Monday, 3 March 2014

Nick Green: Murder, he (tried to) wrote


Up till now I’ve mainly written children’s fiction. However, I’m toying with the idea of branching out into something more ‘grown up’. My new work in progress is a crime novella, a murder mystery.  I thought, how hard can it be? As it turns out, very hard indeed. These murder scenarios are tricky things to get right. I’ve been piecing together a tentative plot that I think works okay, though I occasionally have doubts about it.

Because of these doubts, I’m taking the unusual step of farming it out for feedback before I write the whole thing. Maybe all you beta-readers out there can help me get it right. I’ll be changing all the names and the setting, so there’s no need to worry about spoilers.

Here goes. This is the basic scenario, as it stands:

The story is based around a murder that takes place in a house in Pimlico, shared by young professional women. On the fateful night, three of the housemates are out and Annabel is at home with Richard, her boyfriend of two weeks. Also here, for some reason, is another man named Guy. They don’t actually know him, he’s just a local layabout and cannabis dealer, but bizarrely the lovebirds have invited him to stay, instead of keeping this precious time to themselves (I’m hoping to justify this somehow through the back story).

The evening passes amicably with them smoking, chatting and listening to music, until another housemate, Megan, comes home. She goes to the bathroom and comes out in a mood, because someone hasn’t flushed the toilet. Annabel tells her to lighten up, at which point Megan starts yelling at her.  She’s been annoyed for weeks about Annabel not cleaning the bathroom properly.

This is the point at which I think I need help.

In my current version, Annabel snaps. She reaches into her handbag and pulls a knife on Megan. And it’s not just any knife. It’s a huge vegetable knife from the kitchen drawer in Richard’s flat, which she just happened to be carrying around loose in her handbag, for some reason (I promise to work on this part). She threatens Megan, who retreats to her bedroom in fright.

But Annabel chases her in there – and here’s where things get really shaky. You see, in my plot outline, Annabel murders Megan with the knife. But then I thought, isn’t that an over-reaction? And wouldn’t Richard try to stop his new girlfriend from doing this terrible thing? Unless they’re both totally psychotic, and he’s so smitten with Annabel that he wants to help! So he goes into the bedroom too, and he holds Megan’s arms so that Annabel can kill her more easily. Yes, that could work. As for Guy, the mysterious interloper, he just kind of goes along with it. (Note: I’m aware that Guy, as a character, doesn’t seem to serve much purpose in this scenario. I probably need to work out what he’s doing here.)

So anyway, I think it goes… Guy helps Richard hold Megan still, while Annabel stabs her. Something like that. She kills her housemate for yelling at her. (I’m going to have to change Annabel’s back story, to give her a history of violence and severe psychopathy, because her current characterisation describes a balanced, bright, ambitious and caring young woman).

That’ll do for now. With the murder committed, Guy wanders off somewhere (working on that bit) and Annabel and Richard are left contemplating the grisly scene. Both are covered in blood, and Annabel’s fingerprints are all over the knife. Now they must dispose of all their clothes and change (oops, just realised, Annabel needs to change first, then pop over to Richard’s flat to get him clean clothes, then come back). They also clean up as best they can. Somehow, by a fluke, they manage to remove their traces from Megan’s room while leaving most of Guy’s. (I may have to count on Willing Suspension of Disbelief.)

The two then return to Richard’s flat – only to realise, on arrival, that Annabel is still carrying the knife. How careless of her. They should have got rid of it along with their bloody clothes. But it is quite a good knife for cutting veg, so they just wash it and put it back in the drawer from which it came. No-one will ever find it there.

The two of them set to work on getting their story straight.  They agree to say they were at Richard’s flat the whole evening. But Richard frets about what will happen if the police ever do suspect them.

‘Simple!’ says Annabel. ‘I’ll say someone else did it.’
‘You mean Guy?’ says Richard. ‘Of course! He’s a known criminal with a history of violence, and his footprints and hand prints and DNA are all over Megan’s room.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Annabel chides him. ‘That’s too obvious. I’ll say it was my boss.’
Richard just looks at her.
‘Yeah, my boss Peter,’ Annabel elaborates. ‘He runs a restaurant, so he almost certainly has an alibi for tonight, but that doesn’t matter. I’ll pretend to crack under relentless questioning and say my boss came round and killed her.’
‘Why him?’ Richard demands.
‘Why not him?’ says Annabel. ‘Haven’t you guessed yet? I’m crazy.’
‘Clearly you are,’ Richard nods. ‘But never mind. I still love you and I’ll stick by your story come what may. Hey, maybe I’m crazy too.’

And so they go to bed until morning, then return and pretend to discover the murder scene.

What do you think? That’s my plot, more or less. I’ll admit I’ve got misgivings. I don’t think it’s my best. I sense that there are logical flaws, big ones, possibly very big. Sometimes it strikes me as ludicrously improbable, even unbelievable. I worry that it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. In fact I’m sorely tempted to trash the whole thing and just have Guy break in and do the murder alone.

Nevertheless, what you see above is the same basic plot that the jury accepted when they reconvicted Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito of the murder of Meredith Kercher in Italy. So maybe it does work.

