Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How do I kill thee? Let me count the ways.

JENN MCKINLAY: Seriously, having written more than thirty plus murder mysteries, I’m beginning to lose track of my homicides! Even doing simple math (not my gift) I figure I’ve fictionally murdered a minimum of thirty-six people and I have mostly forgotten how. Huh. I’m not really sure what this says about me as a person and I’m not sure I want to know, so let’s just move along, shall we? Excellent.


Pie Chart! Yes, to help figure out my most used methods of murder, I made a pie chart. Again, not really sure what this says about me…but look at the pretty colors! And, probably, you don’t want to hang out around me and sharp objects at the same time since stabbing people seems my most preferred method of murder. Who knew? Of course, poisoning, bludgeoning, shooting, and strangling are all throwing elbows for second place, so it’ll be interesting to see how this chart shapes up in another thirty-six books.

Once I realized I needed to do less stabbing and more pushing off buildings or drownings, I then wanted to see if I had a pattern for murderers and victims. Interestingly enough, my murderers are pretty much split down the gender middle in a fifteen to sixteen split, but the victims are a whole different chart with men being the victims three times more often than women.

After seeing this, the Hub may never sleep again, at least not unless he hides the knives!

So, what about you Reds? What’s your preferred method of murder if you have one? And what about your murderers and victims? Any patterns there?

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm afraid I'm an outlier here. My books often don't have murders in them... so I guess technically they're not murder mysteries. Having said that, when I do resort to murder it's usually (I had to go back to figure this out) a bop on the head followed by drowning (twice). If you count attempted murder, then fire. Insulin poisoning. Tylenol poisoning. And my victims are as often women as men... as are the perps.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I hate the part where you have to kill the people. I once said to Jonathan--maybe they could just get badly hurt? And J said: you are not writing badly-hurt mysteries, you are writing murder mysteries. Anyway, I am not much for weird or complicated causes of death. I go for matter of fact. Most of my victims..let's see.  Car accident. Pushed down stairs. (Not a reliable method.)  Drowning. Stabbing. (See how unpleasant this all is?) Head bopping then fire. Guns are loud, strangling takes too long. It's all very..difficult.
 And my victim-murderer ratio is about equal.  Although, wait. You know? More women as bad guys.  And about equal victims. 
Please pass the pie.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Pie chart!!! I LOVE it! I usually make lists in my notebook, which are not nearly as pretty. Let's see...electrocution (my very first murder!), bludgeoning, drowning, poisoning, shotgun, hit-and-run by car, grenade... But by my unscientific reckoning, I would watch out for blunt instruments around me. I never tend to go in for very complicated offings--I'm more interested in motive than method. And there have been murders that I really, really almost couldn't bring myself to commit.

I think I'm pretty good on the gender equality scale as far as perps and victims, but will now have to go make another list...

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm not pie-chart methodical, Jenn, but my hub tells everyone that if he dies suddenly they should demand an autopsy! Thinking back over the Key West mysteries, I'm remembering more clunks on the head than anything else. Though poison is up there too...there were many worried looks exchanged at a dinner party where I showed up with a key lime parfait. Apparently, they'd discussed the murder in AN APPETITE FOR MURDER ahead of time.

The good thing about writing lighter is I don't feel obligated to describe too much of the deed itself. However, I do have to clean up the mess...

INGRID THOFT: It’s hard to find a good way to kill someone!  Really!  So far, I’ve gone with drowning, bludgeoning with a blunt object, pushing someone so the victim smashes her head, and poisoning.  Stabbings are very messy and require the killer to be especially vicious and cold, and strangulation, as Hank noted, takes time and also strength.  I have a close to even split on men and women as both murderers and victims.  I’m very equal opportunity!

