by Janis Patterson
Not too long ago a writer friend posted that she was having trouble figuring out how to poison a character. Nothing seemed to work, either through symptoms (she wanted the character to live), or availability, or treatment.
A bunch of us replied, trying to help find a substance that would fit her story's parameters. I contributed, reeling off a list of reasonably available poisons as well as their symptoms and antidotes. From memory.
I was sort of shocked. Yes, I've known for years that there is a lot of really weird knowledge tucked here and there in the messy storage of my brain, but for the first time it really hit me that I really do know this stuff to a frightening degree. Of course, anyone could look it up either at the library or on the internet, but to be able to rattle it all off from memory... it shook me.
Now I'm really rather a good person. I don't kick puppies, kittens or children (with one notable exception, but the animal torturing little brat totally deserved it!) ; I obey the law and take my fair turn at a 4 way stop sign; I recycle and give to charity. But I also know how to eliminate scores of people without even thinking hard. What on earth is St. Peter going to say - assuming, of course, that I get that far.
Which brings up another question: going on the assumption that I never commit a criminal act with my rather esoteric knowledge, what if someone reads my book and uses it as a blueprint to commit a crime? A real one? Does that make me some sort of accessory before the fact? While the idea is admittedly a stretching of probability, even if I were innocent in the eyes of the court, I don't think I would be innocent in the eyes of my own honor. Yes, the murderer could have just gone to the library or internet to do his research, but why should he do so much work when I've laid it all out predigested for him?
I can hear some of you scoffing now, saying I'm too sensitive and other, probably more unattractive epithets, but this is my mind and heart and sense of ethics we're talking about. However, I love writing mysteries and have no intention of giving it up.
So, I take refuge in following the footsteps of some of my betters and cheat. I use exotic poisons and poisons you can find in your kitchen cabinet now. I describe the symptoms and the dosages... but not all of the process. I always leave a little something out. People will always kill other people, but not with my help. If they want to poison someone, let them do the work on finding out. Leave me out of it. I'm just a storyteller.