Hey – it’s only fiction.

Nick Green

For the real story, head over to www.injusticeinperugia.org


Afterword:
In the tragic saga of Meredith Kercher’s murder and its aftermath, no-one has suffered as much as Meredith herself or her bereaved family. This can never be said too often. But as long as Raffaele and Amanda remain wrongly accused of her death, the tragedy only deepens day by day.

12 comments:

Susan Price said...

I agree, Nick. I feel desperately sorry for Meredith Kercher's family, and everything they've gone through, and are still going through - but find it impossible to believe the prosecution case against Knox for a moment.

JO said...

I feel sorriest for Meredith Kercher's family - this has gone on and on for them.

You've forgotten the bit where Annabel has a wealthy family who understand how the media works and makes sure there are plenty of photos of her looking miserable.

There's something about the whole thing that simply doesn't make sense - and I wonder if we'll ever know the whole story.

Lee said...

Nick, you'll have to do better. People will believe any manner of improbabilities - even impossibilities - in the real world. Readers are a lot more sceptical when it comes to fiction. (Just read some of the comments at The Guardian, for example.)

;-)

Susan Price said...

Jo - yes, it's true that 'Annabel' has a wealthy family who step in to safeguard her interests - but the media were gleefully ready to spread photos of her without much encouragement (A woman! Accused of murder!) - and provided plenty of coverage slanted against her, portraying her as conniving, sluttish and evil as well as miserable.
And neither her family's assistance nor the media coverage (of either slant) make up for the weakness of the prosecution case. Such as a piece of 'vital' evidence discovered at the crime scene, but weeks after the initial examination - where had it been until then?

julia jones said...

Can't really comment Nick. I think most murder plots look pretty unlikely when you look at them bare. On the other hand it all depends how convincing you are when you write it up. Oddly enough I was thinking slightly along the same lines - trying a murder mystery for a change but I discover that I really dislike writing about killing no matter how willingly I read it. So I think if you are ENJOYING this writing challenge you should go ahead, if not, not.

Nick Green said...

Hi Julia,
Don't worry - I'm not really writing a murder mystery. That was just my roundabout way of trying to make a point... :-)

Lydia Bennet said...

yes it's a very messy 'plot' but murder in real life often is -unlike plots in murder novels. I was reading how dna, street cameras etc have made crime writing so difficult now as everyone up to no good can be immediately detected, yet in real life, are all murders solved? I think not.

Lee said...

Lydia, that's one reason why I prefer fiction to be a bit messy (not as messy as my own, admittedly). McEwan's Amsterdam, for example, has always irritated me exceedingly.

julia jones said...

Silly me! My brothers, sons, partner spend their lives suckering me in and here I go again, heigh-ho But you MIGHT have been playing with a change of genre Nick ... and I really was.

Lydia Bennet said...

in a real life case of a kind of folie a deux, two very bright young men decided to commit the perfect murder cos they were so clever they'd never be caught. they murdered some poor soul just for that reason - and one of them left his spectacles on the corpse. see also the 'heavenly creatures' who horribly murdered the mother of one of them because they feared being split up by one of them moving away - truly brutal and dreadful premeditated killing, yet they clearly didn't properly think ahead to what would happen once she was dead. people do stupid things. you can't assume they'd only do logical things. not commenting on this particular case but in general, it's not a good argument to say 'well somebody wouldn't... it doesn't make sense'... people who brutalise their children until they die, clearly don't think ahead to what happens when the child is dead - they get caught.

Susan Price said...

That people will commit brutal, stupid murders, I don't doubt. There are no lack of cases to demonstrate that. It's also quite easy to find cases that show that many of these stupid, brutal acts are committed with little forethought, and a conviction on the part of the guilty that they are far too clever to be caught, or are somehow untouchable ('psychopathic immunity.')

Investigation, backed up by good forensics, quite often catches them out.

What makes the Kercher/Knox case so tragic is that a girl was murdered, and the forensic examination of the scene was inept and compromised;and the police investigation seems to have been prejudiced from the start.

That a young woman COULD be callous and stupid (in the sense of unempathic) enough to commit a vicious murder for fun, I don't doubt - for example, see the other case in the UK news at the moment.

It's the bungled investigation which makes me doubt Knox's guilt in this case. - "Oops! Here's a bra clasp, with just the DNA we want to find on it, only we didn't find it for four weeks. What silly doughnuts we are, to miss it lying on the floor of the crime scene - but never mind, we can enter it into evidence now we have found it..." This one piece of 'evidence' alone makes the whole case fall.
Meredith Kercher deserved much better.

Nick Green said...

As a final comment: I would just urge anyone who still has doubts over Knox's and Sollecito's innocence, or who holds the view "We'll probably never know what really happened," simply to read the analyses on the Injustice In Perugia site.

There you will find the true facts of the case - facts which not even the prosecution dispute - and if you do not end up shocked to the core by how the injustice has been allowed to drag on, I will be surprised. You will see there in black and white why it is simply impossible for those two people to have played any part in that crime.

Right, crusade over. Back to the funny stuff next month, I promise.