The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has reached the second stop of this year’s treacherous journey and I’m pleased to say that so far, we’re all safe. Thanks to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for tending to all of our travel details.
Today we’ve reached B’s B & B and as soon as I’ve settled in I’m going to put my hard hat on because my contribution for this stop is blunt force trauma. Not all crime fictional murderers are skilled with guns, have knives, or are strong enough to overpower a victim. But add in a heavy rock, a cricket bat or another such weapon and someone can commit murder with no special background. That’s possibly why so much crime fiction involves blunt force trauma. Here are just a few examples; I’m quite sure you can think of lots more than I could.
In Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, Hercule Poirot is on his way from the Middle East back to London when he is persuaded to change his plans and investigate the murder of Louise Leidner. She and her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, are with a dig team a few hours from Baghdad. Louise herself is not much interested in the actual dig although she’s certainly intelligent enough to follow the team’s progress. Still, all goes more or less smoothly until she starts to see hands tapping at her window and strange faces peeking in. Leidner hires a nurse Amy Leatheran to look after his wife and allay her fears. Soon enough, Leatheran finds out that there are solid reasons for those fears. Louise Leidner was married before, and always believed that her first husband died, shot as a spy after World War I. But she’s been receiving threatening letters that seem to come from her first husband. Now she’s in fear of her life, and her worst fears are realised one afternoon when she is bludgeoned in her bedroom. As Poirot looks into the case, he discovers that Louise was a much more complex person that it seemed on the surface, and that more than one person had a good motive for murder.
Peter Robinson’s A Dedicated Man also deals with a case of blunt force trauma. Harry Steadman is an avid historian and a skilled archaeologist. When he can manage it financially, he and his wife Emma move to Yorkshire where it is Steadman’s goal to excavate the Roman ruins in the area. He’s excited about this possibility and waiting for all the necessary permissions. Then he’s bludgeoned to death one night and his body is found the next morning. DCI Alan Banks and his team begin their investigation. They’re slowly finding out what sort of person Steadman was, who his friends, rivals and so on were and what his life was like when there’s another murder. Now the team has to find out who would have wanted or needed to kill both victims. It turns out that both incidents are related to events in Steadman’s past and to relationships among the people in his life.
There’s also an effective use of blunt force trauma in Reginald Hill’s A Clubbable Woman, the first in his Dalziel and Pascoe series. In that novel, local rugby player Sam Connon takes a beating during a match and comes home with a concussion. He makes his way upstairs and falls into a deep sleep. When he wakes, he discovers that his wife Mary’s been bludgeoned in their own home. Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe investigate the case. The first and most likely suspect is of course Connon himself. He can’t really account for his time and as it turns out he had a motive. But Dalziel isn’t at all sure the case is that simple. So he and Pascoe continue to look into it. They find that matters are indeed a lot more complicated than it seemed on the surface, and that several other people, including members of Connon’s own rugby club, could have killed the victim.
Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets begins with a car accident during which Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth and Ewan Williams’ rented SUV skids on some ice and plunges into the Upper Kootenay River. Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith of the Trafalgar City Police takes the assignment and goes to the scene. When the SUV is pulled out, it’s immediately clear that both young men are dead and everyone thinks at first that both died in the plunge into the river. But forensic results tell a very different story. Wyatt-Yarmouth did indeed die as a result of the accident. But Williams was dead for several hours by the time the SUV went into the river. What’s more, his body shows evidence of blunt force trauma. Now Smith and Sergeant John Winters have to deal with a case of what looks like murder. As they search for answers, they discover that the two young men were lifelong friends. They were part of a group of wealthy young people who had come to the area for a skiing holiday. All of them were staying at the same B & B, so the investigation begins to focus on the young people who stayed there. Little by little, the evidence shows what really happened to Ewan Williams.
Inspector John Carlyle and his assistant Joe Szyskowski face a blunt force trauma murder in James Craig’s Never Apologise, Never Explain. They are called to the scene when Henry Mills discovers the body of his wife Agatha in their home in Russell Square. She’s been bludgeoned and Mills himself is the most likely suspect. He claims that he was asleep when the murder occurred, and that his wife was killed by political enemies. Carlyle and Szyskowski don’t believe Mills’ story at first and he’s arrested. But soon afterwards, Carlyle gets an important clue that Mills was telling the truth. So he and Szyskowski investigate the case more thoroughly. They find that Agatha Mills’ death had everything to do with political history, UK relations with Chile and diplomacy.
And then there’s Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Progressive Dinner Deadly. Retired teacher Myrtle Clover has joined a local book club and is hoping to change the book club’s ‘reading diet’ from just best-sellers to some richer, more enduring books. To her great annoyance, her suggestion soon morphs into an idea to change the club to a progressive dinner club. Members of the club decide to do a group dinner once a month, with the members moving among each other’s houses as the meal progresses. One member hosts appetizers, another hosts main dishes and so on. Myrtle isn’t at all happy about this, being not known for her gourmet cooking. But she grumpily agrees and the first progressive dinner is planned. To everyone’s shock, when the club members arrive at the home of Jill Caulfield, they discover that she has been killed by a blow to the head with a heavy pan. Her husband Cullen is the first suspect, but as Myrtle soon discovers, he’s far from the only one. The victim was a house-cleaner who had a habit of finding out people’s secrets, and that’s not the only motive Myrtle uncovers. Then there’s another death. Now Myrtle tries to find out how the two murders are related.
I know I’ve only mentioned a few examples of the way blunt force trauma is used in crime fiction. There are many, many more and it’s easy to see why. Picking up the nearest heavy object doesn’t require a lot of special skill or background, it does the job, and lots of different items can be used for the purpose. So, yeah, crime fiction is definitely a ‘hard hat area.’