The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Blunt Force Trauma

Blunt Force TraumaThe 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.’ 😉


Filed under Agatha Christie, Elzabeth Spann Craig, James Craig, Peter Robinson, Reginald Hill, Vicki Delany

47 responses to “The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Blunt Force Trauma

  1. Ah, yes, my husband and I have started placing bets when we watch detective dramas on TV that the forensic scientists will say: The victim died as a result of a blow to the head by an unidentified blunt object’. Because 9 out of 10 times they do! And I suppose it’s a lot more realistic than the rather elaborate, ritualistic deaths you often get with serial killers.

    • Marina Sofia – I find blunt force trauma to be a very realistic murder method. It doesn’t require any particular background or skills, and lots of different objects can be used as a weapon. The fact is too that must murders are not committed by professional killers. And amateurs have to use what’s near to hand. So it’s little wonder we see that so often in fiction, whether it’s television, film or books.

  2. Skywatcher

    Blunt force trauma is pretty realistic, although it is a pretty grisly method to show on TV. I read the original Sherlock Holmes story THE ABBEY GRANGE, where an aristocrat is found beaten to death, apparently by a burglar. However, it’s one thing to read that, and quite another to actually see it. In the Granada adaption from the 80s we don’t actually see the killer breaking the skull with a single blow, but we do hear a terrible SCRUNCH as it happens.We also see the corpse still twitching after death, which is an extremely nasty touch.

    • Skywatcher – You’re right that blunt force trauma is much more gruesome when depicted on TV or in films than it usually is in books. And honestly, as realistic as blunt force trauma is as a fictional murder method, I prefer not to have all of the gory details portrayed. So I know what you mean about that difference between on-screen and literary depictions of it.

  3. Great topic Margot. It’s interesting, too, how force trauma incidents often involve significant items – the quern from the archeological dig in Murder in Mesopotamia for example.

    But my favourite ever blunt force trauma story is Roald Dahl’s short story Lamb to the Slaughter. A classic!

    • Angela – Thank you – and thank you for giving everyone that link to Lamb to the Slaughter. It is a wonderful little short story and yes, the most creative use of blunt force trauma I’ve ever read. Folks do click on that link if you’re not familiar with the story or, savour it again if you are.
      You’re right too about the use of significant items as blunt force trauma weapons. Hmmm…that’s worth a post in itself I think. I’ll have to turn that one over in my mind a bit I think.

    • I love this story too (and I first read it in school!). It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the title of the post. A great idea well executed – if you’ll excuse the pun.

  4. Peter Reynard

    By the time you are finished with the CFA, I will have to update my list of ways not to die. Blunt force trauma is already there btw. 🙂
    Also, reading about Christie impresses upon me of how much she drew from her own life in writing her books – from her familiarity with poisons and the effects of the war effort on the gentry to her travels with her archeologist husband like in Murder in Mesopotamia.
    And someone named their book The clubbable woman? Oh my.

    • Peter – You’re right about the way Christie tapped her own experiences. She writes with real precision about archaeology, poison and so on and you can see that she knew her stuff. And yes, Hill called his novel A Clubbable Woman. There’s a reason for that.

  5. And then of course, there’s Georgette Heyer who tells you up front how the victim died in her 1938 novel A Blunt Instrument. 🙂 A great topic! and Lamb to the Slaughter is one of my favorite short stories ever.

    • Bev – Right you are about that Georgette Heyer novel. Actually I’m glad you brought that up not just because it’s a terrific example to go with this post, but also because I need to spotlight one of her books. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Margot, you have supplied some good examples of blunt force trauma. Some I have read, some are already in my plans to read. James Craig is new to me.

    Now I am waiting to see, what comes next in your alphabet?

    • Tracy – I hope you’ll like the James Craig if you get the chance to read it. It’s a very good picture among other things of modern London. As to what’s coming next? Well, I could tell you, but then…. 😉

  7. Margot: Are we needing to send a forensic team to the Kinberg home to analyze that blunt instrument and blood splatter? You just wrote a post about a wife and a utility knife. Is there more going on at your home than I believed from your posts? No need to reply tonight if you feel the need to consult your lawyer before responding. I know it is not easy to reach your lawyer Sunday evenings.

  8. Margot: Help me, please. I signed on to be part of Alphabet In Crime Fiction challenge. But am unable to navigate the Mysteries in Paradise website. Can’t figure where to make my contribution, nor can I link anything to my blog. Last week’s letter “A” simply means AWOL in my case. Yours truly, Toe.

