Sometimes my attention wanders, like a puppy off a leash. Usually it’s anytime I have to sit and wait—before a doctor’s appointment, getting ready to board a plane, anticipating my order for a tall hot Earl Grey at a coffee shop. (I just realized that my usual drink order sounds like the hero of a Regency romance.) When I’m bored, I sometimes run down a mental checklist of British monarchs and consorts in order. I had to work to fill in a few gaps—later Plantagenets, early Hanoverians—but I’m there. If paper were handy, I used to name the states but I almost always forget Delaware. (I don’t know why. I’ve BEEN there.)
That got dull after a while, so as I sat on a folding metal chair, preparing to listen to a middle school choir concert some years ago, I amused myself by composing a list of methods of murder. (You probably would too if it were your third middle school choir concert in a semester.) This is pretty common for mystery writers. Wherever we go, we are on the job. Take us to a picnic in the South and we’ll look at that thick patch of kudzu and estimate how long it would take to cover a corpse. Accompany us to a museum and you’ll find us standing in front of a medieval chest calculating how many bodies we could fit inside. To our credit, at least we never lack for conversation, however gruesome it might be.
And that brings me back to my comprehensive list of murder methods. I feel compelled to add a disclaimer: Don’t do this. It is wrong to murder other people. It is, however, amusing to THINK about murdering other people, and if you put it in a book, you will get paid for it AND you won’t go to prison.
- Defenestration: a personal favorite, both for the rhythm of the word and the finality of the method. There is a nice metaphor between shattering glass and ending a life.
- Suffocation: think “The Cask of Amontillado”. Not to be confused with…
- Smothering: pillows, stuffed animals, plastic bags.
- Garrotting: piano wire, underwire, barbed wire. The possibilities are endless.
- Blunt instrument: a distinct lack of subtlety here. Anyone can go around bashing people on the head. There is no elegance to such a crime, unless the instrument is later cooked up and served to the police a la “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl.
- Exsanguination: absolutely my favorite method to SAY. It sounds like something the Protestants would have fought the Catholics over, doesn’t it? I have read that it is a gentle way to die, provided the wound causing the blood loss is not too painful.
- Animal attack: by a trained animal assassin, of course. Think “The Speckled Band” or “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”. (Conversely, a faked animal attack is also an interesting twist as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle demonstrated.)
- Anaphylaxis: an acute allergic reaction brought on by bee stings, ingesting peanuts, that sort of thing. Very useful in that the villain need not actually be present at the time of the crime.
- Arranged accidents: switching medications, removing treads from a dark staircase. Care must be insured that the accident is reversed before the investigation commences.
- Exposure: might seem like a good idea, but one must take a cautionary look at Greek myths to realize how often exposure actually failed to kill unwanted princes of prophecy.
- Manual strangulation, drowning, stabbing, falls–more common methods, but not without possibilities. Manual strangulation can be accomplished with the drapery cord of a common enemy, thereby removing TWO parties at once. Drowning ought to be accomplished simply by heaving someone overboard and sailing peacefully away. Holding the victim’s head underwater is messy and potentially dangerous. Drowning men are said to possess unholy strength. Stabbing is to be avoided on the same grounds, unless a subtler variation can be devised. One need only look as far as history and Luigi Luccheni’s assassination of Empress Elizabeth to see how it might be done. Falls may be arranged from staircases, balconies, cruise ships, but care must be taken not to become entangled with the victim on their way down.
- Foreign substances: I have read about ground glass being slipped into a victim’s food, but I have my doubts. Wouldn’t the dinner guest note the odd texture before enough had been consumed to do any real damage?
- Poisoning, burning, and shooting: another batch of common methods, difficult to get away with in these days of excellent forensic techniques and lacking in imagination.
- Psychological murder: the most insidious and diabolical of all, driving another either to murder or suicide. Difficult to prosecute, almost impossible to prove. One must be careful not to leave either incriminating letters or the victim’s diaries behind.
So, there you have it. Fourteen methods of murder, with literary and historical precedents thrown in. If you were plotting a murder mystery of your own, which would you choose?
Veronica’s fourth adventure, A DANGEROUS COLLABORATION, is almost here! It pubs on March 12–the kickoff day for the book tour. (The Appearances page at deannaraybourn.com has all the details on tour stops as well as bookstore contact info. And don’t forget that if you’re not in the area of any of the appearances, you can contact any of the bookstores to pre-order a copy or click on the buy links below. If you choose The Fountain in Richmond, you’ll even receive an exclusive pre-order gift!)
Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée—much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly’s wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband’s mind.
As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker’s help to discover the host’s true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund…