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: May 27, 2014

On Suspects, Villains, and Masturbation

Six weeks ago, I wrote: “Next week, hopefully, advice from the master in creating the ideal suspect…” Okay, but, things got out of hand. It would take a terabyte of information to explain why and how – the end result is that I have taken in four homeless strangers threatened with eviction.

This is how I found them, behind bars, loo0king for a new home

Four Homless Dogs

So far, they have done an admirable job of keeping process servers from the door. Widgeon’s solicitors in England have finally found some supposedly hotshot Vancouver counsel willing to stifle my right of free expression. I know this guy. Ballentine J. Bingham, Esquire. A loudmouth. Sadly for him, his registered letters and writs of summons don’t make it past the “Premises Protected by Attack Dogs” sign.Anyway, on to my next lesson. From his masterwork, The Art of the Whodunit, here is Widgeon on suspects: “The author must offer an array of suspects, and dress them up with strong motive—or at least clothe them with the proper accoutrements of suspicion.”

There is a certain class of suspects we are admonished to disregard: the servant class. The butler mustn’t do it. Unveiling the valet, the gardener or the cook as the culprit is regarded by post-Agatha modernists like Widgeon as a cheap shot.

“Do not over-embellish your main suspect. The experienced mystery reader, aware that too many fingers of suspicion are pointed at some blackguard, will invariably dismiss him from contention, thus narrowing the field in the great battle of wits between writer and reader.”

In Chapter Seven, “Creating the Credible Villain,” Widgeon warns: “Do not indulge in personal agendas. Avoid the temptation to put the black hat on your obnoxious boss or the civil servant who sniffily told you to come back after lunch. Otherwise, you may end up modelling your villain on a very dreary bloke. Likewise, subjecting those you abhor to cruel deaths may provide a fleeting thrill — but it’s a self-indulgent, masturbatory thrill that’s not shared with the reader.”

Presumably, Widgeon considers masturbation shameful. His amanuensis, the constantly complaining Inspector Grodgins, has a favourite adjective for the dreary blokes he has to put up with: “wanking bureaucrat” and “wanking judge” and “wanking bloody chief constable.” I’d guess the overworked taunt is a kind of Freudian slip of the pen, Widgeon repressing the guilt he feels about his own excessive indulgences in that ancient, stress-relieving sin.

In the next posting we shall explore masturbation under the heading: Techniques for Overcoming Writer’s Block.