RHYS BOWEN: I don't think much about clever methods of killing. In real life I think murderers plan the easiest method. Usually it's done out of desperation or on the spur of the moment. So I've hit people over the head with a blunt object, I've stabbed, shot, poisoned, pushed off a cliff and out of a boat, strangled and shut one poor girl in a steam room with the setting on maximum. (Yes, that was about the most gruesome I've ever done)

I once took a train up a Welsh mountain to see where I could push somebody out and they'd fall to their death. I saw the perfect spot and said excitedly to my friend, "This is it. If he fell out here, he'd go down a thousand feet!" Then I looked up and everyone else in the carriage had moved as far away from me as possible.

HANK: Exactly Rhys! Once at a restaurant I said to Jonathan: "You can't just push someone off a bridge. You can't be sure they'd actually die."  And the waiter, who turned out was standing right there, was...unsettled. Anyway, what's your gender ratio?

RHYS: I think I have rather more male murderers but the females have been pretty creepy. But a pie chart? Can I see myself saying, "Oh, let's drown this one in the bathtub. We haven't done that for a while!"

What about you, Readers? Do you have a preferred method of fictional murder? When reading, do you find yourself noticing the gender of the murderer or victims?

 


78 comments:

  1. Lucy, I hope the dinner party guests enjoyed the parfait!

    As a reader, I can’t say I have a preferred method of fictional murder, but I like it to fit with the personality of the killer. I like unusual ways of murder, and I like the stories where the cause of death isn’t readily apparent or where it isn’t the cause everyone [including the murderer] expected.

    I probably notice the gender of both murderer and victim, but I don’t have a particular preference; it’s fun when it’s an unexpected culprit or victim . . . .

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    1. Clearly, I need to consult with you, Joan. I tend to figure out the why of a murder before the how. I, too, like it when the cause of death isn't readily apparent.

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  2. Jen, your pie charts are wonderful. It makes me want to do something about my reading or reviewing with pie charts now. Your results were interesting, too, especially how men are usually your victims. Maybe your husband should indeed hide the knives in view of that chart and the stabbing result.

    Rhys, now I know how to clear out a crowded seating area, and Hank, I'm betting your waiter made sure to get your order right. Do you all keep some sort of list on methods and victims?

    I don't think I have a preferred murder method, but I don't particularly like reading about anything too gruesome. I think women are more creative as murderers, more meticulous, and men seem to be more forceful, making a loud bang about it. Although even that doesn't always hold true, and as Joan said, it is best when neither victim or murderer is predictable.

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    1. Kathy - I have to admit I was unsettled at how many more men I kill off than women. I think it goes back to childhood issues but at least I've found a way to work them out that won't land me in jail! Obviously, I do need to kill off more women, however. Fictionally!

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    2. Exactly! That waiter treated us with extreme deference. And at least didn't call the police.

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  3. Generally when I'm killing someone...oh wait you meant fictional murder...HA!

    I don't have a preferred way of a character being killed. As long as someone ends up dead, I'm a happy reader. I do like when the murder is a little creative but a gun or a knife, poison or strangling gets the job done.

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    1. They sure do and the trouble I have with the creative murder is crossing that fine line into implossibility. A reader can only suspend their disbelief so far and my sleuths are bakers and librarians so I'm already pushing it. :)

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    2. My favorite way I've heard of offing someone was what I read in an old magazine about ninjas when I was in my early teens.

      The leaves of a tomato supposedly were used as an assassination technique in the 15th century (I'm assuming that meant in Japan). It built up the acid around the heart and caused a heart attack but it was untraceable. I don't know if it is scientifically accurate or if it was even true. But it sounded so awesome that I've remembered it all these years.

      Hmmmm...maybe that's why I don't eat salad.

      Of course, there's always the metaphysical...wishing someone was dead and then they die. I'm sure that would give people second thoughts about crossing the "wisher".

