In Janice MacDonald’s The Eye of the Beholder (the 7th in her Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig series), Randy and her police-officer partner, Steve Browning, marry. It’s winter, so Randy and Steve are among large numbers of Western Canadians (they are based in Edmonton) who take off for warmer climates. Their honeymoon destination, Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, is beautiful, but the newly-married bliss is soon interrupted. The body of University of Alberta student Kristen Perry has been discovered on the beach. At first, it looks as though she was simply suntanning. But it turns out that her body was deliberately posed. Since the victim was Canadian, Steve is asked to help with the investigation. Kristen didn’t really have any local connections, so he concentrates on her life in Alberta. She was studying art, so Randy uses her connections to the university’s Art Department (she is a sessional lecturer at the university) to get to know more about Kristen. In the end, we learn what the connection is between Kristen’s art background, and the way the body was posed.
In that novel, the pose of the body and the things around it are a clear clue and message. We see that in other crime fiction, too. In several novels and stories, murder scenes are contrived, or at least posed. Sometimes it’s to send a message. Other times it’s to misdirect. Either way, the position of a body can tell a lot about a crime.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours), Harley Street Specialist Dr. John Christow is shot one Sunday during a visit to Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. Hercule Poirot has taken a cottage nearby and is invited for lunch. When he arrives, he sees what looks like a macabre tableau arranged for his ‘amusement.’ There’s Christow’s body, there’s the murderer holding the weapon, and it all looks, in a way, artificial. But it turns out that this murder is all too real. Poirot works with Inspector Grange to find out who killed Christow and why. Along the way, we find out why the murder scene was arranged as it was.
One of the plot threads in James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential involves the murder of Sid Hudgens, chief writer for Hush Hush magazine. He’s had a secret deal with LAPD officer Jack Vincennes; he gets ‘inside dirt’ from Vincennes in exchange for a ‘consideration.’ So, when he is killed, Vincennes has a personal interest in finding the killer. Hudgens’ body, and markings on it, are posed in a way that resembles a cache of pornography that the police have discovered. That connection proves to be crucial in solving the murders of six patrons at the Nite Owl, an all-night diner.
In one plot thread of Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway, Los Angeles Navajo Albert Gorman travels to the Big Reservation. He’s later found dead not far from the property of a kinsman named Ashie Begay, and Jim Chee, of the Navajo Tribal Police (now the Navajo Nation Police) investigates. Gorman’s body has been prepared for burial in the traditional Navajo way, but Chee notices that it hasn’t been done correctly. To him, that means that Begay, who is an observant, traditional Navajo, probably wasn’t responsible. Chee slowly finds out more about Gorman, and learns what the connection is between him and a Los Angeles auto-theft ring. And in the end, he links that death to the disappearance of another of Gorman’s kin.
In P.D. Martin’s Fan Mail, best-selling novelist Loretta Black pays a visit to the FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit to do background research. There, she meets FBI profiler Sophie Anderson. Soon afterwards, Anderson takes a field position in Los Angeles. That’s where she learns that Loretta Black has been murdered in an eerie imitation of the murder in her latest novel. Then, another novelist is killed, also in an imitation of a murder in that writer’s work. And another disappears. Now, Anderson has to work with the LAPD to find out who has targeted these novelists and why.
And then there’s Anna Jaquieri’s The Lying Down Room. In it, Commandant Serge Morel of the Paris Police is called to the scene of a murder. The body of Isabelle Dufour has been discovered in her bed. Post-mortem findings reveal that she was drowned before she died, and placed in her bed, with extra makeup and a red wig. Then, another woman, Elisabeth Guillou,is also found dead, posed in the same way as the first victim. The two women didn’t know each other, didn’t live near each other, and had little in common other than their gender. So, it’s hard for Morel and his time to link the deaths. But he is convinced that they are connected. Once he learns what the connection is, he is able to begin the process of finding the killer and the motive.
There are a number of reasons why a body might be posed or dressed in a certain way. It might be a message, or it might be done to misdirect. Or, it might have to do with the motive. Whatever the reason, it can add to the tension and the mystery in a novel.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Albert “Al” Hamilton, Eugene Hamilton (under the pseudonym of Ronnie Savoy), and Ed Wingate’s The Whole World is a Stage.