Albert Camus once said ‘murder is terribly exhausting!’ Well, I sympathise with Albert to a certain extent. The amount of planning and artful execution that goes in to even a half-decent murder is to be applauded.
But that’s nothing compared to the amount of work that goes in to planning and executing a half-decent murder novel.
Take my latest book, Death on a Winter’s Day, which is a classic Golden Age murder mystery set in a remote Scottish Castle. First of all there’s the need to plan the actual murder. And here I’m with Albert. The actual murder is… well, murder. Albert must have been speaking from personal experience because it is simply exhausting.
There’s just so much to get right:
- Does my murderer remember to wipe the fingerprints off the murder weapon? Or does he cleverly plant someone else’s fingerprints? (no spoilers!).
- Does he remember to use the servants’ stairs so he doesn’t pass the door of the insomniac countess? Or does he take the main stairs so the countess sees him in order to use her as a false alibi?
And to get wrong:
- Does my murderer make his fatal mistake while actually killing his victim? Or does he trip up later, maybe when he claims his second victim?
- Does my amateur sleuth find a clue at the murder scene overlooked by the bumbling police? Or does she go on her own instincts and misread what she is feeling?
And when writing my latest murder novel, I had, at the beginning anyway, the same problems as Albert. I mean, I assume even though he was apparently quite a philosophical kind of guy, he had no desire to be caught.
And similarly, I had no desire for my novel’s murderer to be caught, certainly not until the end of the book. This entailed the same level of thought as if planning a real murder. Only then it’s not only the authorities breathing down your neck. With a murder novel, you’ve got the reader trying to uncover your murderer before you want them to as well. Talk about pressure!
And for Albert, once the evil deed was done, he’d pretty much finished for the day. Except, perhaps, for disposing of any inconvenient evidence hanging around. In my case, the crime is only the beginning. Now, I have to deal with a raft of police, amateur sleuths, relatives of the victim and suspects all clamouring for page space.
And sure, the murderer has to do the occasional interview with the sleuth or police if he is suspected, but I have to construct a whole series of interviews and re-interviews. And then have the sleuth and police dissect them and come up with a plan of action. Meanwhile, Albert’s taking it easy, feet up, hitting the port and brie.
But it’s not just catching the killer that makes writing a murder novel more hard work than actually committing the deed. From a moral standpoint, the murderer only has to justify his heinous act to himself. Which is where Albert’s philosophical background would have helped him out. Those philosopher johnnies can convince a judge black is white. Or that black was indeed, black, but you should still let him go.
And whether Albert hangs for his crimes or gets away scot free, one way or the other, it’s over for him. For me there’s still the tricky matter of all. The resolution. I need to tie up all the loose ends and supply a satisfying conclusion, yet leave the reader desperate for another instalment. So what do I do?
- Do I let the murderer escape? (A dangerous, but bold, move).
- Do I have the murderer arrested, but the book end on a personal cliffhanger for the main character? (some readers hate books with a cliffhanger ending of any sort).
- Do I simply tie everything up neatly and hope the reader will be sufficiently motivated to buy the next instalment? (It’s much harder than you might think to get someone to act when they are completely satisfied!).
And then comes the really hard part about writing a murder novel. Whereas Albert needs his dark deed to remain unknown, I need my murder novel to become as well-known as possible, which again, is way more work. Nowadays, whether you’re self-published or traditionally published the onus really is on you to make sure your novel has enough exposure.
And there’s one other area where fake murder is more exhausting than the real thing. Unless Albert is a bona fide serial killer, he’s probably happy with just the one murder. Most murderers are. But it’s little use writing one murder novel and hoping to make enough money-or fame-off the back of it. Whether you like it or not, once you’ve committed one literary murder, you need to write another. Nowadays, series are all the rage. So, if you’re in the literary murder game, you need to be a serial killer writer whether you write about serial killers or not!
So Albert was right. Murder is terribly exhausting. I’d swap writing about it for the real thing anyday.
But I’m just too scared I’d get caught.
(c) Verity Bright
About Death on a Winter’s Day:
Christmas at the castle with holly, handmade gifts, snowflakes and… is that a body under the tree? Someone call Lady Swift!
Winter, 1921. Lady Eleanor Swift, amateur sleuth and reluctant lady of the manor, has been invited to spend Christmas in Scotland, at the beautiful castle of her dear friends Baron and Baroness Ashley. Even her favourite companion, master of mischief Gladstone the bulldog, is coming along to share a slice of turkey. As snow begins to fall outside, the rather mismatched group are cozy by the roaring fire, sharing a tipple over a plate of Mrs Trotman’s famous mince pies.
But after what was supposed to be a fun party game, Mr Eugene Randall is found dead at the feast. A somewhat unpopular business associate of the Baron’s from across the pond, it seems Mr Randall has certainly upset somebody. Was it what he said about Scottish whisky?
The killer must be in the castle… and when the Baron is arrested, Baroness Ashley begs Eleanor to investigate. Determined not to let her friend down, Eleanor sets about questioning the remaining partygoers.
All too swiftly, someone else is found dead, having apparently fallen from a high balcony. As if one murder wasn’t enough to put a twist in the tinsel! Eleanor knows she’s skating on thin ice now. And when she discovers a hidden document that points the finger of suspicion at the unlikeliest of suspects, she realises there’s more to the story. Can Eleanor catch the killer before it’s time for Christmas dinner?
The perfect cozy mystery to curl up with this winter! Fans of Agatha Christie, T.E. Kinsey and Lee Strauss are in for a festive treat.
Order your copy online here.