Means means it’s gotta make sense.

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?leg of lamb-18h53m15s58

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.

Hitchcoclamb-2015-02-23-18h54m26s254k 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?




10 thoughts on “Means means it’s gotta make sense.

  1. I like to puzzle it out, but honestly, the sleuth is as important in terms of his/her personality and actions as the plot. I just love the one solving the problem and have always been that way. Having a charismatic protag is as important to me as the plot. OK I have confessed. There are male and female characters who find out the truth and they are all kinds of people. The door is wide open as to their being cozy, or violent or whatever. Last night I stayed up all night watching film noir. I was just not tired and I watched a number of noir classics. I watched a Bogart that was a real thriller because of his personality. It was so edgy because he was a mystery writer and also had a violent temper. The ending was not happy but it was inevitable. Sorry, I was engrossed in the acting and didn’t stop watching until five A. M. You most likely know the story. I was just into escape mode. It was a great mystery and I haven’t watched a film in a long time, writing all the time, so it crept into my senses in a way that was not fair and I was bewitched with the film.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi, MJ. I agree the sleuth is very important. Without a protag the reader can identify with and root for, why bother? I also like Kait’s “using what’s handy” and “covering up the crime” scenarios. I need to get more inventive. Hmm, I’ve staged two suicides, had an accidental murder the bad guy tried to cover up. Think I’ll go visit the meat department and see what’s on sale. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Sounds like my kind of night, MJ. I know the movie you are talking about, but the name escapes me. I loved that movie. Got if from Netflix not too long ago. Yes, a likable sleuth is so important and can overcome all sorts of plot foibles. Now, back to the writing for both of us!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In a Lonely Place. I had to look it up on IMDB! It is worth the rental. IMDB described it as one of Bogie’s darkest. And I think they are right.


  2. I don’t “puzzle out” the mysteries I read. As MJ points out in her comment, I care more about a dynamic protagonist than I do the plot. But, if given the choice, I’d prefer to have to figure out what the means is. Then, I like to focus the most energy on the WHY it happened, not the WHAT.

    Good post, Kait.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I firmly believe that the seeds of the murder lie in the victim’s life. I’ve been accused of blaming the victim, but not really. I’m not talking about wrong place wrong time tragedies. I’m talking about getting someone upset enough that he or she thinks you need killing. As in life, the last straw is usually a small one and the real inciting event took place in the past. In writing, it’s the why that fascinates me.

      Liked by 1 person

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