There’s nothing either good or bad… by Bill Kirton

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It’s so long since I played Cluedo that I don’t remember all the possible weapons. Poison, rope, probably dagger, maybe gun, and definitely the imaginative lead pipe (which might be a less obvious cause of death if the lead was used as a poison rather than the pipe as a blunt instrument). With respect to the creators of the game, though, they’re all pretty obvious – the sort of thing a murderer would be offered if he went to the local store to get ‘something for the wife’.[1] But, for a crime writer, that store is full of items with even deadlier potential – things such as toothbrushes, vitamins or yoghurt.

To show what I mean, try this. Tomorrow, go through part of the day looking for clues and plots. Set yourself up as a victim. Notice how many ways you could be murdered – not by any grandiose scheming, bombs, terrorist attacks, etc. but by the normal trappings of the way you live. Let’s assume you get up and, to give the day an early freshness, you clean your teeth. Who’s had access to your toothbrush since you last used it? Your partner, obviously, and all the other people living in the house. Oh, and the people you had round for dinner yesterday evening and who may have 'used the facilities'. If somebody put the tiniest drop of that stuff from the castor oil plant – Ricin – on the bristles, it would turn your blood into …

(Cut to commercial break:
… well, for a full account of what would happen to you, if you haven’t already done so, read The Darkness by Bill Kirton
Commercial break ends.)

Next, you maybe pop a vitamin pill or some medication before or after breakfast. Who knows what they are and what contra-indications there are? Again, your partner is the first suspect but no doubt some friends know about it too. The most blatant use of the information would be to tamper with the pills, introduce something nasty which looked like the capsule in question. More subtle, though, would be to find out what reacts badly with them and somehow serve that up to you. (Again, beware the toothbrush.) It’s something that could be done by any visitor to the house, including guys who come to service the boiler, read the gas or electric meters, or try to get you to become a Jehova’s Witness.[2]

Then there’s breakfast itself. Is your routine such that anyone watching you shopping can see that you regularly buy a particular breakfast cereal? If so, you’re making it easy for them to target you with some confidence. And so it goes on through the day. Who knows what foodstuffs you prefer? Or where you shop? Who’s watching your movements in and out of the house? Who has access to your dustbins? And what about all the things in your garden shed that you use without suspecting how they might have been contaminated? Why is there a ladder against your neighbour’s wall? What’s in the box they’ve put out with their garbage? Multiply all these questions by the number of people who have access to the various items and you have a complex set of relationships and too many uncomfortable possibilities.

But, you protest, I’m an ideal husband/wife/partner, a model citizen, a hugely respected and admired pillar of the community. Who on earth would wish me such ill? Why would anyone do such things? Well, your reputation, motives and actions may be impeccable but you’ve no idea how others are interpreting them. Remember Estragon’s observation in Waiting for Godot: ‘People are bloody ignorant apes’.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t go round in a perpetual state of fear but it’s true that, since I started writing crime novels and stories, I’m always seeing openings and inventing motives where before there were just innocent Jehova’s Witnesses and boiler maintenance men.

So try it tomorrow. Stop as you’re doing a familiar thing and ask how it could be used against you, then ask who could do it, then why. Always ask why. Every action has (or can have) reasons and consequences. There are stories waiting everywhere.

[1] An expression which reminds me of one of the late, very lamented Terry Wogan’s quips on his radio 4 show when the police visit a murder suspect and ask to speak to his wife. He replies: ‘She’s in the garden,’ and adds: ‘You’ll need a spade’.
[2]  I like the idea of one well-dressed young man sitting quoting the Bible at you while his companion, who’s asked to use your bathroom, quietly adds a deadly tincture to the open wine bottle in the kitchen.


Umberto Tosi said…
Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean you're not a writer. That goes for me too, although I don't write crime stories much. I do enjoy them however, and happen to be working on a detective opus now - a lifelong fantasy since reading pulp magazines as a kid. Trying anyway. I like your game. I've done it myself, but only in a passing, wary way. It makes sense from an accomplished veteran of the genre like yourself. For me, I'm not so sure, but it is intriguing. I look forward "The Darkness." All the best.
Jan Needle said…
Godammit, Kirton, you've put me off my breakfast. Except I don't eat eat breakfast. Except in hotels, where it's part of the bill and I'm a natural cheapskate. OMG I'm eating out tomorrow with a man who used to be my accountant! He knows where the money's buried! And glory be, you've left the final h off Jehovah TWICE. Significant? You betcha!

I need a little lie-down....
Jan Needle said…
Even more suspiciously, you didn't put a link in your advert for The Darkness. Thus forcing me to go to Amazon on my own initiative and spend many of my preciously hoarded baubees. What if someone's spread novochok on my keyboard, damn you. Aaargh! I die! I die!

And incidentally, not being Scottish, I'm unsure how to spell bawbee. Is it related to that other Glasgow mystery, the bawbag?

God, you're a subtle assassin, Mr K.
Sandra Horn said…
Ah, but the nefarious means you mention have a fatal flaw my dear Watson! They're detectable!
julia jones said…
Aunt Agatha would be proud! Jan's comment prompted me to go check the Jack Carston list 1. Material Evidence 2. Rough Justice 3. The Darkness 4 Shadow Selves 5 Unsafe Acts All of them great reads. Unsafe Acts possibly my fave because of the location (North Sea Oil platform) but are there any others curdling away in your inventive brain, please?
Bill Kirton said…
Umberto, please let us know the moment your roman noir sees the light. I’m confident that you’ll be as devious as any of the Masters, but with added charm.

As for you, Monsieur Néèdlê, did you not foresee that revealing your familiarity with the intricacies of Hebrew consonantal text might draw unwelcome attention to your tendency to ‘kick against the pricks’ – a tendency even more blatantly exemplified by the diversionary tactic of introducing specifically anatomical Scottish linguistic formulations into your critique?

Detectable, yes, Ms Hornmes, but only to those blessed with your refined levels of percipience.

And, speaking of percipience, Ms Jones, there has indeed been curdling of late, but the process has so far produced just 3 chapters and a spill of ingredients that have yet to be folded into the mix.

And thank you, all, for your undeserved attention.

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