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  4. What a great topic! I love the pie chart idea, and have definitely had that experience in a restaurant of other diners giving me horrified looks when I talked about a new murder weapon I'd heard about. I like to use the ones Lucy Zahray (aka The Poison Lady) tell us in her talks at conferences: liquid nicotine, rosary peas, Tylenol and whiskey. But I've also used the old bop on the head or push, stabbing (including with a hat pin), and more. I don't think I've ever killed someone with a gun, though, come to think about it. And none of it is particularly gruesome, because we never see the person die in my books. (Although my plucky protag did need to poke her fingers in a guy's eyes to get away - that was pretty cringe-inducing...)

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    1. Edith: as Luci Zahray says, she can kill you with water! She's a fantastic resource for mystery writers. My favorite question for her was "What could a bird eat that wouldn't hurt the bird but would kill a human who ate the bird?" And she had an answer! (Pokeweed berries.)

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    2. Edith! A hat pin? I so wanted to use that one in the London series! I like poison, too, since so many people can be the suspect. Huh, now I'm wondering if anyone has ever pie charted (Look! Now it's a verb!) Agatha Christie's methods of murder. Note to self to look it up later! I must start following the poison lady - what a fabulous resource!

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  5. Ooo, Jenn, I love your pie charts! Who doesn't love pie? I recently found a very simple way of doing them in Google Docs, too. As for murdering people, I really hate the elaborate ones, that require a lot of planning and leave room for many things to go wrong. Shooting people would be the American way, although it leaves a lot of trace evidence. Stabbing leaves less for the crime scene team to ponder over, but it's a very up close and personal way to kill someone. A good, hefty baseball bat seems simplest. If the murderer is too short to get a good crack at the victim's head, she could take 'em out at the knees with the first swing and go for the head with the second. Like Joan, I think it's best when the method fits the murderer.

    I recently planted some foxglove in my garden, and our area also has some beautiful angel trumpet/datura growing wild down back alleys, which has turned my attention to poisonous plants. I can easily imagine a sweet little grandmother with enough stuff in her lovely cottage garden to kill an army.

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    1. Ha! Gigi, a little ranch dressing on that garden salad and they'd never know! I had no idea you make a chart in Google Docs - thanks for the tip!

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    2. Whoa Gigi. You definitely lean toward bludgeoning!

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  6. Yikes, what an early morning topic!

    In my humble opinion, the best murder weapon is insulin. It won't be found on autopsy as it is naturally present in the body, and a massive dose will work every time. Just be very careful to hide the injection site. Of course this would only work with a compliant or unconscious victim.

    Next is hanging, not because it would be easy, but it is so dramatic. And creepy. Thinking of seeing a body swaying in the breeze.

    My least favorites are bludgeoning, torture, and burning. I can't imagine anything worse than being killed slowly and painfully.
    which
    Here's a plot you could play with, which actually happened in my neighborhood last summer. The guy came home and found his wife swinging from the rafters in the garage. This was sad. What was unusual is that this was his second wife's hanging. The first wife hung herself some years ago.

    The place was swarming with cops for a while, but I still seeing this man out walking his dog every day, so I guess we can chalk it up to coincidence?

    Yeah, right.

    Happy Hump Day everyone.

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    1. Ann, I just read a book in which insulin was one victim's cause of demise. And, the guy with two wives who hanged themselves? Wow! That's suspicious, but then i think that surely he wouldn't be stupid enough to use the same method twice. Or, is that clever instead?

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    2. You have to wonder how two wives end up dying in the same grisly way. Yikes. I don't think I've ever hanged/hung (that always sounds weird to m e) anyone, probably because the hanged/hung thing drives me batty. Insulin - clever!

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    3. Oh, yeah. Coincidence. Right. See--you could not put that in a book--no one would believe it.

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  7. I just enjoy the story and don't really care how a cozy mystery victim dies as we never read much of the details. I don't care for gruesome in cozies. In thrillers it's a different basis for the story and I can take a bit more yuck.

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    1. It is a fine balance of what to share and what not to share. I'm not big on gruesome but I love suspense!

