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