As mystery and thriller writers we deal with death – a lot. What follows is my view of how death colors a story, as informed by being farm-bred, knowing where animals go on the big truck, and the host of ghosts who populated our old frame farmhouse.
Ghosts were as much a part of my early life as was the knacker man, to use a British expression. There was the guy who checked the non-existent, though once-existent, oil lamps in the upstairs hallway to ensure the gas was off. He walked down the hall to a window overlooking the hog pens, stood for a moment, then walked back. Every night.
There were brothers, one that occupied a cold spot in the corncrib, and one who looked endlessly into the house through a sashed window. They died on the same day, one after another, one from want, the other from the loss. Their story fueled my imagination.
And David whose sister waited for him to knock on her wall each night before going to sleep. I met David when he warned me of a small fire in the farmyard. When I returned, the fire out, he knocked.
This leads one to believe that life is like the loaf of bread used to describe time travel, we are never far from intersecting the previous or next slices of bread.
When someone dies and refuses to move on
Booth Island deals with the death of a brother who drowned off the family island in Canada. It is he who lures his sister back nine years later.
“I can’t. The minute I relax, my brother comes to me. I need to exorcise him, or help him cross over, or whatever the mediums would say. If not, I’ll never be happy.”
“I prescribe two servings of Finn Sturdevant with a side of Tiger Tail.” Penny hugged me. “Poor Boo. Is there an Ouija Board stashed on Booth Island?”
I wiggled my eyebrows.
When one death haunts the characters
Dead Legend begins The Cooper Vietnam Era Quartet, centering around the mysterious death of Mac Cooper. His sons navigate his legacy and his loss: anger in Dead Legend, bargaining in Head First, acceptance in Pay Back, and resolution in Don’t Tell.
Byron Cooper’s burden: The old adage about be careful who you mess on your way up, you may meet them on your way down, went double time when everyone in the Pacific Fleet, WestPac, over the rank of Lieutenant Commander, looked you in the eyes, clapped you on the shoulder, and said knew your old man.
Laury Cooper’s hell: Laury wound the film to the August 8, 1955 edition of the paper. He found the four-paragraph story on Mac Cooper’s death; simple, to the point, almost as though it had been lifted from the police blotter.
At 2:45 a.m. August 8, 1955, the body of Commander MacLaury Cooper was found…
And resolution in Don’t Tell: Laury and Kate held hands in front of a bungalow gleaming white in the soft light of a late Hawaiian afternoon. … He pointed out the carport, the palm where someone had lurked watching the family’s descent into hell, and a hibiscus Mac had planted not long before his death.
When an accident sculpts the future
A single past action drives the narrative in Saving Calypso, consider the action mold from the previous slice of bread, rimming the current slice and slowly eating into the loaf.
“Forgive me. This must be excruciating … I drew up the will for Ray. He insisted. It was finalized the day we reached agreement on your sentencing.” Burridge’s steady brown eyes peered over the top of his glasses into Grieg’s baby-blues until Grieg’s dropped. “It wasn’t a small thing you did, boy.”
Grieg tweaked the pleat of his slacks.
Burridge squinted then poked his glasses up his nose. “Destroying a family. Killing a police officer’s son. Drunk. Chasing a girl.”
To ghosts everywhere
Characters driven by the ghosts of past actions, deaths, and loss give mysteries focus and heart, and protagonists a reason to act, creating a pulse and adding depth to the story. Paradise for a mystery/thriller/suspense writer.