Not long ago, I mentioned the number of fictional crimes that occur at night. There certainly seemed to be a lot of them. The post got me to thinking about when fictional murders actually occur. Do they really happen mostly at night, as it seems?
To answer that question, I decided to look at some data. I chose 200 fictional murders from crime novels that I’ve read (which in itself admittedly limits the data). I divided those murders into five categories based on the time they were committed (with an understanding that in some cases, the time of death isn’t exactly precise). Here’s what I found.
As you can see, 40% of these fictional murders (80) take place in the evening, more or less from about 7:00 pm until about midnight. The data also show that 23% (45) take place late at night, from approximately midnight until approximately 4:00 am. Combine those two findings and you have fully 63% of the fictional murders (125) in this set taking place between the close of the workday and early the next morning.
On the surface of it, it certainly seems as though the evening and night are very dangerous times for fictional characters. And that does make sense, when you think of the cover that darkness provides, and the relative opportunities to be alone with the victim. And although it’s by no means a hard and fast rule, if you’re going to catch your victim unawares, it makes sense to choose a time when she or he might be asleep, might have had a few drinks, or might be under some other influence. That’s in fact what happens in several of the murders I included in this data.
But before assuming that locking the door at night is a guarantee of safety, let’s take another look at this data. As you’ll notice, 22% of these fictional murders (43) occur during afternoon hours (between lunchtime and 6:00 pm or so). Some of these murders occur at the workplace, where the murderer is a colleague or someone else connected with one’s job. And in some areas, especially suburbia, everyone’s at work during the day. So it’s a good time to target an at-home victim, since there’s less likelihood of witnesses.
So when are you safest? When are fictional characters least likely to meet an untimely end? If this data reflect crime fiction in general, it’s morning. Only 7% (15) of the fictional murders I included here are committed between about 5:00 am and 10:00 am. So you can feel free to enjoy that morning paper if you read it, and your tea or coffee. You probably won’t be disturbed. And actually, that finding isn’t particularly surprising, when you think about it. That’s the time of day when many (certainly not all!) people are heading to work, or taking their dogs for a run, or are otherwise out and about. So there are more potential witnesses, something most murderers would like to avoid.
The mid-morning hours (between about 10:00 am and noon or 1:00 pm) are also relatively safe. In this data set, 8% (17) of the fictional murders are committed at this time of day. Again, people are often out and about during those hours. And fictional victims may very well not be in an easily-accessible and private place.
So, what can we conclude from all of this? Those evening and late-night hours can be very dangerous for fictional characters. But if you really think about it and look at this data, there really is no perfectly safe time if a crime writer has marked you…
Have a nice day! ;-)
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper’s In The Midnight Hour.