As promised, dear reader, here is the second instalment of my foray into murder weapons.
For me, these have to be the best, because this is where my best friend – imagination – runs wild. And when friends go wild, well, anything is possible.
We’ve all dreamed of committing the perfect murder, now, haven’t we? Well, you have if you are being completely honest with yourself. But, how about the perfect murder weapon? When thinking about committing the perfect crime, your attention is likely focused on who, where, how and, more importantly, how you are going to get away and never get caught, but do you ever consider the what?
What would be the perfect murder weapon? For, dear reader, if you have the perfect murder weapon, then surely a perfect murder is a given?
So, what is the perfect murder weapon, I hear you ask? Well, it is, of course, one that cannot link you, the murderer, to the crime. But, what does this mean? Quite simply, it is a weapon which cannot be identified or which can be destroyed.
Still confused? Hopefully my writing colleagues can help clarify the matter, as they have this down to a fine art. Here I’ll share with you some of the best; some of the most perfect murder…..weapons.
The most perfect of all weapons, for such a crime as murder, has got to be the one that completely disappears after the deed is done. This is used many times in both fiction and in film, but there are three authors whose weapons bear mention.
In ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ (1953), Roald Dahl chose a frozen leg of lamb as his weapon of choice. Said leg of lamb was used to bludgeon an errant husband to death, before being roasted and served up as a meal to the investigating officers.
The commonly used ice/icicle bullet, first appeared in Anna Katharine Green’s ‘Initials Only’ (1911), in which a young woman is killed by an icicle, shot from a pistol.
Keeping with the theme of freezing, Edgar Wallace, in ‘The Three Just Men’ (1925), uses snake venom as his perfect weapon. The venom is frozen into the shape of darts, which are then fired from a fake cigarette holder (with an insulated chamber), used as a blowpipe.
The thinking person’s perfect weapon could be said to be one so innocuous that it could never be associated with murder.
One such object is a bed, used by Ronald A Knox in ‘Solved by Inspection’ (1931). The story sees a rich man, terrified of heights, starved to death when his bed is raised to the ceiling by ropes, leaving him unable to get down other than by falling to his death. This must have been one hell of a high ceiling!
Agatha Christie, in ‘Towards Zero’ (1944), added that additional complexity and creativity to her perfect weapon, as only she can. The knob from the fireplace fender is screwed onto the handle of a tennis racket (relieved of its oval frame, temporarily) and used to bludgeon the victim to death. Afterwards, both the knob and the oval frame are returned to their rightful place and the tennis racket is stowed as normal.
A rather more complicated, but ingenious, affair is put together by Catherine Aird in ‘The Religious Body’ (1966). In it, the shaft which connects the heavy round wooden ball (finial) to the oaken newel post of a staircase is used as a blunt object to strike the victim, before being returned to its normal position.
Another canny contrivance, and perfect weapon candidate, has got to be the deadly mechanical instruments of cunning imagination.
In Dorothy L Sayers’ ‘The Poisoned Dow’ (1933), a corkscrew is altered so that poison, stored in the hollow handle, is released by pressing the plunger. Rex Stout, in ‘Fer-de-Lance’ (1934) had the head of a golf club modified so that, when the ball is struck, a trigger is released and a poisoned needle is shot out of the handle and into the golfer’s abdomen.
Booby traps are another creative way of deliberately disposing of someone, whilst being able to blame it on an ‘accident’.
In Ngaio Marsh’s ‘Vintage Murder’ (1937), a Jeroboam of champagne, supposed to descend slowly and come to rest on the table, plummets upon release (the counterweight has been removed), crushing the victim’s skull.
In a rather comical, in my opinion, booby trap murder, Ruth Dudley Edwards, in ‘Matricide at St Martha’s’ (1995), has a Cambridge don plummeting to her death from a window, after propelling herself along on a library ladder, from which the brakes have been removed.
In a more Dr Phibes-esque scenario, Reginald Hill, in ‘Deadheads’ (1983), tips highly toxic insecticides and weed killers into an attic cistern, which is used to supply the shower. I can clearly see the results of that…
Nature has been used by many authors as the basis for the perfect murder weapon. When I say nature, I mean the creature I most fear – the snake.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle uses a swamp adder, deliberately trained to strike a certain victim, in ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ (1892). Kathryn Lasky Knight, in ‘Trace Elements’ (1986), uses a rattlesnake instead and in ‘Curses!’ (1989), Aaron J Elkins uses a coral snake as his snake of choice.
But it isn’t just the snake that is used as a natural killer. Ruth Rendell, in ‘To Fear a Painted Devil’ (1965), chooses bees, induced to sting a man, causing him to die of an allergic reaction. Finally, Ngaio Marsh’s victim, in ‘Colour Scheme’ (1943), boils to death when pushed into a thermal mud pool.
Last, but by no means least, I come to the most bizarre of perfect murder weapons. These weapons could only ever have been created in the imagination of a writer, in my opinion. As to whether they would ever stand up to the reality test, well, I’ll leave that up to you.
Lindsey Davis, in ‘Venus in Copper’ (1991), has a man die from choking on one of the suppositories he has been taking to treat his piles. This man is supposed to have a medical background and so, should know better, don’t you think?
The top spot has to go to Dorothy L Sayers. In ‘The Nine Tailors’ (1934), a man, locked in a church belfry, mysteriously dies. It is determined, later on, that he died from the pressure of the sound waves as the bell tolled….
So, reality or fiction, which does it for you? Undecided? Well, tune in next week, where I will bring fiction to life by exploring the bizarre and unusual weapons of the film industry.
May fear protect you when the darkness comes.
Til next time.