Researching Murder and Mayhem

posted by Kassandra Lamb~on behalf of the whole gang

We mystery writers often wonder why the police or the FBI haven’t come knocking on our doors. If they were monitoring our research on the worldwide web, they certainly would be.

When you write about murder and mayhem, you end up googling some very strange things at times. We thought it would be fun to share some of our researching exploits with you all.

First up is our newest edition to the misterio press family, Vinnie Hansen, whose Art, Wine and Bullets was recently re-released under our imprint. Take it away, Vinnie:

I knew from the outset that the victim in Art, Wine & Bullets would be throttled. This sent me out to research garrotes.

Did you know there are two types? Yup, cutting and choking. Cutting sounded too messy even for my black sensibilities.

A person can fashion a garrote with any number of handy items: wire, fishing line, computer cables, or piano wire.

I opened my piano and gave the strings a fresh look.

Guitar strings peaked my interest. I play my keyboard with a couple of ukulele groups. I tried to broach the topic with my ukulele friends without scaring them, but that led to puzzlement. Did I play an ukulele? Did I want strings for a soprano, tenor or baritone ukulele?

Vinnie playing her keyboard with ukulele band.

Vinnie rockin’ it with her ukulele posse (All in Good Time Orchestra, with guest appearance by Tammi Brown)

 Finally, at a music store, I got down to it, “Which string would be best for killing someone?”

I ended up purchasing a black nylon guitar G-string. I played with it around my neck, wondering how a person warmed up to autoerotic asphyxia.

Art, Wine & Bullets also, of course, includes bullets–.38’s to be exact. That research required shooting a Smith and Wesson. But that’s another topic.
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Paranormal mystery writer Kirsten Weiss is certainly no stranger to strangeness. Here’s one of her recent research experiences as she was writing book 6 in her series, The Hoodoo Detective, set in New Orleans (to be released soon).

Sometimes, research has an intuitive, luck-driven feel, with the right facts turning up at the right moments.

Last month, an acquaintance gifted me a skeleton key. I showed it to another friend, and she told me the keys were often used in magical rituals.

As a paranormal mystery writer, that was the sort of lead I felt compelled to follow. I’m always seeking magical inspiration for my Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mystery novels.

A quick spin on the interwebs informed me the skeleton key is associated with Hecate, a Greek goddess with a connection to my heroine. Even better, it’s also used in hoodoo, the subject of my next Riga Hayworth mystery. Eureka!

Magically, the skeleton key represents unlocking opportunities and removing obstacles. The gift of the skeleton key unlocked my work in progress, simply because I bothered to do a little research.

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K.B. Owen is our resident history buff. She writes historical cozies set at a women’s college in the late nineteenth century (Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits). It’s a good thing she loves research because she sure has to do a lot of it.

In the course of my early research into what life was like at women’s colleges of the 1890s, I found out that the game of basketball was quite popular with the young ladies.

Wow…really? You know I had to learn more (and use it in my series)! Here’s a quick overview:

Dr. Naismith, holding a ball and a farm basket.

Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball (photo from Wikimedia CC licensed)

Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Massachusetts.

In 1892, Senda Berenson Abbott started the first women’s basketball program at Smith College, making modifications to the rules for women’s play.

Women’s rules divided the court into zones, with two players from each team limited to each zone.

Dribbling more than three times was forbidden, as was blocking, stealing the ball from another player, or holding the ball for more than three seconds.

The women’s rules created a game that was slower-moving and more stationary, and therefore would not tax a woman’s “delicate system.” However, the nature of the activity still necessitated shortened skirts, bloomers and stockings, which was considered rather scandalous. In fact, male spectators were barred at Smith.

Smith College Class of 1902 basketball team (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Smith College Class of 1902 basketball team (photo from Wikimedia CC licensed)

By 1895, the game had spread to colleges across the country, including Wellesley, Vassar, and Bryn Mawr. The first women’s intercollegiate game was played on April 4, 1896, Stanford vs. Berkeley. Stanford won.

Even as women avidly embraced the sport, a backlash was growing against it. The biggest problem was that the inherently aggressive nature of competition clashed with notions of “ladylike” behavior. If a lady lost her self-control in the heat of competition, what would be the unseemly result?

We seem to have survived it. 😉
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As for me, I’ve researched my share of oddities while writing the Kate Huntington series, but the oddest yet was a recent search I conducted for my work in progress, Fatal Forty-eight (due out this fall).

For this novel, I needed to know how one goes about building a secret room in one’s house–one sufficiently hidden that even a search by trained law enforcement officers wouldn’t find it.

A secret corridor leading to a hidden room

A secret corridor leading to a hidden room (photo by Kecko from Switzerland CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia)

Several sources suggested that it was easiest to build a secret room off of a bedroom. This fit perfectly with my story since the kidnapped inhabitant of the room would need a bed, and a bathroom.

Walk-in closets make great secret rooms, I discovered, but that would be too small for my purposes. Building a wall to divide the master bedroom (with the master bath on the secret side) would work, however.

Now how to hide the entrance to the room? I discovered on WikiHow that the do-it-yourselfer could build a bookshelf door in six easy steps.

But another article indicated that a mechanical engineer should be consulted to build a hidden room properly. Since my bad guy wouldn’t want to have any witnesses to where his hidden door is nor how it works, I decided he would just have to be an engineer himself.

I was expecting the reality of secret rooms to be different than in the movies, but as it turns out, Hollywood got this one right.

If you have the budget for it, a custom secret entryway can be created specifically for your secret room…The door is actually a high-tech machine that can be controlled by a wireless transmitter hidden inside a book, sculpture or other object that opens the door when tilted or moved, just like you would see in a movie. The entryway is shipped to the location in its own frame that is designed to fit precisely in the space for which it was created. ~ from How to Put Secret Rooms in Bedrooms, by Michelle Radcliff, Demand Media

The hidden doors are often triggered by moving an object. Excellent! That worked perfectly for my story.

How about you? What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever plugged into that Google search box?

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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6 thoughts on “Researching Murder and Mayhem

  1. K.B. Owen

    Vinnie, I’m loving that pic of you rocking it out! Kirsten, I had no idea keys could be so…creepy (of course, when you call them “skeleton keys” it gives them a jump start, LOL).

    Kass, I totally want a secret room now! 😉

    Reply
  2. Kassandra Lamb Post author

    I had great fun putting this post together. Thanks for your input, ladies!

    And I was shocked at how easy building a secret room sounded. Something tells me it’s a little harder in reality. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Shannon Esposito

    Gotta love the internet! Seriously, though, I was researching how to kill someone with legal poisons the other day and wonder how many of us writers are on some government watch list.

    Reply
  4. Kassandra Lamb

    I hear ya, Shannon. I hope none of our spouses suddenly die from unexplained causes. That would be a double tragedy when the police take a look at our search histories online. lol

    Reply

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