I’m Gonna Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour*

Time of DeathNot 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.


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28 responses to “I’m Gonna Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour*

  1. As a semi-nocturnal person this worries me greatly! It would appear that I’m asleep during most of the safe times and awake when it’s really dangerous! That means I must almost certainly be a potential victim. Hmm… or perhaps a potential murderer. Bwahaha!!

    • 😆 Well, you needn’t worry on my account, FictionFan. I’d never consider putting a blog-friend in peril, even in a story. I do find myself intrigued by your idea of yourself as a murderer though. Hmmm…perhaps I’ll contact you and we can work out a likely scenario… 😉

  2. Well I’m going to make sure I keep on the good side of you two! 😉

  3. This post makes me wonder how much weather affects the killer’s resolve. I would suspect there are very few murders any time of the day when a good arctic freeze sets in.

    • That’s a very good point, Pat. I’m sure that weather plays a big part in when and where murders occur, and how many there are. In fact, I ought to look at some data on that…

  4. So, the safest time for me to go for a run is still early morning! Not something a “not a morning person” wants to hear!
    Wonderful post- I really admire how you keep thinking of new things to enthrall us with.

    • Thank you, Natasha! And yes, you are still safest going for your run in the morning. And even though that’s not the best news for someone who’s not a morning person, at least you can finish your run before it gets too hot. Perhaps that’s at least some small consolation for having to get up early..

  5. Hmmm, the key must be to commit the crime when there are few potential witnesses around. So evening would seem to be the worst time, as every house burglar knows. Either night time or morning, when everyone has gone off to work/school and only busybodies such as myself and Miss Marple are left behind to twitch those lace curtains…

    • Marina Sofia – You’re absolutely right; the whole point is to have as few potential witnesses around as possible. For burglars, or for people who want to stash a body, you’re right that morning is a good time. And of course, it would be ideal to pick the few moments when folks like you and Miss Marple are getting that second cup of tea or something, and temporarily away from the window. In fact, you’re reminding me of Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, where a busybody provides an important clue about a daytime murder.

  6. Kathy D.

    It makes sense that nearly 2/3 of murders are committed in evening or night hours when it’s dark outside. The perpetrator can be in and out of a murder scene hidden under cover of darkness. Even if witnesses see people, they can’t as easily distinguish who is who when it’s dark.
    This is a bummer for me. I’m a night owl, but also I get chocolate cravings at night, not in the daytime! And I have to go outside and satisfy those cravings, which invariably happen around 10 or 11 at night. Luckily, I live in a big city with stores within 50 feet — not necessarily great for trying to maintain a healthy regimen — so I just scoot down the block and back in 10 minutes.
    This is the scientific method which the Great Detective Holmes would have
    lauded with pie chart and all.

    • Thank you, Kathy. I’m flattered to think that Holmes would approve. And you’re right that it’s harder to see things at night. So even if there is a witness to a murder or other crime, that person wouldn’t see as much and likely wouldn’t be able to make an identification. You’re lucky you live in a 24-hour place, where you don’t have to walk down a deserted road or something to feed your chocolate need. And after all, chocolate is an essential food group.

  7. Col

    I’d be interested to know how you culled the data for the post from your reads. I’d struggle to remember what I read last month…amazing!

    • What I often do, Col, is look back over books I’ve spotlighted first, since that list is easy to hand. Then I go on to other books on my shelves, etc.. That usually gets me pointed in the right direction. And besides, not a lot else going on in my brain, so plenty of storage space there for crime fiction facts.

  8. It would be interesting to look at actual murder stats and when they are committed. It suits us writers to put dark crimes in darkness for poetic and practical reasons but what about the real thing. Are murderers artists? Or…

    • I think that would be really interesting too, Jan. As you say, we writers can create the worlds we want for our purposes. But real murderers and real crimes may be quite different. Thank you for the ‘food for thought.’

  9. And mark them we will! Love your pie charts, Margot. I am absolutely blown away that you can remember 200 crime novels so vividly that not only do you remember the story but what time the murder occurred. Incredible!

    • Yes, we will indeed, Sue! Thank you so much for the kind words, and I”m glad you liked the post. What can I say? Not a lot else rattling round in my brain, so there’s plenty of ‘crime fiction storage space.’

  10. Love it, Margot, what an interesting study of fictional murder. I wonder if that’s really when murders are likely to happen or if it’s just the perception of the authors!

    • Thank you, D.S.! And you raise a fascinating and important question. How close to reality is the author’s perception. That’s worthy of a lot os study in and of itself.

  11. This is quite worrying as you haven’t included whether those victims were reckless at the wrong time and wandering about out of the safety of their locked doors or whether the murderer got in anyway – either way I’m glad I’m a real person and not a fictional character. Fascinating as always, as you know I do like some good data analysis.

    • Thank you, Cleo. And you’re absolutely right that it makes a difference whether the victim behaves recklessly, is deliberately targeted, or becomes a casualty in some other way. That’s good ‘food for thought,’ for which thanks.

  12. Kathy D.

    Well, it might be good to compare back to a study of where murders were committed. I imagine a lot of bodies are dumped elsewhere, as in woods, rivers, lakes, buried somewhere, burned. Murderers can move bodies at night more easily than during daylight.
    But on city streets, often a body is left somewhere, in a dumpster or in an alley or among garbage, as awful as that sounds.
    But also I love In the Midnight Hour, an oldie but goodie I will rehear.

    • That is a great song, isn’t it, Kathy? And you’re right of course that it’s much easier to move or dump a body at night than during the day. And the way (and place) a body is left depends on where the murder occurred. It’d be interesting indeed to see how time of murder aligns with place.

  13. I enjoyed the discussion nearly as much as the post! It’s a wonder we’ve all survived this long, frankly.

  14. This is very interesting. It makes a person feel relatively safe during morning to mid-afternoon.

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