Death By … Euphonium?

Zoë Sharp

As you may have realised, I shouldn’t be here this week, but with the sad retirement of Brett Battles from these pages, it was suddenly realised there was a breach, and I’ve stepped into it!)

I am a very unimaginative serial killer, I’ve decided. Over the course of my writing career, I’ve managed to dispatch quite a number of people, with means from a hit-and-run that forced the victim off the edge of a cliff on his motorcycle, to throat cutting, disembowelment, having their neck broken in a bathtub, and being buried alive.

I’ve had my heroine, Charlie Fox, kill with her bare hands (or feet) on several occasions – one nasal bone smashed up into the frontal lobe of the brain, and one crushed larynx are the ones that spring to mind immediately.

Mostly, though, I tend to shoot people. Death is nasty and final enough without lovingly lingering over it like some kind of sado porn. And it’s usually the quiet deaths, the ones where people slip quietly away when you least expect it, that are the ones I remember.

The reason for this melancholy reflection is that this week is National Crime Writing Week in the UK. Organised by the Crime Writers’ Association, the event celebrates Bloodthirsty Britain in all its gory glory, and I quote:

A survey carried out to mark the start of National Crime Writing Week, which runs between June 13 and 19, has cast light on some of the original ways that crime writers murder their victims.

The Bloodthirsty Britain research was carried out by the CWA,which is organising the week. Members across the UK took part.

The CWA asked how many people they had killed off over the past year (2010). The average body count was 8.38 and the most people killed by one author was 150.

The most inventive means of killing included:

Taxidermied alive

Sliced to death in an olive machine

Poisoned with soluble aspirin and ribena

Rigged a euphonium to land on victim’s head

Super glue in mouth & nostrils to suffocate.

Bees in a wicket-keeper’s inner glove leading to anaphylactic shock

Decapitation by glider cable

Trapped inside Damien Hurst style art installation

Dragged behind horse

Tied up and drowned by rising tide

Stabbed through the heart with a spangly stiletto

Drinking blood

Gored on the horns of a goat

Answers to why people like crime so much included:

“People like to crack puzzles. They also love strong but deeply fallible or troubled main characters they can empathise with, and crime writers dish this up in spades.”

“Crime Writing is a fantastic genre to examine big moral questions about society, the State of Man as much as any so-called “literary” novel.”

“Crime stories can illuminate and celebrate the human condition, not just tell grim stories.”

“Creates suspense and allows you to explore the wicked/bad side of your own character that you don’t actually want to act upon in real life…allows you a window into that world without you having to participate.”

More than 30% of those surveyed read crime fiction or watched crime drama every day of the year, and more than 50% read it weekly or several times a week.

CWA Chair, the best-selling author Peter James, said: “This survey has thrown up some fascinating findings and underlines why readers so love crime writing.

“One of the big campaigns undertaken by the CWA at the moment is to support libraries and we know that crime forms the most popular genre when it comes to borrowings. This research emphasises the reason why it remains so popular.”

I took part in an event at Kendal Library in Cumbria last night (Wednesday, June 15th) together with fellow Cumbria crime writers Anna Dean, Diane Janes, and Matt Hilton. Strangely, nobody asked us what bizarre methods of murder we’d come up with in the past, but it got me thinking.

So, fellow ‘Rati, what’s the strangest method of murder you’ve ever either come across in a novel, or devised for your own victims – erm, all in print, of course …

This week’s hasty Word of the Week is outspan. Not just a brand of orange (in the UK at least) but a South African verb meaning to unyoke oxen or unharness a horse. Also a noun, meaning a stopping-place.

And on a final note, I had the honour to be interviewed by the delightful J Sydney Jones for his Scene of the Crime blog this week. Please stop by and say hello!


Thank you to Lil Gluckstern (below) for bringing up the topic of Brett’s contribution to SHAKEN, which I am delighted to mention here:

One hundred percent of the royalties from this new collection of original stories will go directly to the 2011 JAPAN RELIEF FUND administered by the Japan America Society of Southern California. The 2011 Japan Relief Fund was created on March 11, 2011 to aid victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami waves. With the funds that have been raised so far, $750,000 has been committed to nonprofit organizations that are on the front lines of relief and recovery work in northeastern Japan.

