Thursday, July 30, 2015

James Hayman--Murder We Wrote

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Is there something in the water in Maine that breeds terrific mystery writers? Although today's guest James Hayman is a transplant (as is our JRW Julia Spencer-Fleming,) he now lives in Maine and sets his USA Today bestselling Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage books in Portland. And he has some very intriguing thoughts on murder...

JAMES HAYMAN:  Murder We Wrote

When asked what she did for a living, another crime writer, I believe Chelsea Cain, responded “I kill people for money.” Well, so do I.  And so does everyone else who writes mysteries and thrillers for a living.  The vast majority of our books almost by definition involve one or more villains offing one or more victims.

In real life murder tends to be a fairly prosaic if unpleasant affair.  Husbands killing wives. Gangbangers killing rivals. Or, saddest of all, gun nuts walking into movie theatres or elementary schools and blasting away at strangers. Most of it horrifying. None of it particularly entertaining.

It is our peculiar and often challenging task as writers to make murder interesting, involving, entertaining and yes, sometimes, horrifying, but in a way that involves the readers’ imaginations far more than the bloody chaos that goes on in the homes and streets of America.

 There are many ways we go about this.

The writer can go for the cringe-worthy approach.  Hannibal the Cannibal eating his victims’ faces being a prime example

But there are other ways of making murder engaging.  One is the use of strange weapons.  A fellow writer and friend of mine named Joe Brady once considered committing murder in one of his books by having the victim be bitten by the poisonous pufferfish. The pufferfish, one of the few fish that can be considered cute to look at, emits a poison for which there is no antidote that kills by paralyzing the diaphragm, causing nearly instant suffocation.

The pufferfish not withstanding, I think my all-time favorite in the weird weapon category can be found in Roald Dahl’s classic short story Lamb to the Slaughter.  The heroine (villain?) of the piece is dear, sweet Mary Maloney who, when told by her policeman husband that he is planning to divorce her, becomes so upset that she whacks him over the head with the frozen leg of lamb she was planning to cook for dinner. When she realizes that her husband is indeed dead Mary, in a moment of inspiration, puts the murder weapon in the oven and roasts it.  Since the dead husband was a veteran cop, Mary knows all the detectives who come to the house to investigate the killing.  After these worthy fellows spend a fair amount of time searching the house for the likely murder weapon (could it be a sledgehammer?  A spanner? A heavy vase?), Mary convinces them to stay for dinner. Naturally, the main course is roast leg of lamb.

An interesting variation on Dahl’s technique of having the cops eat the murder weapon is Fannie Flagg’s idea of having them eat the victim.  This seemingly ghoulish denouement occurs in Ms. Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café where the heroine (the owner of the café, which is well known for its delicious barbecue) offs a bad guy by hitting him over the head, not with a leg of lamb, but with a frying pan. She then tosses the body into the café’s barbecue oven.  When the bad guy is thoroughly smoked, sauced and cooked, she cuts him into little pieces and offers some to the local sheriff who eagerly gobbles the delicious goodies down. I’m told barbecued human tastes remarkably like barbecued pork but I have no intention of testing the proposition.

For someone like me, who suffers from claustrophobia, one of the scariest way of dying has to be being buried alive.  This frightening fate is beautifully presented in Michael Kimball’s novel Undone.  The story centers around an unscrupulous wife who somehow convinces her husband to agree to climb into a coffin and be buried as part of an insurance scam.  Of course, she promises to dig him up later and share the proceeds.  Of course, she doesn’t.  In the meantime, readers get to spend agonizing hours inside the coffin under six feet of soil suffering along with the poor schmuck of a husband. If you’re wondering why he ever agreed to such a thing, I won’t offer spoilers. You’ll just have to read the book.

The plot of my own first McCabe/Savage thriller, The Cutting, also centers around a particularly unpleasant way to die. The Cutting features a villain who runs a lucrative business selling illegal heart transplants to billionaire octogenarians suffering from advanced coronary disease. These are folks who can’t qualify for legitimate transplant programs because of their age but who do have the funds to seek alternate solutions.  Our bad guy charges each of the billionaires a flat fee of five million dollars for a healthy young heart. But where, you might ask, do the hearts come from?   In keeping with the spirit of the times, all are locally sourced, being cut from the bodies of attractive young women who are first kidnapped and then held captive until their hearts are needed.  When the time is right our villain wields his scalpel and…well you can imagine the rest.

