Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Methods of death in mystery fiction


Killing off victims in mystery fiction isn’t as easy as you think. Shoot ’em is my default M.O. For most people, death follows getting shot in the heart or the head. Those are nearly always fatal wounds.

Right… But wait. If authors kill off all their victims by shooting them, readers think poorly of said authors. They think we’re gun freaks or something.

That’s not good.

Just as it’s not good to have all victims of one gender and all killers of another gender. Readers like variety. Writing mystery fiction isn’t as simple as wash-rinse-repeat.

Further, in cozy mysteries like my Dreamwalker series, the violence needs to happen off-screen. In other words, I research a means of death, learn enough about it to sound like an expert, and then keep 95 percent of that knowledge out of the book. Bummer.

On the bright side, I have talked to some interesting “experts” and I have fascinating books on my bookshelf. When my book on poisons arrived, my husband’s face turned white as an oyster shell. He held up the book, with the cover facing me, and said, “Should I be worried?” [Sidebar note: Family members often take a dim view of this kind of research.]

After reassuring him that I had no intention of killing him, I dove into the book on poisons. I knew from my days as a toxicologist that just about anything, even water, can be a poison depending on the dose. (In a previous book, I poisoned someone by giving them something in their coffee which reacted fatally with her prescription medication.)


So, how do I want to kill thee (on paper)? Let me count the ways… I’ve already mentioned shooting. That’s easy to explain because many suspects have access to weapons. But I have poisoned someone in a book. I’ve had several victims die from knife wounds. Recently I branched out and coshed someone on the head with a shovel. I’ve had a couple of victims who were drowned, a hit-and-run with an auto, an arsonist who killed with fire, a couple of drug overdoses. So far I haven’t killed anyone with a spider, snake, shark, or alligator, though I’ve used those elements to ramp up tension. I also haven’t asphyxiated anyone, either manually or with car exhaust. But I haven’t ruled them out for future books, or any other methods I might have overlooked.


For Doggone It, book 3 in a paranormal series, I chose the eerie setting of a haunted house that was being used as a movie backdrop. I also have the experience of seeing what happens when a film crew descends on a town. It’s a little strange and at times very over the top. Therefore, having someone be shot and killed would be too ordinary for this mystery.

In my opinion, people (and book characters) are a mixture of good and bad. The people who conform to societal norms are generally considered “good” people, while the individuals who operate outside of what is considered good and “right” are considered “bad.” Doggone It uses an unusual means of death for the victims, one that fuels my sleuth to get justice for them. She needs all her resources in this world and the next to catch this killer.

Want to learn more about Doggone It?
This post was originally seen at Paranormal & Romantic Suspense Reviews on Oct. 29, 2016

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