gray.

Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah, though I think "Law & Order's" a very good show and really does talk a lot about the flaws of the human characters, both in the good guys and the bad guys. And a lot of times, I think in that show, you see a lot of good in the bad guys and a lot of bad in the good guys, which I really like very much. And I think that that's what you do in good fiction, wherever that fiction occurs. Certainly, in the Easy Rawlins novels, you know, my past life, and now my new novels with Leonid McGill, I'm always thinking about that. I'm saying - I'm trying to - because the thing is is that we're not so interested in people being good or right - you know, the old kind of notion of the hero - but somebody who overcomes the flaws in themselves.

I was thinking before, when Rene was talking, there's a beautiful scene in "Moby Dick" in which the cook is watching sharks. And the sharks are eating food, but then they start eating each other. And the cook starts to preach to the sharks, and he says: Angels are just sharks who've learned to control their appetites. And if you sharks, if you control your appetites, you will become angels. And, you know, Melville's one of America's really great writers. And I think that that's a really true statement there.

Mr. BALCER: That's another ripped-from-the-headlines book, "Moby Dick."

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. Our guests are Walter Mosley and Rene Balcer. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. What do you want from your heroes and your villains?

Raymond joins us from Waterford in Michigan.

RAYMOND (Caller): Afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

Mr. MOSLEY: How you doing?

RAYMOND: I have to say, I love "Law & Order." I think the quote might have come from Munch, honestly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Munch is one of the characters on "Law & Order: SVU."

RAYMOND: Yup. I love a lot of these. One of your guests mentioned it. I like not necessarily for my heroes to be pure. I don't like my villains to be pure. None of us are, you know, the uber-altruist. You know, it's usually the guy that just gets tossed into the middle of it that - you know, the anti-hero, the dark-horse hero that ends up, you know, showing everyone, hey. This is what is wrong. That is what happened.

CONAN: Yes. But the anti is an important part of the hero. I guess Dick Tracy gets boring pretty quickly.

RAYMOND: It all depends. I like House because he doesn't like people, but he's good at his job. What was it, Benson? Or Benson and Stabler, yeah.

CONAN: Yeah, Benson and Stabler on "SVU," yeah, "Law & Order." By describing the anti-hero, Raymond, you could have been describing Easy Rawlins, played in this clip by Denzel Washington in the film version of Walter Mosley's "Devil in a Blue Dress."

(Soundbite of movie, "Devil in a Blue Dress")

Mr. DENZEL Washington (Actor): (As Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins) Now I got two murders hanging over my head, and unless I give the cops a killer by tomorrow morning, I'm going to jail. Now who killed Coretta?

Ms. JENNIFER BEALS (Actor): (As Daphne Monet) I don't know.

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins) It was 'cause of them pictures she was killed, though, wasn't it?

Ms. BEALS: (As Daphne Monet) I don't know.

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins) You boyfriend, Frank Green, killed her to bring you them pictures, didn't he?

Ms. BEALS: (As Daphne Monet) Of course not.

Mr. WASHINGTON: (As Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins) Yeah, well, you can tell it to the police, 'cause I ain't taking the rap.

CONAN: I ain't taking the rap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Good stuff. Again, Walter Mosley. Do you miss him?

Mr. MOSLEY: Easy? Oh, no, no, no, no. You know, it's like Cain says, the books are all on my bookshelf, you know. He has nowhere to go. There's 11 books. I think that I really covered his life very well, and I'm really happy with it, and I'm happy to move on.

CONAN: It's interesting that you wrote in the piece in Newsweek magazine that we need heroes who can - can't let us down, who cannot be arrested, convicted or vilified. That's not to say they don't have flaws. It's not to say that they're not part villain, too. It's that they can't do something completely out of character. We're not going to read about them in the newspaper the next day, saying that they're running a meth lab.

Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, it's like the quote that you just had from "Law & Order" where, you know, you have some very popular person, some very heroic person who becomes your leader, a political leader, a governor or president, whatever, and then, all of a sudden, they're corrupt. Everything that they did falls apart because of some action that they either took or didn't take, and I think that that's one of the great things about heroes in fiction.