What makes the murder compelling in my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, The Girl in the Glass, is neither the choice of weapon nor the brutality of the crime.  Rather it is the fact that the two young women who are killed are physically identical members of the same family who are murdered in precisely the same way one hundred and eight years apart.  The puzzle for my two detectives, Maggie Savage and Michael McCabe, is why the killer went to such lengths to carry out a near perfect imitation of a murder that happened more than a century earlier. And, of course, to figure out who the hell is he.

DEBS: Here's more about The Girl in the Glass (and isn't that a GREAT cover? So Maine...) which will be published by Harper Collins ebook first imprint Witness Impulse on August 25th but can be pre-ordered at Amazon, et al now.

In June, 1904 the beautiful Aimée Marie Garnier Whitby is violently slain with no witnesses to the crime and no leads. The case is left untouched for decades until June 2012, when Aimée's nearly identical granddaughter falls victim to a copycat murder. Now it's up to the dexterous investigative duo of Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage to bring the killer swiftly to justice - but the key to unearthing the truth about young Veronica Whitby's death may have been buried with her ancestor all those years ago. An atmospheric and spine-tingling thriller from one of today's most exciting voices in crime fiction, THE GIRL IN THE GLASS is a crackling, twisty novel of suspense perfect for any lover of thrills, chills, and tales that keep you up at night.
I am so intrigued by the premise of this novel. And James, I hadn't thought about the Roald Dahl story in years! I loved it, and my daughter loved it. (Are we slightly warped, I wonder? And is it any wonder she grew up to love mysteries?) 

REDS and readers, what's your favorite twisty and complicated method of murder? Tell us in the comments. This is a challenge worthy of our devoted mystery readers!

James will be giving away a e-copy of The Girl in the Glass to a lucky commenter, and he will be dropping in to answer questions and respond to comments during the day.

James Hayman, formerly a creative director at one of New York's largest advertising agencies, is the author of the acclaimed Mike McCabe series: The Cutting, The Chill of Night, and Darkness First.


  1. In one of the strangest murder tales I've read recently, a serial killer is on the loose, abducting victims two by two and stranding them in some out-of-the-way, inescapable place. It is possible to earn freedom, they are promised via text: just use the gun with its one bullet to kill the other person. An inventive twist on the murder plots, to be sure.

    James, I've really enjoyed your Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage stories, so I am looking forward to reading "The Girl in the Glass."

  2. We're so happy to have you here on Jungle Red, James! I remember reading that Dahl short story ... I mean how often do you actually remember the plot of one? The cops eat the evidence -- and the victim is a cop -- how perfect is that? A variant on revenge is a dish best served cold.

    ah yes, the icicle weapon, I remember that one, Gram. In my own books, I favor the mundane: blunt instruments and poison.

  3. I'm not going to go into detail, because of the spoiler potential, but I will say that the crime in Louise Penny's The Long Way Home was particularly shocking to me mainly because we usually think of murder as an immediately solution to a temporary problem. Louise manages to turn that on its head.

    The plot of The Girl in the Glass is very intriguing and I have definitely added this book to my To Be Read pile. This has been said before, but that stack of books could fall over and kill me - talk about a way to go!

    Thanks for stopping by James.

  4. Christopher,

    I haven't read The Long Way Home Left but will add it to MY pile. That being said, the idea of of a victim being put to death by having a large pile (a truck load?) of murder mysteries dumped on his head definitely has a certain appeal. More a Roald Dahl kind of fate than a McCabe/Savage but even so...

  5. Thanks Hallie for the welcome. I too remember the icicle as a weapon. Perhaps the title should be Murder Melts Away or some such.

  6. PD James, The Murder Room. I enjoyed the symmetry of historic murders recreated in a museum.

    It seems that every profession (bookbinding, beer making, blacksmithing) has unique tools of the trade that make wonderful weapons for executing a murder.

