Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Criminal myths and Fatal Errors

A partial print on a revolver leads investigators to suspect young Katrina Buckhold played a part in a horrific gang slaying in FATAL ERROR, my new crime novel. (Sequel to The Traz. )

I direct you to my website where I list some fun facts about fingerprints that I learned from S/Sgt Wade Trottier, the St. Paul RCMP Ident officer (Forensic Identification)

An author's research is never done. It seems I run into interesting forensic tidbits which ever way I turn. Whether it be a Ducks Unlimited fundraising dinner (where I learned about double barreled shotguns), a SciFi Convention, or a workshop for volunteers. The experts seem to be especially





Paperback in the UK

 "A wise, haunting, deeply moving sequel to The Traz..."


enthused about teaching me things that debunk the miraculous crime-solving skills, techniques, and technologies of those CSI guys on TV. They also share some wonderful facts that would go real well on a CSI episode...or a crime novel.

What tidbits have I learned lately, which legends have been disproven and where did I learn it all?
  1. Yes, it is true that useable fingerprints are found at most crime scenes. Yes it is true that fingerprints are considered immutable evidence in courts of law and prints properly lifted and handled and with a clear connection to the crime will often elicit a guilty plea because it is so difficult to call such evidence into question. All my fingerprint facts were learned at a workshop for RCMP volunteers
  2. Fingerprints can't be lifted from rocks, but can be lifted from wood. However, the wood will likely be destroyed in the process. If your diamonds are stolen from your heirloom cedar jewellry might be facing a tough decision.
  3. Disappointingly, no, it is not true that the time of death can be established. Not by liver temperature, stomach contents, rigamortis, or the lifecycle of maggots or other insects. The time of death (unless observed, of course) can only be determined to be sometime between the last time the victim was seen alive and the time the body was found. Bodies known to have been dead for only a week, said the investigator from the Medical Examiner's Office at the 2011 PureSpec Festival in Edmonton, can be reduced to a skeletal state within a week, given the proper conditions. Estimated time of death, he said, is never listed on an autopsy report.
  4. Despite the fact that it makes a good story, no, it is not true that you can hand a police dog the possession of a missing person and the dog will sniff around until it finds the scent and follow it to the object of the search, says Cpl. Steve Prior of the RCMP Police Dog Services in St. Paul. The dog needs to be directed to the scent of the person on the ground before he can take up the case. Thus, it is important not to mess around at a crime scene or missing person's scene--you don't want to contaminate the scent that may have been left. It also helps if someone is around who can say where the object of the search was last seen.
  5. Yes, it is true that police dogs are crossed trained. Dogs are trained in three areas: to track individuals, to sniff out drugs, and to locate bombs. All dogs are trained to track individuals, but bomb dogs are not trained for drug searches and drug dogs aren't trained to sniff out bombs. Because... well, suppose the police receive a call about a bomb threat in an airplane. The bomb-sniffing dog that's sent on board picks up the scent of marijuana coming from a backpack.  Is it a bomb or a toke?  Nobody would know, which could be a tad dangerous.

Eileen Schuh, Author
Schrödinger's Cat

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Murder's Not as Easy as It Looks

Vicarious murder, I mean. Not sure how difficult the real kind is, and I really don't want to know.

For a mystery writer, though, murder becomes problematical. First, it has to be entertaining for the reader. Some writers go for gory detail, but that isn't my cup of poison, so I have to be creative. And when you've got a few books out, you start to realize that all the murders can't be the same kind. The victim can't always be shot or pushed down the stairs. Readers notice these things.

To make matters worse, a crime must have repercussions. If the police know a murder's been committed, there will be an investigation. If that happens, likely suspects will be examined for motive, means, and opportunity. Everyone who's ever seen Perry Mason re-runs knows it, so the writer must help his killer remain undetected, at least for 200 pages or so.

Does he make the murder seem accidental? Good idea, but how? When you actually try to set up a convenient accident, you'll find it isn't as simple as it might seem. What if someone sees the killer at the victim's house? How does he get the person to cooperate in his own demise? What about all those CSI people who'll be looking at every shred of evidence?

Does the killer try to blame someone else? Possible, but he (or she) will have to assure that the person hasn't got an alibi. He'll have to lead the police to his choice of suspect and away from himself.

