Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mystery is all around us

You know, I live way out in the country. I'm not an urban dweller with the constant sound of police sirens in my ears. But even out here in the boonies, mysterious things happen. As the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes observed in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches":

"It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.… The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

As much as I love my country dwelling, there is much truth in that statement (though less than in Arthur Conan Doyle's time), and as such, it makes my job as a writer of mysterious tales that much easier. There is a lot of inspiration out here, you see.

For example, last month a man was found beaten to death in a home not so far from where I live. It was not his home, but his girlfriend's. They don't know who did this deed, but the man was beaten so severely that he had several broken bones. (It does not help matters that this female acquaintance of his has had two husbands to die under mysterious circumstances in the past, and that she uses, and occasionally sells, illegal substances.)

But who did it?

Was it the woman? She is not a large woman, but if he were "under the influence" at the time, she might be able to manage it. Was it another love interest, perhaps a jealous ex-boyfriend? Was it a drug deal gone bad? Or was it something totally out of this range of possibilities, something so outré (another of Holmes' favorite expressions) that we simply don't bring it to mind?

By the way, I didn't get this from the newspapers. Rather, the news came to me via the grapevine, from a reliable source. (Great journalistic expression, that!) I have verified the facts, though. The listing in the local obituaries was simple and made no mention of the method of his death. The only odd thing in the obituary was that he was a member of one small Baptist Church, but his funeral was conducted at a different, small, non-denominational church, and he was interred at the cemetery of a third small church. Perhaps there is something there to explore in a storyline, as well! Was there someone who "knew something" about the poor sod, and didn't want him buried in his home church's cemetery? Was his pastor unwilling to deliver the eulogy for some reason?

Though the paper wasn't the source for this idea, I read the local newspaper each time it comes out. I have a notebook filled with clippings of the odd, the unusual, and sometimes the humorous happenings of my local community and state. Sometimes when my well of stories is drier than usual, I take that notebook down from the shelf and use its contents to prime my well. Usually, it works.

We writers of mysteries often plumb the depths of human misery for our stories. At least we don't have to roam far afield to find fertile sources to feed our imaginations!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

There are so many interesting stories out there--in the paper and otherwise. I've found that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Morgan Mandel said...

We never know what danger lurks in the most innocent places. That's what makes writing and reading mysteries so much fun.

Morgan Mandel

Liberty Speidel said...

Having lived both in the country and in the city, I heartily agree with you on the country/city thing! Often, it seems, the most horrific crimes occur not in the city, but in the country. A news junkie myself, I often hear stories of true crimes that are either terrifying or amazing in some way. Just this morning, there's a story on the local radio station about a murder trial here in Kansas City (where I live currently) is using cat hair as evidence--because the cat hair was found on the victim. And, the cat was owned by the murderer. :) That's really cool, in my opinion (the evidence, not the murder! I'm not that sick....)

And, as for terrifying, about 6 weeks ago, in a little town about an hour and a half from Kansas City, three people were killed--a granddaughter and her grandparents. The grandfather was this world-renowned collector of some kind of artifacts, and the three were killed--apparently--to obtain some of the more valuable items. I think there's been an arrest in the case, but I'm not certain...

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts! :D

Mark Troy said...

I agree with you and Holmes. Wherever you have motive and opportunity, you have crime. Motive seems about the same regardless of city/country. It's only the opportunity that is different. Oh, and it's much easier to hide the body in the country.

Jean Henry Mead said...

You're right about rural crime. Yesterday, someone cut three strands of barbed wire fence at our mountaintop ranch, walked 1/2 a mile to the barn in the middle of the night to steal my husband's quad.We're fortunate to have a sheriff's department whose motto is "Not in our county." Unlike our previous county, they care enough to actually track criminals down. Sherlock would be as proud of them as we are.

jenny milchman said...


The movie, KALIFORNIA.

The desolation and isolation in the country are grab-at-your-knees terrifying, although I wonder if the close and twisted ties there also breed a fair share of the crime.

F. M. Meredith, author said...

Hooray, we're back on.

Yes, indeed, there are plenty of crimes to pique our writer's imagination. Most real crimes don't have much element of mystery in them.

We've had several missing wives cases where the husband was the obvious culprit. (Not just Scott Peterson, we've got a case that's on trial now, the woman went missing, purse left in care at shopping mall, three kids, and as it turns out, the estranged hubby has been stealing from the kids' college fund.)

To make that interesting in a mystery, you'd want someone else to be guilty.


Earl Staggs said...

Very good, Tony, and I'm happy to see you here. I couldn't help but recall what was probably the most infamous rural crime, captured by Truman Capote in "In Cold Blood."