Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A standing-still on the wild side

This is a sort of companion piece to my last post. It also gives me an excuse to use another illustration of the village we stayed in at Christmas, but this time in sunshine.

It’s so long since I played Cluedo that I don’t remember all the possible weapons. Poison, rope, probably dagger, maybe gun, and definitely the imaginative lead pipe (which might be less detectable if the lead was used as a poison rather than the pipe as a blunt instrument). With respect to the creators of the game, though, they’re all pretty obvious – the sort of thing a murderer would be offered if he went to the local store to get ‘something for the wife’. But, for a crime writer, that store is full of  items with even deadlier potential – things such as toothbrushes, vitamins or yoghurt.

To show what I mean, try this. Tomorrow, go through part of the day looking for clues and plots. Set yourself up as a victim. Notice how many ways you could be murdered – not by any grandiose scheming, bombs, terrorist attacks, etc. but by the normal trappings of the way you live. Let’s assume you get up and, to give the day an early freshness, you clean your teeth. Who’s had access to your toothbrush since you last used it? Your partner, obviously, and all the other people living in the house. Oh, and the people you had round for dinner yesterday evening. If somebody put the tiniest drop of that stuff from the castor oil plant – Ricin – on the bristles, it would turn your blood into …

(Commercial break begins:
… well, for a full account of what would happen to you, if you haven’t already done so, read The Darkness.
Commercial break ends.)

Next, you maybe pop a vitamin pill or some medication before or after breakfast. Who might know what they are and what contra-indications there are? Again, your partner is the first suspect but no doubt some friends know about it too. The most blatant use of the information would be to tamper with the pills, introduce something nasty which looked like the capsule in question. More subtle, though, would be to find out what reacts badly with them and somehow serve that up to you. Again, it’s something that could be done by any visitor to the house, including guys who come to service the boiler, read the gas or electric meters, or try to get you to become a Jehovah’s Witness. (I like the idea of one well-dressed young man sitting quoting the Bible at you while his companion, who’s asked to use your bathroom, quietly adds a deadly tincture to the open wine bottle in the kitchen.)

Then there’s breakfast itself. Is your routine such that anyone watching you shopping can see that you regularly buy a particular breakfast cereal? If so, you’re making it easy for them to target you. And so it goes on through the day. Who knows what foodstuffs you prefer? Or where you shop? Who’s watching your movements in and out of the house? Who has access to your dustbins? And what about all the things in your garden shed that you use without suspecting how they might have been contaminated? Why is there a ladder against your  neighbour’s wall? What’s in the box they’ve put out with their garbage? Multiply all these questions by the number of people who have access to the various items and you have a complex set of relationships and too many uncomfortable possibilities.

But, you may protest, I’m an ideal husband/wife/partner, a model citizen, a hugely respected and admired pillar of the community. Who on earth would wish me such ill? Why would anyone do such things? Well, your reputation, motives and actions may be impeccable but you’ve no idea how others are interpreting them. Remember Estragon’s observation ‘People are bloody ignorant apes’.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t go round in a perpetual state of fear but it’s true that, since I started writing crime novels and stories, I’m always seeing openings and inventing motives where before there were just innocent Jehovah’s Witnesses and boiler maintenance men.

So try it tomorrow. Stop as you’re doing a familiar thing and ask how it could be used against you, then ask who could do it, then why. Always ask why. Every action has (or can have) reasons and consequences. There are stories waiting everywhere.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I read and enjoyed your novel, THE DARKNESS, Bill. One of my interviewees in THE MYSTERY WRITERS book, Diane Fanning, mentioned that many serial killers don't bring their own weapons when they break into a house. They pick something up in the garage or kitchen. I don't recall which murder mystery I read that had an icicle as the murder weapon. It melted at the scene before the murder was discovered. That was ingenious.

Bill Kirton said...

Thank you, Jean. I think that was the novel that made my policeman reconsider where he stood. I think it may lead him to retire in the next book, too. But it's his decision.

And I remember the icicle murder, too. I don't think I read the book but it's a classic twist.