This collection was born out of the writers’ concern for the people in the disaster zone. SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN is an attempt by writers to pool their talents to help people in need, as musicians and actors so often do.

The book contains original stories by Brett Battles, Cara Black, Vicki Doudera, Dianne Emley, Dale Furutani, Timothy Hallinan, Stefan Hammond, Rosemary Harris, Naomi Hirahara, Wendy Hornsby, Ken Kuhlken, Debbi Mack, Adrian McKinty, I.J. Parker, Gary Phillips, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Jeffrey Siger, Kelli Stanley, C.J. West, and Jeri Westerson. As a group, these authors have won every mystery award there is and sold hundreds of thousand of copies. They’re all working at the top of their games in this volume. SHAKEN; STORIES FROM JAPAN is art for heart’s sake, and the purchase price will help those who are struggling to repair, or at least soothe, these terrible losses.

Not all the stories are mysteries; the consensus was simply that all writers should submit something that touches on Japan. Linking the stories are haiku by the 17th-century master Basho, translated by Jane Reichhold, and Issa, translated by David Lanoue. Both translators donated their work, as did the cover designer, writer Gar Anthony Haywood, and the e-book producer, Kimberly Hitchens.

28 thoughts on “Death By … Euphonium?

  1. Eika

    Not a way of killing a character- I haven't written crime yet, I prefer fantasy, though occasionally things cross over- but I have learned some interesting things. Like, someone relatively thin and less than 5 feet tall can fit in a tuba case. Now that'd be a way to go- locked in a tuba case.

  2. Barbie

    My brother said this once, and I laughed so hard I cried because I think it's totally right, if you want to know the most absurd ways a person can die, don't ask writers, don't ask serial killers, ask THEIR MOTHER. Only mothers can imagine the worst, most absurd, weirdest, like, choked by a washcloth while having a banana for brekfast kinds of death. 🙂

  3. Louise Ure

    Eeeeew here, too.

    I can lay claim to death by snake, but I'm not as imaginative as your examples here.

  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks for all the cool killing ideas, Z. How can I possibly find something more creative now? I think I'll just stick with guns.

  5. Larry Gasper

    Well, I killed the victim in the book I'm working on now by stuffing him into a hay baler since I wanted there to be doubt about whether he was murdered or not. Guns are harder to use in Canadian books because of fairly strict handgun laws and trying to hide a full-sized rifle or shotgun under a suit jacket just doesn't seem to work. 😉

  6. lil Gluckstern

    Eew is right. I'm not fond of sadistic stuff, but writers are such an imaginative bunch. I think I prefer guns. Totally off topic-you mentioned Brett. He has a story in SHAKEN, a Book for Japan. Some of the best writers I read have stories in it, and 100% of the proceeds go to victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Tim Hallinan is the august editor and ultimate good guy. It is available as an e-book on Amazon. I hadn't seen it mentioned here, so I hope it's okay to have done so. And on another note, I am sad to see writers leave, and welcome new writers to this very wonderful blog.

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Eika
    Hmm, stuffing somebody into a tuba case sounds interesting. I wonder if they’re airtight …?

    Hi Barbie – and Alex
    I think you’re both right. My mother wouldn’t have any problem thinking of strange and inventive ways to kill people.

    She once said it didn’t surprise her that some children were battered, but it DID surprise her that more weren’t …

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Hi PA
    My heart is gladdened we can still cause that kind of reaction among our readers ;-]

    Hi Louise
    When you say “death by snake” did you mean your poor unfortunate victim was bitten or constrictor-ed by one, or some more adventurous use of a snake?

    I did once hear a story about a guy who passed out drunk in a street in any area where there were very large snakes. One came along and started to swallow one of his legs, but when it reached his groin it was unable to go any further, not having started to swallow both legs at once. He was found at this point and rescued, but the snake had already started to digest his foot, which had to be amputated.