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  8. I don't dare count up how many characters I've killed over the years, but my favorite method is making the murder (almost always off stage) appear to be an accident. I recently had someone supposedly take a fall from a horse and hit his head on the rocky ground and die. Turned out the killer had used a slingshot to hurl the rock that killed him. And of course, since my first sleuth was an expert on poisonous herbs, I poisoned a lot of victims in those books and short stories.

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    1. I like it - the murder that looks like an accident. It's an excellent method because the sleuth needs to be tenacious which can create wonderful tension with the characters/suspects.

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  9. I've published two stories about pie as the murder weapon. In "Double Crust Corpse," it was poisoned liquid used in making pie crust. In "Killer Pie," a substance that looked like meringue smothered the victim.

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    1. OMG. A meringue substance that can smother - genius!

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  10. Hmm, a pie chart. I'll often think, "Well, I can't use that one, what method haven't I used in a while?" I've had stabbings, shootings, strangulation, and poison. My still-favorite is bop on the head and pushed over Niagara Falls.

    And I don't have any proof, but I think I've had more male victims/perpetrators. I think. Maybe.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. The bop on the head is always a solid bet. Crime of opportunity and all that. I was at Niagara Falls a couple of years ago - that's a heck of a way to die.

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  11. Jenn, your murder method pie chart is bodacious! What a great visual.

    The killing part is where I've choked when trying to write mysteries. Hank, maybe there should be a "badly hurt mystery" category! I'm thinking it could be a thing. I just can't bring myself to overcome a lifetime of stifling murderous impulses, I guess. Kathy Emerson, having a protagonist who specializes in one kind of crime sounds like the answer.

    As a reader (and as a viewer), though, I'm often impressed with some of the more inventive methods of yanking a character offstage permanently. You'd think some ways would be hard to swallow, until you read or watch the news, and realize human beings are endlessly inventive, and endlessly mean. A recent murder in our community is a case in point: A 37-year old man went to the home of a 53-year old man to "sell him drugs and have sex" (the mind boggles here). They got into a fight (I'd love to know why) and the younger guy ended up clobbering the older one with a golf club. Then he proceeded to hit the old guy with "various objects" in the house, all while the victim was pleading for him to stop. When he finally stopped complaining (ie, he was insensible, possibly dead), the younger guy decided to make it look like a robbery gone wrong, so he took all the electronics out of the house, and put them in the guy's car. Then he threw two kinds of accelerant around: gasoline and acetone. (This part of the story intrigues me. What were either of these guys doing with acetone??) Then he set fire to something, got in the victim's car, and drove it to unload the goods in Kentucky. After that, he took the car to an area we could refer to as the 'hood, and he lit it on fire and left it there.

    The police caught him the next day. So, not a very successful ruse, eh?

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    1. Thanks for the "bodacious" comment, Karen. I love that! I'm with you - people can be horrible and that story you shared is awful. I attended the Scottsdale Citizens Police Academy and the stories the cops would share - ugh! I repeatedly thought That I could never write what they told me because no one would believe it.

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    2. We've just completed the trial of a woman, her two sons ,and her boyfriend for killing her husband and the boys' father. They murdered him with a blunt object and then poured drain cleaner on his face so no one could identify him. Duh. None of you would write something so implausible. By the way, the boyfriend was judged not guilty. Mummies and sons guilty.

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    3. Whoa, Ann. What a crazy story.

      It's hard to fathom, sometimes.

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    4. What kind of neighborhood do you live in, Ann????

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  12. LOL! Hank and Rhys, it would be fun to ride to ride on trains or eat dinner with you!

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  13. I do notice the gender of the murderer and victim. And every time I see a murder by poison, I think the murderer is a woman because that's what we're taught.

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    1. Now I have to think about whether I've ever had a man use poison... :-)

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    2. You're right! I'll have to think about this one - flip the script perhaps or if a man did use poison did he do it to frame a woman? Hmm.

