William Deverell — Novelist

The official website of William Deverell, Winner of the Dashiell Hammett Award for Literary Excellence in North American Crime Writing

The Blog: April 13, 2014

More Hot Murder Tips

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Well, three weeks have gone by and not one word from the so-called “leading Canadian counsel” whom Horace Widgeon retained to shut down this blog and put me on my beam ends (see posting March 19). I suspect the touchy old scold blanched when he heard the fee. Leading counsel don’t come cheap, even out here in the colonial backwoods. There go all his advances for his next twenty novels.

So I presume I’m free to re-embark on the project I began on this blog a few months ago, before Mr. Widgeon’s untimely intercession, of passing on to budding writers of crime fiction many of his delicious tips and techniques. All for free. No annoying ads. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Facebook.

I can’t remember where I left off, so let’s return to the beginning, the creative process, and again I take delight in gently lifting a quote from The Art of the Whodunit.

“Know where you are going. No mystery writer may successfully embark upon a cruise across the dark waters of murder without knowing the port at which he must ultimately disembark. One plans, one outlines; one builds a skeleton on which to hang flesh.” (This grisly metaphorical combo is, I feel, Widgeon at his finest). Building that outline, he warns, is the novelist’s cruellest task, demanding an outpouring of sweat that separates the women from the girls. But once your skeleton is ready to be fleshed out, the rest is a relative doddle. “After those exhausting labours, nothing refreshes the psyche more fully than tapping CHAPTER ONE onto a blank sheet of foolscap.” (Or, out of respect to the non-Luddites, a screen).

Immediately, Widgeon admonishes, you must create an air of mystery. “Something about this death must engage the reader: the senselessness of it, the apparent lack of motive, the odd choice of modus. Is a blunt instru¬ment too blunt a device? Does not the timeworn bullet to heart or head lack in subtlety when, say, a good old-fashioned strangling is available? Noose! Cleaver! Electric drill! Give in to your imagination, let it run riot through the back alleys of your mind. Poison is always fun, and one should never ignore the possibility of driving the victim to suicide. (See, for example, my 1979 thriller, Bully For You, which had dear old Inspector Grodgins mystified until the very last page!).

Few of Widgeon’s readers, I regret to say, were as mystified, except in trying to puzzle out why Grodgins was wearing only his skivvies and riding boots. I knew it was the dominatrix right from chapter two.

Oops, did it again. Gave away the ending. Now he’s really going to be mad.

Next week, hopefully, advice from the master in creating the ideal suspect…