When you read a good thriller, you’re probably trying to figure out whodunit right along with the detective or private eye. But are you overlooking one of the major clues? The way a victim is killed can tell you a lot about the person doing the killing. Find out what the crime fiction murder weapon a murderer chooses says about the villains and serial killers in your favorite mysteries.
Readers love psychological thrillers – and poisoning is about as psychological as it gets. Just think of Dasheill Hammett’s suspenseful short story Fly Paper. When a killer uses poison as a crime fiction murder weapon, you can bet they’re crafty and creative. Poisoning requires a plan with premeditation and a whole lot of patience. The killer in a psychological suspense novel who chooses poison probably shies away from direct confrontation and uses poison to control the world around them – like the frightening criminals who use deadly diseases as weapons in Patricia Cornwall’s Kay Scarpetta series.
Crime fiction is filled with knife-wielding lunatics, and any killer using a knife as a murder weapon is probably extremely angry – and a little crazy, too. Margery Allingham’s Jack Havoc in The Tiger in the Smoke is an excellent case in point. A war veteran who returns home to find his wife moving on with another man, Havoc’s rage comes to a point – literally – as he slashes his way through London with Detective Campion hot on his heels. Stabbing is up-close-and-personal, and it requires a commitment and lack of squeamishness that goes hand in hand with rage and insanity.
Rage is also a common motivation for characters in crime fiction that strangle or bludgeon their victims. Slow and methodical, these methods of murder are extremely violent and give the killers the power of life and death over their victims. Strangling or bludgeoning as murder weapon can reveal a sense of betrayal – as in the case of Charles Dickens’ terrifying Bill Sikes – or can inspire absolute terror, as shown in William Landay’s intense thriller The Stranger, in which the entire city of Boston is paralyzed by the infamous serial killer.
Perhaps the easiest crime fiction murder weapon for criminals to use is the gun. Whether sniping from a distance or killing execution style, guns put one step of distance between a killer and a victim – with the trigger and bullet doing the dirty work. Because of its impersonal nature, a gun might be favored by a crime fiction copycat serial killer – like the one in David Baldacci’s The Sixth Man – or by the mob killers Lou Mason battles in my thriller Motion to Kill.
While the clothes may not make the man, the weapon he chooses certainly does. Next time you read a great thriller, think about what the crime fiction murder weapon says about the villain. You may just solve the mystery before your favorite sleuth!