This is the first question for the crime writer, I’ve discovered. A tad macabre, but that’s the genre.
Hello there, victim, how would you like to die? I can strangle, bludgeon, knife or poison you, just for starters. But if that ain’t good enough, let’s be inventive. The sky’s the limit. The other day someone got mirrored to death in Midsomer Murders!
Problem is, the moment you decide how to kill someone, you’ve immediately got to find out what that’s going to do to their body. Enter medical research. That leads backwards to what your sleuth can and can’t notice and what it will tell her. She has to work out how it was done before she can figure out who dunnit.
Just to complicate matters, when you set your crime in a historical context, you’ve got to find out what your medical man would have known at that time. Which isn’t what he knows now by a long chalk. At which point, thank heavens for the internet!
I turned up the most marvellous contemporary treatise on poisons on Google books, which tells me exactly what was known or thought about it, as well as how to recognise it, for every possible poison you could think of, and some you couldn’t. This was for the third book in my Lady Fan Mystery series. You can also dig up lots of accounts of horrific 18th century murders, which is extremely helpful, thank you, generating plenty of ideas.
There’s a strange satisfaction about killing victims off, I find. Does this mean I’m a closet murderer? Let’s be charitable, and say that it’s pure imagination and the writer’s mind. After all, I may kill them, but I’m also revenging their deaths and seeing that justice is done.
The other thing I’ve found is that you can’t avoid the inevitable exposition where your sleuth says how it was done. I’ve managed to steer clear of the cliché of gathering suspects together for the purpose, though, and tried to make it a natural part of the investigation process. But as a reader I wouldn’t be satisfied if the puzzle wasn’t somehow explained.
I don’t honestly think I’m going to spend too long worrying over the how-am-I-going-to-kill-you question. Ideas for future books seem to leap out at me with images of full-blown murders ready made. And the other common denominator? When I start writing the book, I haven’t a clue who dunnit or why. The fun of the genre is surprising myself with the answer.