Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crafting a Killer

by Carola Dunn

I'm cheating today--posting a guest blog I wrote for Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers last week ( It received a lot of positive comments so I thought you wouldn't mind it reappearing here.

Crafting a Killer

Killers come in all shapes and sizes. Having just finished writing the 20th mystery in my Daisy Dalrymple series, I'm constantly looking for new variations.

For a start, I prefer the word "killer" to "murderer." Not all homicides are murder. Some of the unnatural deaths in my books involve accident, self-defence or defence of others, or assault not intended to cause death. This allows some of my killers to be sympathetic characters. In turn this allows Daisy to hold—and act on—a different view of Justice from that of her husband, DCI Alec Fletcher of ScotlandYard, who's sworn to uphold the Law.

They haven't yet quite reached the point where they want to kill each other!

Of course, some of my killer characters commit deliberate murder. Their motives ring the changes on the basics: greed, jealousy, fear, revenge, anger. They are male and female, young and old, rich and poor. Some are crafty (pun intended); some are not too bright and are not arrested immediately more through luck than cleverness. They are otherwise pleasant people who would probably never kill again if they weren't caught, and unpleasant people who are a danger to society.

But however desperate for new twists, I don't create homicidal maniacs. I'm just not really interested in someone who kills for pleasure, or from an irresistible impulse to kill. I prefer to explore the motive(s) of a person who feels he or she has a compelling reason that we can understand, even if we can't imagine ever taking it to the lengths of murder.

This is the UK cover for Sheer Folly.

The one above is the US cover, now out in trade paperback.

As Susan asked, "Do you judge a book by its cover?"--just as a matter of interest, which do you prefer?

This is one of the comments I received on the Killer Crafts blog:

So Killing is usually a crime of passion or Of the Moment, and Murder has intent, and is plotted, planned and carried out? Killing is a response and Murder comes from deep within the murderer? [LibrarianDOA]

And my response:

It's not as clear-cut as that. I think, at least in
British/American Common Law, motive is generally taken into account when
it comes to sentencing, which is up to the judge. Of course, to work
backwards, the jury decides on guilt or innocence, and the public
prosecutor doesn't want to bring a charge that's likely to result in an
innocent verdict. Before that, you have the Coroner and his jury, who
decide whether there's a case to answer.

As far as Alec--the police officer--is concerned, if someone is killed by
someone else, that's homicide. Intent is more or less irrelevant as it's
not up to him to decide whether the killing amounts to murder,
manslaughter, self-defence, or accident. In the case of an obvious
accident, he might decide the evidence doesn't justify applying for a
warrant (he can only arrest without one if he actually sees a crime

It's where Daisy comes in--remembering that she's a purely fictional
character--that the grey areas widen and diffuse. At times, she's
prepared to back her own judgment and conceal information from the police
in what she perceives to be the cause of Justice.

And that's one of the things that makes it fun to write.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I also prefer "Killer" to "murderer, Carola. And I like to get inside my killer's head. I've written about several serial killers but I draw the line at killing children, as a debut novelist recently did, or barbaric methods of murdering victims. There are too many readers with psychological problems who might just decide to imitate a killing I've written about.

Jaden Terrell said...

Nice post, Carola. Coming up with variety in the killers' motives and methods is challenging for anyone who writes crime fiction.

I prefer multifaceted villains in fiction. Whether it's a "regular Jane or Joe" or a serial killer like Thomas Harris's Francis Dolarhyde, I want to sense that there are emotional and psychological layers to the person.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Both covers are great, Carola, but I prefer the US one. Why, I don't know. Interesting blog too.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Carola, I adore your books! As for covers of SHEER FOLLY, I prefer the US cover. This was an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing.