Could I commit the perfect murder? Well, yes, my dear, since you ask, I think that, very possibly, I could.
The words of P.D. James. These words have, in fact, been the inspiration for this site for over a year. My search for the perfect murder is actually an exploration of the genre, and of its many offshoots. However, at its heart lies a deep-rooted fascination with what drives someone to take the life of another. We can all have murderous intent and we’ve all at one time or another experienced the red mist. But it is one thing to vent, to rage and to wish bloody murder on another, and an entirely different thing to actually do something about these feelings. Today I’d like to explore what happens when thought turns to deed. Today I’d like to examine one of the most crucial components of the act of murder. The weapon.
I’ve been accused by readers of this site of glorifying and celebrating murder. By others, I’ve been asked to delve more into the act itself, and to write about what happens when one person, fictitious I hope, kills another. I’ve said before that a murderer takes the one thing he or she is unable to give, life itself. However, when that happens I am intrigued as to how it occurs. I am not an expert but I’d wager that the majority of murders are either a) spur of the moment, b) committed by a family member, friend or acquaintance of the victim or c) both. If this is true then it has a large bearing on the weapon itself. A spur of the moment rush-of-blood-to-the-head style defence is hard to land if you have used a weapon that you brought to the crime scene with you. This then divides the murderer’s weapon of choice into two camps. Weapons that are to hand in the spur of the moment, and those that are brought to the scene, and please before you write in I am talking as a writer, not a murderer.
As a writer the two types of murder present different challenges and of course opportunities. The rush of blood killing is often the most gruesome as it involves any object that may be nearby. This object can be blunt, sharp, rusty, whatever is needed by the murderer to inflict the fatal blow. Rarely pretty, always messy. The location is important too. In a rush of blood killing the victim is typically known to the murderer, in which case let’s assume the pair are a couple, at least until the deed is done. For one half of the pair to be driven to murder we need an argument, probably in the home. But where in the home? Well, where do the majority of arguments take place? I’d go for the bedroom, or better still the bathroom. Bathrooms are always better, harder edges, more porcelain and, let’s be frank, more razors.
The premeditated murder is different. It presents a different set of rules. In the spur of the moment, a murderer will have to make do with the nearest objet. With planning, well with planning all kinds of opportunities present themselves. This is where the creative mind of the writer comes into its own. With planning, I think it would be relatively easy to think of a way for one character to kill another which isn’t immediately obvious in terms of the fatal blow. Agatha Christie was a genius when it came to this and I’d offer Mrs McGinty’s Dead (1952) as an example of a rather random murder weapon, a sugar hammer. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of the poisoned stamp. How clever that is unless of course, the victim dies before posting the letter or postcard, in which case the evidence is lying in plain sight of the detective. Then there is the victim with an allergy, preferably one serious enough to induce death if not treated quickly. Or you could be really clever and attempt to treat the allergy with a poisoned injection thus creating the illusion of assistance. As a writer, you’d need to be sure that the forensics didn’t trip you up though. Some weapons only work if they can fool the scientists for long enough.
Sticking with poison and allergies, writers have delved deep into the natural world for inspiration. Insects have been deployed as winged harbingers of death, To Fear a Painted Devil (1965) by Ruth Rendell is a good example, and the genre is also full of murderous snakes, The Adventure of the Speckled Band (1892) by Arthur Conan Doyle is another. Then you drift into the realms of all things weird and wonderful (if of course, you accept that what I have already mentioned is entirely plausible). Rex Stout uses both a snake and a deadly golf club in Fer-de-Lance (1934), Agatha Christie uses a tennis racket where the handle is actually a fireplace fender in Towards Zero (1944) and of course…well look I could go on and on as there really are so many examples of crime fiction books where the murder weapon has become synonymous with both the writer and the story.
There is one murder weapon, however, which wins hands down. In fact, it is from my favourite crime fiction short story and comes from an unlikely source, the pen of Roald Dahl. If you haven’t read Lamb to the Slaughter (1953) you are in for a treat. It has been made into a television programme on several occasions, the first of which was by Alfred Hitchcock, and the story remains a favourite with student filmmakers (if you are interested, YouTube is your friend). Here, giving nothing away is the last line.
‘Personally, I think it’s right here on the premises.’ ‘Probably right under our very noses. What you think, Jack?’ And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.
I urge you to read it. It has death, black comedy, and the very best murder weapon of all time. For me, that’s the perfect murder. Roald Dahl…who knew?