Well, the writer has complete control. You're never going to one day find out that Easy Rawlins is a child molester. You're never going to one day find out that Easy Rawlins really does hate all black people or whatever, you know, whatever would make you feel bad about him. That's not going to happen, and you can feel confident. And so you come to that fiction with a certain level of confidence that you're going to get what you were looking for.

CONAN: Interesting email from Mike. None of the scripted TV crime dramas are ever about the crime. They're all about the authority figures presented as our powerful, albeit flawed, saviors. The crime in a TV script is merely a plot device to frame the images of trustworthy authority. Rene?

Mr. BALCER: Well, I don't know. That sounds very academic, and, you know, way above my pay grade to address. But, you know, sometimes our - especially Jack McCoy - can teach by being the bad example. One of the preoccupations I have is with power, how it's used, how it's abused, who has it. And, you know, Jack McCoy, as a prosecutor, is, you know, has tremendous powers to really ruin someone's life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BALCER: And on occasion, I've, you know, I've showed him abusing that power. You know, in an episode in 1999, he basically single-handedly, you know, suspended habeas corpus for a bunch of Russian mobsters in defiance of, you know, various appeals court. And this sort of pre-dated the Patriot Act. So…

CONAN: Another case, he was - well, just pursuing somebody for vengeance in a car accident because his former associate had been killed and, well, sees the error of his ways before the hour is over.

Rene Balcer is with us from "Law & Order," Walter Mosley, the celebrated mystery writer. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Today, our fascination with crime stories with flawed heroes and appealing villains. We're talking with two of the best in the business: Walter Mosley, the well-known novelist and mystery writer - his latest: "The Long Fall" - and Rene Balcer, Emmy Award-winning writer, executive producer and head writer of "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

We want to hear from you. As consumers of crime fiction, what do you want from your heroes and villains? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Let's go to Gordon, Gordon calling from Chicago. Gordon?

Unidentified Woman (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: You're on the air. This doesn't sound like Gordon.

Unidentified Woman: Hello?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: No, I guess it doesn't. Let's instead go to - this is Robert, Robert with us from Boise.

ROBERT (Caller): Yup, that's me.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ROBERT: Well, I was thinking, I love "Law & Order," I love "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," and what draws me to the stories is not only to - I normally identify with the characters on almost every level, but the stakes of the crime. Normally it's murder, some sort of sexual deviance, some sort of - it's just the gravity crime and the punishment of giving up your life in prison. It draws me in so I care about what's going to happen to the characters.

CONAN: And do you see yourself in any of the perpetrators? Do you think maybe I could have done that?

ROBERT: I think there's times, especially the crimes of passion, when you see a normal person who ends up, you know, doing something rash in the moment, that freaks you out as an everyday person - like, what if that was me? It brings up questions of my own humanity.

CONAN: Yeah. Interesting. I always cast myself in the big caper movies, tunneling my way into the bank vault or something like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Crimes of passion aren't my thing, but Robert, thanks very much for the phone call. And you hear that, I'm sure, Rene, all the time, the compliments for the stories in "Law & Order." Do you think it is critical - now, people get away with crimes from time to time on all of the programs. They're not always found guilty, even those who do it. Yet it seems to me that we almost always, if not always, we as the audience know who's guilty.

Mr. BALCER: Well, we've had some episodes where, you know, certainty wasn't a given, and, you know, the last beat of the story is suddenly some piece of evidence falls in after a conviction, which makes you doubt the conviction. Or quite often, we simply don't even talk about what the verdict is. You know, we've had shows and sort of with a fade-out as the verdict is about to be delivered. So, you know, you can never count on what was going to happen, and I just want to correct an earlier caller who ascribed a quote the wrong character. Actually, it was Detective Goren who said, you know, bad men do what good men dream.

CONAN: Bobby Goren on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

Mr. MOSLEY: It would be.