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  14. Perhaps my reading tastes have changed, as I do not remember reading as many ingenious methods recently. I do love the how did its sub genre, remembering the famous 'leg of lamb, the piano wire inserted under an armpit which perforated the pericardium, the melted lead poured into the ear drum that killed enough brain tissue, death by alcohol poisoning where the alcohol was injected on top of a needle mark from a blood donation.... all much better than 'bang you're dead'.

    At presnet, the sadistic killer is not welcome on my TBR mountain. The off scene death where the puzzle remains holds more attraction. I stopped reading one best selling author who kept bringing back an impossibly monstrous killer. Why put that kind of horror into my consciousness?

    When no one is killed, but the bad guys do get away with it? Troubling.. but gotta love it too.

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    1. Coralee - I do love an inventive murder but I also want to give the readers a fighting chance to figure it out. Sometimes the bad guys do get away with it. I haven't written that yet but it is true.

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    2. Jenn, should have mentioned that I think of your books as 'why done its' rather than how done its. Love your sense of settings too, like how you tell me what the rooms look like, and what the food tastes like. glad no one has smothered in a vat of batter.. yet?

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  15. I am so laughing at this post. Anywhere else, this would get the strange looks you are talking about. Here, it feels normal, is fascinating, and entertaining.

    And Jenn, can I just say how incredibly cozy it is for you to make pie charts to show your ratios?

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    1. Mark - LOL - It could only be better if they were cupcake charts!

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  16. Yes, as Karen says, truth is almost always stranger than fiction. Every time I read about some gruesome and complicated real-life murder, I think, "I could never get away with that in a book..." People routinely do much more horrible things than I could ever bring myself to write about. Usually drugs, alcohol, or mental illness are factors, none of which make very interesting mysteries.

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    1. Agreed. The police here gave me a statistic that they believe 90% of all local crimes is drug related - assaults, break-ins, robberies - all to get money for drugs, steal drugs, etc. I could see how much it exhausts them and prescription opioids are the worst because they are the hardest to enforce as most people are abusing their prescriptions.

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    2. There's also a high number of murders committed by a person who knew the victim.

      Which is both comforting and alarming at the same time.

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  17. It's a challenge to not only make sure the murder is believable in the moment (does she have the strength to wield the bat, creating an alibi for the time frame, dealing with any cleanup) but also deal with issues like, would she have access to a bat in the first place? If she (the murderer) is a classics professor who hates sports, you had better have a good reason for there to be a bat in her hands. It can be frustrating to figure this all out, but still fun!

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    1. Exactly. I am hip deep in revisions right now and have notes from my editing people that say "Four dead bodies in this book? So, how are you doing, Jenn? Everything okay?" So, now I have four murders a bludgeoning, stabbing, strangulation, and a natural gas poisoning to justify. I may have to take up drinking...

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    2. I recommend a nice Irish whiskey.

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  18. Remind me never to tun my back on any of you!

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  19. This is a great topic.

    I have a pretty short rap sheet, but I confess most of my murders are with weapons at hand. Blunt objects making connection with heads. Books -- twice! Though one was an entire bookcase falling on the victim. Oops. Cast iron frying pan. Granite pestle. (Or is it mortar? I can never remember which is which.) A rock, followed by drowning. Straight drowning (though in self-defence, sort of).

    Yes, I guess my killers are opportunists.

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    1. Susan - It sounds like a nice diverse list. And I do think most murders are in the heat of the moment when the person's crazy train slips the rails. Well done.

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    2. Susan, the mortar is the vessel, usually a bowl, and the pestle is the tool.

      I had occasion to look this up once, years ago.

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  20. As a reader I am totally equal opportunity when it comes to the gender of murderers and victims. My husband and I just started watching Justified (rewatching in my case). Two scenes popped up that we've turned into marital shorthand. One had Ava walking into the dining room with a shotgun to keep the peace while Raylan and Boyd are eating her fried chicken. This is probably the same shotgun she killed her husband with. Now, I just smile and say "fried chicken?" The other has to do with Mags and her apple pie (flavored moonshine). The apple pie is great as long as the glass isn't pre-poisoned. So now an offer of apple pie is met with suspicion by my spouse.

