It’s safe to assume most, if not all, of this blog’s readers have an interest in crime fiction. (Since I don’t really talk about anything else, one-trick pony that I am. At least I’m not a Tijuana one-trick pony.) That said, let’s hope none of you have any delusions that weapons—notably guns and knives—work at all the way they do on television or in the movies. For readers, such blissful ignorance may allow them to suspend disbelief enough to keep the firearms errors from ruining the story. Writers don’t have that escape hatch: we’re supposed to do it right. (At least we say we are. How many writers do you know openly admit they don’t care how their weapons work, or the violence they describe? All claim to take pains to “get it right.”) Now there’s no excuse. Ben Sobieck’s The Writer’s Guide to Weapons is finally available, and it was worth waiting for. (And, boy howdy did we have to wait for it. Writer’s Digest delayed publication so long I worried they’d have to add a chapter on ray guns and antimatter bullets to keep things current.)
This is a true guide: more than a primer, not a textbook. Sobieck breaks things into useful sections, including the Ten Golden Tips For Writing About Weapons. (Number 3: YouTube is your friend.) Even more fun are the 25 Top Weapons Myths (Number 22: “Being shot with a gun is like getting hit by a train loaded with concrete and circus animals;” Number 24: “Handguns go click-click-click when they’re empty.”) There’s also a brief section on half-myths, and a run-down of which weapons may be mots practical for a specific character, taking into consideration, gender, size, age, physical condition, and bad-assedness.
Those are great for learning what not to do, and how to handle certain thigs, but the meat of this book lies in the two core sections. Part One (Firearms) has sections titled, Firearm Safety; entry-level courses on shotguns, handguns, and rifles (including advantages and disadvantages of each); ammunition; suppressors and silencers; ballistics; and how to kill a character with a firearm, among others. The Knives section covers all the similar, applicable general topics, as well as worthwhile information on sharpening and sheaths. (I had no idea why knives are stropped to keen the edge, and I’m not going to tell you here. Buy the book, cheapskate.) There is also contans an excellent list of references and external resources, as well as a comprehensive glossary.
This material could be dry as a desert road in a sand storm in less skilled—and compassionate—hands, but Sobieck keeps things moving, with some help from his ongoing series character, “gal-damned” detective Maynard Soloman. Maynard and a couple of assistants provide examples of what not to do, then show how to do it better; Sobieck describes what was wrong. His tongue remains firmly in cheek during these anecdotes, but the points are valid, and well made. (Maynard does take a beating, though. So it goes. Spoiler alert: he lives.)
It’s not like Sobieck has to depend too much on Maynard to keep things moving. His writing style naturally lends itself to page turning. (He’s a fiction author, as well. His first book, Cleansing Eden, might be my favorite take on serial killers; his newest is Glass Eye, which currently holds a high position on my To-Be Read List.) His descriptions and warnings are entertaining without losing all gravitas. (These are items of death we’re talking about here.) It’s fun to read, not at all like a chore. I found myself pausing often to read aloud a passage to The Beloved Spouse, who carse not nearly as much about accurate firearm descriptions as I do, but does love her some good writing.
No writer without a solid weapons background should write weapons without having this book handy. I have a decent layman’s knowledge, and have an honest-to-God firearms expert on call for any questions, and I ate this book up, learning things I would never have thought to ask. (It also saved me from an embarrassing oversight in the work-in-progress.) Studiously researched, engagingly delivered, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons should be on the short list of most valuable writer’s aids for the crime fiction community.