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen
    I think I’m with you on the guns. One of the best movie uses of a gun EVER was the fight scene in one of the Indiana Jones films. He’s faced by a guy wielding a sword, and Indy has his bullwhip. Apparently the script called for three days of shooting the biggest whip-versus-sword fight ever, but Harrison Ford wasn’t feeling well that day so the director said, “Aw, to hell with it. You’ve got a gun – just shoot the guy.” Probably apocryphal (like the snake story I recounted above) but it’s the kind of thing you WISH were true, even if it isn’t.

    Hi Larry
    Stuffing someone into a hay baler is a damn good way of disposing of someone, IMHO. After all, the body comes out all neatly tied up with string at the end of it – only kidding.

    Farming friends are always coming out with tales of friends who have been whisked into moving farm machinery, often with dire consequences. One guy I came across lost his arm from the elbow downwards in a threshing-type machine that also opened up his ribs to the bone and stripped him practically naked at the same time. The proper definition of adding insult to injury.

    There are strict handgun laws in the UK, too – doesn’t stop any little scally with a mind in that direction to get hold of one, though …

  10. Sarah W

    Death by Euphonium. I knew those things were dangerous.

    In honor of this list, I've come up with four ways to kill someone with a bagpipe. Only one method requires the victim to be weak-hearted.

    Is it wrong that I'm tickled about this?

    Barbie called it, though — the moment I became a parent, the entire world turned lethal. That can be extremely useful at times, but the flip side is that I probably will never be able to kill a character by driving them off a bridge (or having the bridge collapse), because that is my own personal nightmare/irrational fear whenever my kids are in the car and we have to cross the river. Which is every blessed *day* . . .

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Lil
    Thank you for that reminder, and you’ll be delighted to see I have added a large mention of the book into the blog above.

    Hi Sarah
    I confess I’m not sure I’d know a euphonium even if it did, indeed, drop on my head. I shall have to go and look it up.

    Interesting about your bridge phobia. Now I think about it, all those signs in New Hampshire we passed saying ‘bridge ices before road’ inspired me to have someone plunge his car off into an icy river, with the subsequent doubt about ‘did he jump or was he pushed?’.

    My Other Half is also very twitchy about bridges, but only ones over water. He can actually tell when he’s driving along the moment there’s land underneath the bridge again. Which is amazing considering he’s got his eyes shut at this point …

  12. Reine

    AAAAAARRRRRGH . . . ZOËËËËËËËËËËËËËËËËË! Snake on a leg! Uck! Uck! Uck! Uck! Uck!

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine
    Aw, that’s the nicest thing anybody’s said to me all day ;-]

    Hi Sarah
    Erm, when you said, “I haven’t killed anyone yet” I do hope you meant in print …? Glad to provide some inspiration!

  14. Reine

    I think Louise Penny, another writer in weapons-deprived Canada, has fun and interesting ways of killing off the victims in her books. My personal favorite "Louise killing" is the electrocution on ice – don't want to give anything away for those who will read it, but I found it to be a HUGELY fun puzzle.

    I am big into the social questions of crime fiction. The puzzle is always fun – for me more in how the solution is revealed, however, rather than solving it on my own. I love the intrigue and suspense. And the EEEEEEEEEEEUCKYUCKYUCK factor. Hahahahahaaaah!

  15. Louise Ure

    Zoe, I did the plain old "bit by a rattler." But eaten leg by leg by a big snake? Grosser than I tend to go.

  16. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine
    Electrocution on ice sounds very intriguing. I shall have to check that one out!

    I did know a guy who was almost electrocuted when a faulty amplifier casing went live and locked him onto 240-volt mains power for 11 seconds. He said the worst thing about it was the smell of his own flesh burning …

    Hi Louise
    Ah-ha. At last a chance to use a lovely word I only heard for the first time recently – ‘envenomed’ meaning to put venom into, to poison, or to taint with bitterness or malice.

    And as far I know, this guy only had one leg eaten by a snake. Having swallowed the first leg up to the hip, the snake then got itself stuck, unable to retreat or proceed.

