Tools of the Trade

Gerry here with some thoughts on death and dying.

No, not dwelling on mortality. It’s just inevitable that in the crime-writing process at some point you have to decide how they die. This has been the case since Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, and Col. Mustard in the study with a candlestick. I have to say that as a character writer, the killing part has never been a favorite for me. I once wrote an entire murder mystery (Borderline 1998) and then realized there hadn’t been a murder. I mean, there were close calls but every character survived. Readers didn’t seem to notice, much less call for blood.

But of late I’ve been writing a book where characters aren’t so lucky. And I’ve been weighing just what weapons will be wielded. I’ve thought about guns. Plenty of those in the book but someone being shot? Boring.

So I’ve been mulling weapons. Once you start doing this, you look at everything differently. In fact, once you start it’s hard to stop. A butcher knife? I heft the big one around the kitchen until my wife asks what on earth I’m doing. And takes a step back. Ditto for filet knives, serrated bread knives, paring knives used to peel apples. Short little jabbers, those paring knives, good for close range!

Tonight I was out in the barn, looking for a wrench. Well, one thing led to another. Before I knew it I had amassed an arsenal, enough weapons to go to war. In a Braveheart sort of way.

Pointy awls. Razor-sharp box knives. A nasty Sawzall power saw. A pole saw (a small chain saw at the end of a long pole). The whole garden shed, from pitchforks to shovels. Hatchets and splitting mauls. A four-foot solid iron bar (taking no prisoners with that baby). Pruning saws and pipe  wrenches. A 12-gauge flare gun from the boat (my son and I have tried shooting that one horizontally in the back field. It was like our own mini-RPG!). And one of my personal favorites: the ice pick. I have both short and long available, depending on the situation.

All of this leads me to wonder. If guns don’t kill people (people do), then what of the workshop full of weapons? In the wrong hands, the wrenches and axes are just as deadly. The fact is that we’re surrounded by lethal weapons, something in reach pretty much all the time.

But are crime novelists the only ones who see household items in quite this light?

I’ve always said that we create bad people who throttle, shoot, hack, bludgeon (or at least our characters do) so that we can bring them to justice. It happens sometimes in real life, but in our  novels–most of them anyway– you can count on one thing. The crime eventually leads to  punishment.

Still, there is something just plain fun about this weapon thing. I was out in the barn tonight experimenting a bit with the Troy-Bilt pole saw. What if someone was wielding it in a fight, swinging it like a double-edged sword, the chain saw buzzing? I took the thing outside and, in front of the barn door, revved it up and took a few roundhouse swings. (Gerry to neighbors peeking out windows in my small Maine village: Just a little research!)

Reminds me of a time at the doctor when I was having skin cancer spots frozen off (the price we pay for all of this outdoor fun in Maine). The doc had a big tank of frozen nitrogen with a nozzle like a welding torch. As she was blasting the spot I just had to ask, “Could you kill somebody with that?” She looked at me like I was a bit odd but, being a scientist, considered it. “I suppose,” she said. “If you left it on one place long enough it would go right through.”

A long pause, then she said, “Why do you ask?”

“I write crime novels,” I said.

“Ah,” she said and bent to her task.

Enough said.





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2 Responses to Tools of the Trade

  1. Vicki Doudera says:

    Gerry — you have certainly described enough weapons for all of us to fill several novels! Your story about the dermatologist makes me think of my father’s comment when I bought my first pair of clunky wooden clogs as a teenager. He hefted one in his hand, made a thoughtful face, and said, “You could kill someone with this.” Death by clogging, indeed.

  2. Gerry, There is no doubt about it. As you so aptly describe, there are a multitude of weapons available for crime writers to use in their novels. You mention that shooting can be boring, but it certainly depends on how it is done. At least I hope that is the case, for I use it a lot in my writing. Anyway, thanks for some interesting ideas.

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