  7. "In real life murder tends to be a fairly prosaic if unpleasant affair. Husbands killing wives...."

    I love all things Jungle Red, but I just can't let this pass. There's is nothing remotely prosaic about domestic violence and murder, and "unpleasant" doesn't even begin to cover it.

  8. The Girl in the Glass sounds terrific. I'll be on the lookout for that.

    The icicle, yes. For myself, I'm most proud of using Niagara Falls as a murder weapon. The killer hits the victim over the head to stun then throws her into the rapids.

  9. I am looking forward to The Girl in the Glass, Jim. Great premise and I know it will be peopled with great characters in addition to Maggie and McCabe. I also love both the title and the cover. Good work!

  10. Nice to see your face on Jungle Reds, James - I check out this blog every day. Nice post, and looking forward to this latest installment in your McCabe/Savage series!

  11. Susan D: You're right. Murder in real life is not merely "unpleasant" but horrific. I stand corrected.

    As for beer making? Hmmm. if you had to go drowning in a vat of beer wouldn't be the worst way. I picture myself leaving the world with a goofy smile on my face.

    As for Niagara Falls, it seems some folks go over for fun. Others to do themselves in. In either case the numbers are high. According to Wikipedial (My first source for almost everything these days): "The first recorded person to survive going over the falls was Annie Edson Taylor, who went over the falls in a barrel in 1901. 72 years previously, however, Sam Patch had jumped from a platform adjacent to Goat Island.[1][2]

    An estimated 5,000 bodies were found at the foot of the falls between 1850 and 2011,[3] and an estimated 40 people are killed each year when they are swept over the falls—most of which are suicides."

    Brenda and Chris, thanks for the nice words.

  12. Hey James! Welcome! And you are braver (?) than I…I hate writing the killing people part I am always so sad for the victims, and try to make my main characters realize they're real people, too. I once said to Jonathan--maybe I could just have them be in a coma, and they didn't know they were hurt, and then they wake up? Jonathan said---aren't you writing murder mysteries? There has to be a murder. Fine.

    As for methods:

    I was so disappointed when someone did an article about The Speckled Band,..and how that murder method could not have worked. I mean-I believed it!

  13. A new series to check out--yes! I'd check it out anyway, based on that cover. I do not like snakes. In one of the Deborah Knott mysteries, someone offs an unwanted heir by putting a large, common black snake in the victim's car. The victim, deathly afraid of snakes, panicked when the snake made itself known. Not good to panic on those twisty mountain roads. And if the snake slithers away afterwards, it looks like a straight-forward accident.

    And I can totally buy into the 'spittin' image' idea--my mother was a dead-ringer for her grandmother.

  14. Just added all those books to my TBR, and have a new series to check out. I am so happy to be in company that enjoys the same ghastly stuff I do. Thanks for the giveaway.

  15. Oh how fun...

    Poison seems too easy since I don't have a pufferfish handy.

    I guess I'd go with rubbing peanut sauce on the steering wheel of a car as long as I know the person driving is deathly allergic.

    I also like the idea of staging a scene to look like a murder when it was suicide. Yes, I meant it that way. If you're going to take yourself out, why not get revenge on those who wronged you by getting them locked up?

  16. Hope you both enjoy The Girl in the Glass and the other McCabe/Savage entries. Thanks for the comments and stay tuned for the giveaway.

  17. Jim is a great example of the Mystery of the Maine Crime Fiction Writers. Maine is one of the most crime-free states in the union. Our average murder rate is 22-23 per year; yes, that's for the entire state. Outside of the few "big" cities, people don't bother to lock their houses or cars; if you get far enough into the country, people leave their keys in the truck overnight.

    Yet we have so many crime fiction/ thriller writers! Jim and me, Paul Doiron and Chris Holm, Tess Gerritsen and Doug Preston, Al Lamanada, Lea Waite, Kathy Lynn Emerson, Kate Flora, Jessie Crockett - the list goes on and on (John Connelly lives here part time!)

    Maybe it takes a nice quite place to turn people's thoughts to murder...