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    1. Pat - that's hilarious! I love it, but I think I'll pass on the apple pie.

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  21. Oh, PatD--shorthand! It's in Game of Thrones all the time. More I cannot say, in case of spoilers. But I agree the WHY is more important than how--and you use what you have.

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    1. Hank, I am just catching up to GOT. I can't believe I fell so far behind. Clearly, I need to get my priorities in order.

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  22. Great post. I was reminded of a British detective show that I watch on PBS. Midsomer Murders is very creative in finding different ways to kill someone! One episode had someone killed by a hatpin!

    On another note, I cannot bear to read novels about graphic violence against women. Why are women victims more than men are?

    Diana

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    1. Maybe because guys are just naturally more evil?

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    2. I think that's why I kill off more men, trying to level it out in my own way.

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  23. Rhys, I remember one of your books had a murder scene in a bathtub.

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  24. I'm taking notes. And my husband has been sleeping with one eye open for years. If I show him a pie chart, he'll never sleep again!

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    1. LOL. I hear you. There must be a support group for husbands of crime writers.

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  25. This is hysterical. Absolutely love it. So funny to see it all written done like this...and tidy. Gosh, I can call this FUNNY? I have been warped by hanging around youse guys...and reading too many of your books. (Huh, definitely not true, it was all marvelous, and thanks.)

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    1. Thank you! It's so nice that our community "gets" us.

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  26. SO funny! Just yesterday, as I work on a new proposal, I was tallying up vics and killers by gender and worrying about it. I shall now stop worrying and let them fall where they please.

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    1. Agreed. Although I do think I need to kill off a few more women just to keep it from looking like I have issues.

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  27. It would never bother me to overhear people talking about how to kill someone. I would assume they were mystery writers and might even ask when I can expect to buy their books! Some of my nearest and dearest think I like murder a little too much. I draw the line at gory and sadistic, and I also avoid books about violence against children.(I do have a favorite author whose books are sometimes "over the top" gory, but I skip over the descriptions. If there's multiple victims it can sometimes mean I skip the equivalent of a chapter or two. It doesn't interrupt the flow for me, which makes me think the author could have left out the graphic descriptions.

    Hallie, I love mysteries that do not include murder. Don't stop writing them!

    DebRo

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    1. Agreed. I'd like to see more mysteries that weren't murder based. Art/jewel theft, kidnapping, identity stealing - there are loads of topics out there.

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  28. I keep hearing Vincent Price reciting a Robert Browning parody...How do I Kill Thee, Let me Count the Ways!

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  29. My murderous relatives(yeah, we don't talk about it much) include a sort of distant relative who stabbed her husband to death when I was in college. I don't really know much about her, so I don't know if she was a dramatic sort of person or if this was out of character for her. I only met her once or twice. If she's still living, she must be close to 100.(Is she the person everyone else in the nursing home avoids? Hm.)

    There was another untimely death in the early 1900s, a shooting, "accidental" because the victim was not the intended victim. This one really disturbs me.

    And then there was another one probably in that same time period but we know even less about it.(These are all on the same side of the family, by the way.) One business partner killed the other one in a heated argument. I don't know the means of death. They were not related to each other but both were related to US. I think one was my grandmother's cousin and the other was my grandfather's cousin.

    When I retire, I want to do some family research. I think.
    DebRo

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    1. Deb - you have the makings of a solid historical mystery novel there!

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  30. I am reliving 60 years of murder mysteries... (I started early, reading my mother's books when she wasn't looking.) I am almost euphoric with the comment about a hat pin murder! What a fabulous murder method...so pretty and quaint! I remember that from many decades ago probably one of my first murder reads....my step grandmother had hatpins and I wanted one of them desperately. I still do. Oh, well... Does anyone have a title of a murder by hat pin to share?

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