Thursday, October 30, 2014

With a Bare Bodkin...

A number of readers have asked me to write about the reasons I pick one method rather than another to kill my victims.

For a start, I must confess that I prefer my murders not too messy. The messiest one was in The Bloody Tower, and Daisy closed her eyes before it got too horrible. Considering the setting, close to the spot where Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and many others lost their heads (literally), a bloody death could hardly be avoided.

The method of murder is quite often suggested by the setting. What better to cover the sound of a gunshot than a Guy Fawkes party, with fireworks exploding at irregular and unexpected intervals? And at an ancient manor house with ancient weapons decorating the walls, a stab in the back with a dagger is an ever-present danger. If you find yourself in the Natural History Museum, a primitive flint spear can do the job just as well, though with less finesse.

One prime consideration in choosing how to commit murder is what means I have used in previous books in the series, especially recent ones. This applies especially to the more dramatic deaths.

When I’ve pushed someone over a cliff, I want to stay away from high places for quite a while. And I doubt I’ll ever again blow anyone up in a coal-gas explosion. Poisons, on the other hand, are so varied as to be endlessly useful.

You can kill someone with a misused medication, an easily available lab chemical, or some leaves from a nearby bush. You can even have one victim with two different villains feeding him two different poisons at the same time, unknown to each other. Poisons can be slow acting or fast acting. The murderer need not be anywhere near the victim when he dies. There’s a poison to suit practically any situation.

Do I want the body to be hidden away—buried in a garden, say—or somewhere where it will soon be found, such as a dentist’s chair with a patient expected? Each requires a different modus operandi.

The most fun I’ve had killing people was in To Davy Jones Below. It’s set on a transatlantic liner, so obviously you’re going to have people falling overboard port, starboard, and amidships. The fun part was figuring out a different way to make each one fall.

I’ve never murdered anyone at Halloween. Now the season is upon us, it’s time to make plans...

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.


  1. Interesting, Carola. While killing off characters via the murder route isn't typically my thing, I do occasionally need the demise of one or more to move the story logically forward. By extension, you have opened up some doors for me to explore various means to end their lives less conventionally.

  2. It's always fun to read a new twist on murder. Listening to my husband's forensic stories, truth is actually stranger than fiction in many cases.

  3. Isn't it funny that we love to talk about methods of murder and killers and settings for murder, etc.? It's a challenge always looking for that new twist. Thanks for an intriguing post, Carola.

  4. Carola, ever thought of putting an especially grisly murder of an editor in your manuscripts ... just to have a little fun with yours?

    1. I already did that with a dentist, Christopher--in Die Laughing. I'd been having some horrendous and horrendously expensive dental work. I just don't feel that way towards my editor, though I did do murder in the Flatiron Bldg, where his offices are--The Case of the Murdered Muckraker.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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