  18. Jim, yes. A lot of thrill seekers try to "shoot the falls." Barrels aren't as popular these days. The theory is that you get in a light craft, paddle, and the current (which is already pretty fast) allows you to build up enough momentum that you "shoot" past the lip and land beyond the water. Usually on the Canadian or Horseshoe Falls, because there are fewer rocks and there is a small depression at the bottom to "cushion" your landing.

    It doesn't really work out well. Something about hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per minute landing on your head. Of course, any thrill seeks who survive get another thrill - a trip to jail since it is illegal.

    Then there are the people who stand on the railings over the gorge to get cool pictures.

    And yes, suicides.

    And the boaters who ignore the warning signs on the river (Coast Guard rescues a few of those a summer).

    The possibilities are endless.

  19. Hank, so disappointed to hear that about The Speckled Band! I always thought that was so clever.

    Jim, I'm fascinated by the "spitting image" idea, too. And by the time gap between the murders. Hmmm. I can see I'm going to be reading this book!

    The idea behind your book "The Cutting" is so chillingly plausible. What kind of research did you do? Was the idea triggered by something you read?

  20. I agree: Wonderful cover! I love the premise too -- how the past and present echo each other, and identical-ness (nice "word" there, Lisa), too. This novel is right up my alley.

    James, what inspired the concept/idea for this story?

    Unfortunately, I can't think of anything super clever right this second, but I do remember how I felt when I got to the end of some of Agatha Christie novels. As a thirteen year old, they seemed so genius. Murder on the Orient Express. Ten Little Indians. It's the classic locked-room mystery. I love those, though I don't write them.

    Last year I read a Scandinavian author (can't remember who) whose sadistic killer kept his victims in water tanks with feeding and breathing tubes. For weeks. His depiction of them alive but with skin falling off was so gross I could barely finish the book.

  21. Lisa Abler, that is going to give me nightmares. Ugh. Some things are just too creepy. There's a Peter James novel where you get the victim's viewpoint as he's buried alive. Like Jim, I'm a bit claustrophobic, and I could NOT read that book. Just couldn't make myself do it...

  22. Deb,

    The research for The Cutting was pretty extensive. Mostly talking to heart surgeons including one good friend and college classmate who's a transplant surgeon out in Iowa. When I finished writing he plausibility checked the entire book and said I got it mostly right but did suggest a few minor changes.


    The idea grew out of a conflict I had with myself. On one level I wanted to try a historical mystery. On the other I wanted to keep the McCabe/Savage series going. Having the twin murders take place more than a century apart allowed me to do both.

    As for the keeping the poor victims alive in water till their skin falls off? Yuck. Up there with Hannibal Lechter.

  23. I remember seeing the Dahl story on the Twilight Zone back in the day. Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie to you Dallas fans)played the housewife. Poe wrote a tale about a man drowning in a cask of amontillado. I don't remember the particulars though, but assume he set himself up for that. A more modern ploy is getting the victim to eat something he/she is deathly allergic to: peanuts, shellfish, etc. I just read Catriona McPherson's latest where an arm, a leg, etc are turning up in barrels of pickled herring. Now THAT is gruesome. Glad I don't eat that stuff.

  24. Seriously ugh and yuck. I've forgotten everything about that novel except for that image. Now I'm sorry it popped into my head!

  25. James, The Girl in the Glass sounds like quite the thriller! It is going on my TBR list and my Amazon wish list. I love the idea of the century apart murder with the identical features, from the physical appearance of the victim to the execution of the crime. The Cutting also peaks my interest, with its all too real possibilities. I think I've found another new series to start. Like Kristopher, the danger of death by TBR pile is something I'll just have to risk.

    The Roald Dahl story is a hard one to forget. Of course, I am a huge Roald Dahl fan, leaning toward the bizarre and quirky myself. So many odd and terrible ways to die in stories (and life), but I have always been struck (pun intended) by the inch by inch impending doom of The Pit and the Pendulum by Poe.

  26. Pat, until this very minute I thought I liked pickled herring.

    Thanks Kathy. do hope the TBR pile doesn't bury you alive.