    • Toe – I am sorry to hear you’re having trouble linking to the memes. Here is how I did it for this letter. I first copied the link to my blog post. Then I went to The Mysteries in Paradise meme for B. At the bottom of that post there is a place that says ‘Mr. Linky’s Magical Widgets.’ On place where it says ‘Your name,’ I typed in my name. Then I pasted the link to my blog post in the second box where it says ‘Your URL.’ Then I pressed ‘Enter’ and my blog was linked to the meme. To link the meme to my blog, I copied the link to the meme. Then I want back to my blog post. I went into ‘edit’ mode and added the link to the words ‘Crime Fiction Alphabet.’ I hope that helps.

  9. Great letter B Margot – my favourite such ‘instrument’ would be the one in Roald Dahl’s classic black tale, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’

  10. The words ‘Blunt Force trauma’ immediately brought to my mind the Roald short story where the wife makes imaginative use of Lamb. It looks like Blunt Force trauma is closely associated with Lamb to Slaughter to many of us. Now I have to read A Clubbable woman to find the reason why it is called so. Looking forward to your next post!

    • Valli – It’s interesting isn’t it how closely associated that story is with the whole concept of blunt force trauma. And I do recommend A Clubbable Woman. The characters of Dalziel and Pascoe improve I think over time. They evolve and so on. But even this first novel is a good ‘un.

  11. Sometimes, because BFT is a spur of the moment weapon, it’s not viewed as premeditated than say a gun or knife.

    • Clarissa – That’s quite true. When a murder is committed that way there’s a much stronger argument that it was not premeditated than there is if it’s poison or as you say, a gun or some other weapon.

  12. Wasn’t there a story where the victim was killed with a large chunk of frozen mean (sorry, my knowledge of meats doesn’t help me be more accurate), which was then roasted and consumed so the murder weapon was never found? Vaguely remember something like that, and I am pretty certain I could not have dreamt it up.

    Great post, as always. Quick question, though. There was a Sherlock Holmes short where the victim had served in the Army in India (was it Crooked Man)- would that qualify as death by a blunt object- even though it was technically an accident.

    • Natasha – You are absolutely right. That story is Roald Dahl’s wonderful Lamb to the Slaughter. Good memory 🙂 And I think The Crooked Man does indeed qualify, even though as you say, it was an accident and not murder.

  13. kathy d.

    Gosh. What a topic. I better search any guests to make sure no one is hiding a cast-iron frying pan when they visit.
    Wonderful murder weapon: a leg of lamb.
    Glad I’ve given up eating meat, wouldn’t want incriminating evidence around. Hitting someone over the heat with a bag of lentils probably wouldn’t do too much damage!

    • Kathy – LOL! Yes, being a vegetarian certainly limits your ‘weapon options,’ doesn’t it? Of course as you say, there are those frying pans and other implements… 😉

  14. kathy d.

    Correction: I meant hitting someone over the head not heat … which is understood, I guess.

  15. col

    BFT? I’d much rather BLT – bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich please!

  16. On a slight tangent – sometimes when the blunt instrument has been used spedifically on the face, we afficionados are sure there is going to be a problem with ID along the way – of course she’s wearing Mary’s dress, and she has Mary’s flaming red hair, but are we absolutely sure….? I made that one up, but the meme has featured in a lot of books…

  17. kathy d.

    Not a real vegetarian — eat poultry and fish. So, am trying to figure out how a perpetrator could use a rotisseried chicken, turkey leg or bluefish to clonk someone over the head. Not a pretty picture, no matter what type of “weapon” is used.

  18. Fascinating as ever Margot and loving the various methods of dispatch. I have often thought a shard of ice used to stab, and then of course it melts. Trick is not to leave the water behind where it melts. I much prefer the more gentle way of murdering – all the blood and guts of a violent attack with guns, knives and other outlandish weaponry or torture tends to get me skipping past it and back to the story. I guess that is why I enjoy the books I do.

    • Jane – Thank you – And I agree about murder methods. Let’s face it; any form of murder is violent. It just is. But I’ve never been a big fan of really brutal, extended scenes in novels. No need for them. And you’re right about ice; its a very handy little weapon isn’t it?

      • Ah Margot, murder is easy!! But never nice and always violent just because of the nature of the act. But do love the methods most of the older writers came up with. Today it is all big bangs, crashes and explosions, nasty painful ends drawn out to titillate and I prefer subtlety. More devious and clever.

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