‘Life is stranger than fiction.’ Weaving social issues into crime fiction.

homeless big issue
image via Big Issue

by Melanie Casey

‘Life is stranger than fiction.’ It’s a quote we hear often and recent events in Adelaide have had me pondering the fine line between fiction and real life. The very sad passing of Rose-Marie Sheehy who was homeless and believed to be living rough at the time of her death brought home to me just how closely Missing, my third book (due for release in February), comes to real events.

In Missing my theme is home and homelessness. I tackle the issue of working out where home is and what it means for Cass Lehman, my main character, but I also touch on the sheer vulnerability of our homeless folk.

Homeless people who sleep rough are regularly the victims of violent crime, ranging from assault to murder as has been alleged in the case of Ms Sheehy. The victims in Missing are homeless people who are suffering from dementia.

Picking this social topic as an underlying theme for my book had nothing to do with any precognitive powers. I don’t pretend to have the psychic gifts that my character Cass has. I based my book on research I’d been doing about homelessness in Australia.
Some facts and figures for you*:

  • On any given night one person in every 200 is homeless.
  • More than 100,000 people in Australia are now homeless
  • A recent study found that over 50 percent of homeless people had been the subject of violent crime in the last year
  • More than 50% of homeless women will be subjected to repeated rape and violence
  • 35,000 people are reported missing in Australia each year (one every 15 minutes)
  • There are three groups most at risk of going missing: those living with a mental illness, young people and older people with dementia or memory loss
  • 5 percent of missing persons are located but there are approximately 1600 long-term missing persons in Australia
  • Long term missing persons tend to be adult males

Some pretty staggering statistics. It brought home to me the fact that even as fiction writers, we have roles to play in raising the social consciousness about issues like homelessness. I’ve never been on a mission to use my books as a social platform, but I have a new appreciation for the small role I can play in highlighting a significant social issue even when I am writing about fictional crimes.


*Homelessness Australia website, the AFP website and research done by the Sydney University of Technology


Melanie Casey was born and lives in South Australia with her two young children and her husband.  After studying English Literature and Classical Studies, Melanie shifted to Law, and now works in government. Hindsight, her debut novel, was released in 2013 and is the first in a crime series featuring Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson. The second title in the series, Craven, was released in 2014.

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