The title of this blog is motive, means, opportunity. We’ve talked about motive already, but what about means? That’s a biggie and often difficult to come up with.
What do I mean? How hard can it be? Blast ‘em and be on your way. Err…no. I write on the cozy end of the spectrum. My perps are probably not carrying guns, or knives for that matter. Most likely they are not martial arts experts either. So, how do I come up with means?
How would you kill someone? Oh, I know. We’re talking hypothetical here, but I bet you’ve considered it—hypothetically. The most believable cozy deaths use every day means. These deaths are often not premeditated. They are spur of the moment. The weapons something close at hand based on circumstance, not a grander plan. The death is the result of a tragic accident and it’s the cover-up attempt that calls attention to the killer, not the circumstances of the death.
In Zoned for Murder, the victim was hung, after he was incapacitated by blunt force trauma. Had the killer dialed 911—my vic would have lived. Instead, the killer took matters into his own hands and tried to make a dreadful accident look like a suicide. He almost succeeded. In Murder in the Multiples a drug overdose was at fault. Self-administered? Maybe. That was what the killer hoped it looked like.
In Death by Blue Water the victim drowned, he was found with an anchor line wrapped around his ankle and the anchor nearby. Those boating tragedies do happen, but not this time. Then in Death by Sunken Treasure the victim’s scuba air source was turned off when he was found. Suicide? Nah.
In all of these books the deaths could be easily explained away by the circumstances in the victim’s lives. In all of these cases, the killers took advantage of those facts, and of items at hand, to do the deed. No guns, no knives, no killing stars, or kung fu footwork. Means. It’s what you have at hand.
Hitchcock had the best example of this. Writers are still trying to imitate Roald Dahl’s short story premise and Hitch’s depiction in Lamb to the Slaughter. The weapon, a frozen leg of lamb, later eaten by the murderer, with the detectives enjoying the meal as well. Means—what have you got in your freezer!
Do you prefer books with obvious means of death, or like me, do you prefer to have to puzzle it out?