Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Killing Thing

by Janis Patterson

Perhaps it is the logical outcome of a disordered mind, but after several years of writing mysteries I tend to weaponize just about everything I see. My friends have become inured to this little quirk, but it sometimes does startle the people nearby.

I remember once going for a girls-only lunch at a trendy little cafe one of my girlfriends had heard about. The publicity had been wide-ranging, the food expensive but acceptable, the decor trendy - and very uncomfortable. Our table and chairs were made from metal tortured into shapes that few would believe were capable of supporting either food or human bodies. My friends either liked them or speculated if they were left over from the time of Torquemada. I speculated on using the chairs at least as a murder weapon, the table being too heavy to lift, saying that because of their strange configuration no one could ever describe them just from the wounds they would leave. The people at the next table left.

And it's not just me, either. When The Husband and I were staying at the dig house at the El Kab excavation in Egypt researching my book A Killing at El Kab the archaeologists and I were brainstorming about a murder weapon. I had almost decided on a broken chunk of statuary when the ceramologist (the pottery expert) had an idea and rushed out. He was back in a moment bearing one of the wickedest implements I ever did see. About a yard long, it was a heavy-duty caliper with a shaft of thick steel and a head vaguely resembling a pick-axe about 10 inches wide and an inch thick. It was perfect and because of the story and setting it was obviously the murder weapon (found covered with blood and lying next to the body) so I couldn't bring in the forensic 'What kind of implement could make this sort of wound?' trope... but it would have been so neat.

Once you become accustomed to looking at everyday objects through the lens of potential mayhem, the world indeed becomes a dangerous place. A gleaming sports trophy becomes a cudgel. A beautiful garden morphs into a buffet of potentially lethal plants. Sleek silk scarves make stylish but deadly garrotes.

My friends - mostly writers themselves but some not - have become accustomed to my whimsical forays into specialized slaughter and most find them amusing. I do tend to forget, though, that not everyone is privy to the basic innocence of my flights of fancy, viz the one time a group of us were sitting in a cafe (one with normal chairs, thank goodness) and I was speculating on the old trope of a piece of frozen meat being used as a blunt object and the ease of disposing of the murder weapon. My luncheon companions were becoming more and more uncomfortable, which I could not understand as we had had many similar conversations, until one of them revealed that the table behind me held a gaggle of uniformed police officers who were listening to our conversation with undisguised interest. Immediately our chatter switched to the intractability of our publishers, our current book release schedules, the necessity of finding good editors and other blatantly literary subjects. Luckily that day my luncheon expenses did not include bail. I even gave each officer one of my business cards as we left.

In real life most criminals are not smart - if they were, they wouldn't be criminals - and fiendish murderers with arcane methods and obscure weapons are very thin on the ground. Most real life murders are simple things - shot, strangled, stabbed, beaten; in fiction, though, we can let our imaginations soar. Our killers can use any of a million or more objects/methods to kill and get away with it until our intrepid sleuth tracks them down - and one of the glories of fiction is that the murderer is always brought to justice no matter how clever his killing.

Just be careful when you plot it in a public place.


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Very interesting info, Janis
Thanks for sharing
Good luck and God's blessings

Kevin R. Tipple said...

How my mind works as well.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

During the Golden Age of mystery, famous authors like Agatha Christie created all sorts of unusual and exotic murder weapons. Mystery readers and writers love coming up with unique killing tools. But you're right about criminals tending to be stupid in real life.

Excessivelyperky said...

To quote Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, "There's treasure *every*where!" I too have been in a restaurant with a friend plotting mayhem towards a character and speculating on good places in our county to dispose of bodies and whatnot. I never noticed anyone moving away, though...

Morgan Mandel said...

Although most criminals don't resort to anything bizarre as a weapon, it must be extremely difficult when one of them does to actually figure out what the weapon is.

authorlindathorne said...

I just did this very same thing not 2 months ago. In my WIP, I've known for ages how the victims dye (blunt trauma), but I wasn't sure how my killer would carry the weapon around, so I had to get inventive on exactly what the weapon was. I came up with something I was unsure existed, but it does. Because my story is in 2005 (not present), I had to find out the availability of this 14 years ago. Yeah, it had been in existence a few years prior to 2005. We hold our local Sisters in Crime meetings in public restaurants sometimes, so I know what you mean about other people overhearing us talking about such things. Every once in a while, one of us will drop by a table and explain that we are mystery writers. In this day and time, people are on edge (for good reason) and sometimes an explanation is necessary. We usually get a few laughs (relieved ones) when we explain ourselves.

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