Mr. BALCER: It would be him.

Mr. MOSLEY: It would be a D'Onofrio.

CONAN: Vincent D'Onofrio plays the character. Do you watch these TV shows, Walter Mosley?

Mr. MOSLEY: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I - really. And, you know, it's true. I mean, I'm a child of television. But I really - especially "Law & Order" and "Criminal Intent," I love those shows.

CONAN: Here's an email from Amy. I'm a newcomer to the crime genre, but have found a love of Tony Hillerman and Nevada Barr. I am a huge fan of the intrigue and complexity and the humanity of the investigators. I know what I do not want in a crime show or novel is too much gore and brutality, the kind that leaves me with a disturbing memory. Is disturbing people part of the - part of your agenda, Walter?

Mr. MOSLEY: No. However, who knows what's going to disturb somebody? You know, a lot of times, people are very disturbed by sex. They don't mind if you're eating somebody's brain with a spoon and they're still alive, but they do mind if somebody has sex, you know, in a bed.

So, I mean, you know, I write what I write. Some people are disturbed. Some people are not disturbed. I don't go that deeply into violence unless there's some - there's nothing I write about that I don't think is necessary to write about. I never do it gratuitously.

CONAN: Are you restricted, Rene Balcer, from what you would prefer to do by the fact that you're on network television?

Mr. BALCER: Well, I think you - I accept the canvas for what it is, and you find ways around it or under it. So I've made my peace with that. What's interesting about what your emailer said was that she pointed out that - I think one quality that's essential to any investigator is empathy. And, you know, sometimes the investigator can fake the empathy if they're talking to some serial killer, but - and fake it convincingly. But I think empathy and a desire to understand the human being is necessary, and also someone who will, under no circumstances, look away. You know, they'll stare at the truth and look at it.

CONAN: And accept the consequences.

Mr. BALCER: Yeah, absolutely.

CONAN: Let's get Joy on the line, Joy with us from Iowa. Joy, are you there? Well, I guess not. Let's see if we can go next, then, to - this is Matthew, Matthew from East Lansing.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hi, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

MATTHEW: I had just noticed that - I mean, I enjoy "Law & Order," and I find very much that it follows the exact same trend that we're looking at when we see the new Batman, the new James Bond. Now, these are re-takes on classic characters, and we see them - the new versions of these characters are so much more sinister. They're so much more realistic. And I do agree that there is kind of an evil side about them.

However, I almost find that it's more appealing - as someone watching "Law & Order" or watching Batman or watching the new James Bond - it's interesting and appealing and more believable, most of all, more believable for me as a member of the audience to see a character who has some evilness to him because we can't relate to these perfect characters who have no flaws, who are absolutely straight on their moral compass because we, as the audience, aren't that way.

CONAN: That's the point you were making, Walter, earlier.

Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah, absolutely.

MATTHEW: Well, I had a question. Now, you made a comment a moment ago about how people are disturbed by sex, and yet they're not disturbed by violence. And I…

Mr. MOSLEY: Some people are disturbed by sex and not by violence. People are disturbed by different things. That's what I was trying to point out.

MATTHEW: Why do you - why do you suppose - as a writer, why do you suppose that, in this country, at least, in the United States, we find much more acceptance to gratuitous violence and yet not for sexuality?

Mr. MOSLEY: I wish I understood that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOSLEY: You know, because it would, you know, it would make a much better country if we were less - if we accepted sexuality more and didn't accept violence.

MATTHEW: And it seems like European audiences are the exact opposite.

Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah, it seems. Yes, it seems. Europe has an interesting history, you know. It's like, I keep on trying to remind people, you know, they've killed millions and millions and millions, you know, within the confines of their nations in previous times. Right now, they seem to be doing okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOSLEY: But, you know, I always worry about it.

MATTHEW: Well, thank you very much for taking my question.

CONAN: Matthew, thanks very much. And "Law & Order," Rene, I think does pretty well in Europe.