    I really must use that somewhere …

  17. KDJames

    You know, you can't "unsee" some things and that visual with the snake . . . [shudder]

    Barbie is right. When I'm thinking up a way to kill someone (in writing, yes, of course, purely fiction) I'm likely to go with fast and easy. Like a gun. But if asked to recount all the ways my kids might possibly die or risk serious injury? Oh dear god. It's endless. I can not believe I overlooked the potential tragedy of having super glue in the house! What a bad mother.

    BTW, there is a completely different list detailing all the times I wanted to kill them myself. It's much shorter and less imaginative. It's a miracle any of them survive adolescence. Or their first year at college, but that's self-inflicted damage.

    Nice job filling in, Zoë!

  18. Laura

    Oh, I love an interesting killing method – nothing too graphic though, and honestly I prefer if they find the body and work out what happened to it, so it's in past tense, rather than in present tense where I feel like I'm sitting through the murder… If that makes sense!
    Some of my favourites are: death by mummification (Tess Gerritsen "Keeping the Dead") death by people who think they're vampires (PD Martin "Kiss of Death") – I don't like actual vampire-y stories, I find myself going "pffft! No such thing!" But people who think they're vampires… now they're interesting!
    Oh and death by cannibalism "Dexter is Delicious" – gross, but interesting.
    I appreciate ingenuity when it comes to murder… And having a puzzle to solve, particularly when I'm almost positive I've solved it, and then everything gets turned on its head in the last chapter or so, and I'm left going "What?!? No! I did not see that coming!!!"
    Great post Zoe!

  19. Erin

    Great post Zoe! This is probably a dumb question but, what is Euphonium?? I'm sure I should already know the answer to that….

  20. Allison Brennan

    OMG, I love all the inventive ways to kill a character 🙂 Sliced to death by an olive machine, ROFLOL. Taxidermied alive is creepy, though :/

    I'm writing a short story where a cult-like group killed their victim by exsanguiation — they removed half her blood before her heart stopped. I've had a serial killer bury his victim's alive and another suffocate with a plastic bag. My favorite villain's death is actually in my upcoming IF I SHOULD DIE, so I don't want to give anything away 🙂

  21. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks, KD
    It’s my job to put vivid pictures into your head – even if, sometimes, that’s not where you want them ;-]

    I’m a gun fan myself when it comes to fictional deaths, but I note that superglue was mentioned in the list of deaths. I understand the stuff was originally invented for rapid wound-sealing in the field, so it’s hardly surprising that it sticks to skin so well!

    And when it comes to “all the ways my kids might possibly die or risk serious injury” aren’t those just “valuable life lessons”?

    Thanks, Laura
    Your comment about mummification reminded me of a particularly horrifying method of murder in an old Dick Francis thriller – PROOF. The victim had his head wrapped in the kind of bandage they use for plaster casts, which set solid and suffocated him. Nasty … but in a good way ;-]

    Hi Erin
    If it’s a dumb question to ask what is a euphonium, then I’m also in the dumb corner. I had to look it up – basically, it’s a brass instrument like a tuba on steriods. Does that help at all?

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison
    I agree about the taxidermy – that IS creepy. Reminds me of an episode of NCIS where they discover the cause of death of an embalmed corpse was … being embalmed while still alive.

    I’ve had a couple of people with arterial bleeds in my books, which has a certain grim foreboding about it. But, I always thought defenestration sounded like a good method. Sometimes I can’t believe there’s actually a special word to describe the act of flinging someone out of a window.

    (You’ve thoroughly intrigued us with the hint about IF I SHOULD DIE, by the way …)

  23. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sarah W
    I’ve just realised that part of your comment said:

    “In honor of this list, I've come up with four ways to kill someone with a bagpipe. Only one method requires the victim to be weak-hearted. Is it wrong that I'm tickled about this?”

    And I completely omitted to ask – what are the four methods!?!

  24. Reine

    A euphonium might be an okay way to do it, but only if you got the fingering right – euphemistically speaking, that is.

  25. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine
    LOL. And just think – you'd probably have a much easier time folding the body into a euphonium case than you would into a tuba case …

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