Mr. BALCER: Yes. It does - you know, we have different versions of it in France and Russia and in the U.K. The detective genre travels, you know, very well, pretty - you know, it's a universal genre. It's kind of interesting to look at how each country has adapted the detective genre to its own tastes and its own peculiarities.

Mr. MOSLEY: But, do you know what's very interesting about that? It works very well on television, but in cinema, the detective genre never works really well. It's really - it's a really interesting thing to me that movies - like "Chinatown" wasn't all that successful in the beginning. "Devil in a Blue Dress" had some success, but not that much. The kind of movies that make - are successful movies are, you know, "Die Hard" or Batman or things with a lot more bells and whistles to them.

Mr. BALCER: Well, I think probably in novels, it works better.

Mr. MOSLEY: Yes.

Mr. BALCER: You know, each country has its own detective series.

Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

CONAN: Let's get Joy on the line. We did find her.

Mr. MOSLEY: Oh, good.

CONAN: I pushed the wrong button. This is Joy from Iowa.

JOY (Caller): Hi, Neal, how are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

JOY: Good. I wanted to mention that "SVU" is really, really important to me. I was a rape victim when I lived in Arlington, Virginia, and my case was never solved. So "SVU" really gives me some kind of solace.

CONAN: Because the cases are solved?

JOY: Yeah. And I think usually more than not they are solved, and I don't really feel like the detective that worked on my crime was very interested. I didn't - I wasn't, you know, contacted again. But these guys seem like they're really trying, and it isn't something that they're just not interested in. I mean, they really care.

CONAN: They really care, and their lab work comes back very quickly.

JOY: No kidding.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And always at interesting moments. The empathy there, Rene Balcer, that's - I think a lot of people would agree with Joy.

Mr. BALCER: Yeah. But in real life, even the better detectives you find have a great capacity to empathize with their victims. I mean, you know, the old credo of detectives which is, you know, justice for the victims, you know, it's a - that's what they're about. And so, you know, yes, you have different - you know, you have good detectives and bad detectives in real life. And the better ones…

JOY: Neal?

Mr. BALCER: …kind of have that mark of empathy.

CONAN: Yes, Joy?

JOY: Yeah. I wanted to say, too, when the policeman brought me into the emergency room, there wasn't anybody. I was just left there after they did their kit. And no one was there. And I just think of Elliot and Olivia, that you know, that there's someone that's there to hold your hand. But it happened at 3:00 in the morning, and I remember just sitting there and crying all night.

CONAN: Oh, I'm so sorry for that.

JOY: Yeah.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the phone call.

JOY: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Here's an email from Kate in Quincy, Massachusetts. As a longtime reader of mystery and crime stories, I look for a hero who is flawed, from Sherlock Holmes, the original flawed investigator, to the modern flawed here like Gil Grissom on "CSI." I think it comes down to identifying with a hero who is brilliant but far from perfect.

And that brilliant part, Walter Mosley, appeals to me. Do you - how much do you go back and do - is this from stuff that you've absorbed through your life, the "Sherlock Holmes" stories and that sort of thing? And you were mentioning "Moby Dick" a little bit before. Or are these in any way conscious parts of the stories that you create?

Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, there's - it's interesting 'cause there's the flaw and there's the brilliance. But I think what Joy was talking about before is really the most important things for most characters: it's the commitment - a deep commitment to wanting to answer a question, to wanting to solve a problem, to want to protect someone. And that's actually what I pay most attention to. Sometimes I talk about how brilliant a character or characters might be, and so I put Fearless Jones or Paris Minton - by themselves, neither one of them is a genius. But together they're just this extraordinary genius. But they need to be together in order to get that done.

But really the thing in the end, it's the heart. It's like somebody who really - who's really there for you; for you, for your problem, for what's going on in the world.

And I think that that's why a lot of people turn to crime fiction and to crime television shows and movies and stuff, because they want to feel that somebody cares about them, because, you know, people living in the modern world are extraordinarily small. We're very little, and just one little shift and we could get crushed and nobody would even know.

CONAN: In that clip we heard earlier from "Devil in a Blue Dress," the apparent motive for Easy Rawlins is: I've got two murders hanging on me, I'm going to solve this. Is it just that? Or was he really concerned?

Mr. MOSLEY: Well, I think that Easy was really concerned, but also he's in trouble, you know? You know, one of the things me talking about, you know, these - well, especially in Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones, in this period of time in America, you know, black men in America, there was no place to turn. Nobody was going to care of them. Nobody was going to save them. Nobody was going to care. And so he - one of the things that I'm always talking about in the Easy stories, not necessarily the new ones, Leonid McGill, but with the Easy stories is, not only does he have to solve the crime, he has to watch his back the whole time because, you know, without that - and that's why you can have a character like Mouse, who's so murderous…

CONAN: Right.

Mr. MOSLEY: …but who you accept, because without Mouse you're dead.

CONAN: We're talking with Walter Mosley, the crime novelist; and with Rene Balcer of "Law & Order."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go next to Lakshmi(ph). Lakshmi with us from Cleveland.

LAKSHMI (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to make a comment that I watch "Law & Order: SVU" only because at the end of the show I just feel that justice has been served and there's an end to evil. If the ending were different, then I don't think I will be watching these shows at all. So I just get away with a feel-good factor at the end of the day. That's the comment I wanted to make.

CONAN: Evil will be back next week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LAKSHMI: I look forward to it. Have a wonderful day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thank you very much, Lakshmi. This is from Eileen in San Rafael. How do you explain the popularity of a show like "Dexter" on Showtime? He is a serial killer who is good because he kills bad people who have fallen through the cracks of the criminal justice system. We all root for Dexter, a serial killer, and even care about him. Do you watch "Dexter," Rene?

Mr. BALCER: Yeah. I watched the first season. I thought it was a brilliant way of turning the genre on its head. But of course they watch - oh, the serial killer has been tamed. He's - evil is being put in the service of good. Great, how comforting. It's very comforting.

Mr. MOSLEY: But, you know, it's also true. Like in "Silence of the Lambs," if a murderer is evil enough and interesting enough, people are drawn to him. I mean, I think what Rene was saying before, a lot of people in some way or another identify with evil, you know. And I think it was, you know, one of the big problems. I mean, really, we live in a Judeo-Christian system, right? I mean, we're born with original sin. All of us have that in that system of thinking. And you know, people like bad guys - a lot.

Mr. BALCER: And Dexter is really just a very efficient vigilante.

Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah.



Mr. BALCER: …why wouldn't people love him?

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in before we have to go. Lucy. Lucy with us from Cleveland.

LUCY (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I love "Law & Order." And I just wanted to say that, you know, one of the reasons I think I love it so much is because it helps me to understand the mind of the criminal. They all have their own personal agendas, and they're all different. And so there's really no one moral code that people live by. And I just want to throw in one more quick thought, and that is, I wish there was more on reality stuff on the false confessions that do prevail in our real justice system. I wish you would do more on false confessions. Thank you.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much, Lucy. False confessions, I do know that there have been some on "Law & Order."

Mr. BALCER: Yeah. Well, we've done sort of a revisit of the Central Park wilding incident, which was basically, you know, all those kids were all somehow coerced and cajoled into making false confessions. So we mash that up with the Robert Chambers case.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOSLEY: I remember that one. A good show.

CONAN: Yeah. It was a good show.

Mr. BALCER: Yeah.

CONAN: Rene Balcer, thank you so much for joining us today. Nice to talk to you again.

Mr. BALCER: Thank you.

CONAN: Rene Balcer, an Emmy Award-winning writer, executive producer and head writer on "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

Walter Mosley, always good to speak with you. Thanks so much.

Mr. MOSLEY: It's great to be here. Thanks a lot.

CONAN: His latest book is called "The Long Fall." You can read his Newsweek story on our obsession with crime fiction at our Web site: npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION when you get there.

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