And what about the method? Face-to-face methods are quick but require either sangfroid or the opposite (would that be sangchaud?) More removed methods call for careful planning. Many a murder mystery has been ruined for me because the killer could not have known he'd get the right victim and might just as easily killed someone else entirely (of course, that could be part of the plot...)

Right now I'm planning my next plot (or is that plotting my next plan?), and I want the victim to die of poison. Fine. Now which poison will provide what I want: a quick death that looks like suicide that can be administered by an unknowing third party by a manipulative killer several thousand miles away?

I don't ask for much, really. I just want an entertaining (vicarious) death.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mystery Plot Points - THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS

Plot Point #3 - Who are the suspects?

Now that we know who dies, who are the suspects? The best mystery entertainment is always over the top! Colourful characters are just more fun and able to get away with extreme behavior. This helps your audience relax and enjoy themselves; it makes it easier for them to participate as well. Since no one is acting 'normal' it gives guests permission to act a little melodramatic as well.

In mystery entertainment, every character has a motive for wanting the villain dead. Here's the cast / characters for Midnight at the Oasis.
Deanna Berrington as Nadia of the Night - Betrayed by the Sultan
Tony Berryman as Sheikh of Shazam - Robbed by the Sultan
James Lazarus as Sheihk of Shyster - Blackmailed by the Sultan
Judy Smith as Samira of the Sunset - Cursed by the Sultan

The Arabian Mountain Spice Belly Dancers play the harem. Cam Berry as the Sultan of Haberdashery is not in this photo but you can get a glimpse him with Alice the drug sniffing camel in Plot Point #2 Who Dies?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mystery Plot Points - WHO DIES?

Plot Point #2 - Who Dies?
Who dies can be quite different in a written story than at a mystery party. In fiction writing, a writer has the ability to be subtle; in live events, not so much. The dead person in a novel can be good or bad or both. At a party, there is no room for subtly. The dead person is always the deepest, darkest villain who truly deserves to die. Not one tear will be shed as he (or she) drops down in pain, rises up gasping for breath, pulling over chairs and knocking over lamps as he finally stumbles his miserable way out of this world.

Case in point: In Midnight at the Oasis, the Sultan of Haberdashery with his drug sniffing camel Alice, is the villain. Well, the camel gets to live. The Sultan - no. A truly detestable bad guy, he gives everyone he comes in contact with a good reason for wanting him dead. Blackmail, burglary and betrayal are just of few of his horrendous habits. The Sultan has control over something which the killer and other suspects want; their hearts, their freedom, their pocketbooks. Motive is all about being in control at its bottom line.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Murder Mystery Party Plot Points - WHERE ARE YOU?

           Over the next however many blog entries I make I will be taking you through some vital points that need to be addressed as you create a murder mystery party. Since I am currently creating such a party, it seems like an excellent time to share some key pieces of information and to be able to show you what I am doing as we go along.
            FIRST: If you are thinking about writing or putting together a murder mystery entertainment party the first thing you need to think about is this:  What interesting occasion is happening when the murder occurs? For instance just having someone die at a regular house party or awards ceremony is boring. There must be some exciting reason for people to be gathered together. This is a fictional event on top of if it is for someone's birthday or anniversary.
        The project I am currently involved in is a fundraiser for the community arts and culture centre and the local belly dance group. With a combination like that the title 'Midnight at the Oasis' immediately popped into my head. Now what could be the fictional reason for the gathering? After about a week of thought and trying things on I made up my own tale out of the Arabian Nights and set about using that as the basis for the mystery reason to be. The fictional reason for the gathering is that it is the one day out of the year that the Midnight Genie can be enticed out of his genie bottle to grant three wishes. 

The Tale of the Midnight Genie

If the adventures in the Arabian Nights had been 1002 nights long, instead of 1001, you would have heard the incredible tale of 'The Midnight Genie'. This genie was not trapped in a bottle, but he hid in one. Tired of constantly being besieged to grant wishes, curse enemies and find lost camels, the genie escaped into the solitude of a bottle refusing to come out. For thousands of years no one saw the magic jinn.
             Then, one midnight, a ravishing princess was dancing on the sand outside of the cave where the genie's vessel was sequestered. The pulsing rhythms of the dance, road the wind into the still air of the bottle. Something inside began to awaken. The genie grew curious. For the first time, in a long time, the enchanter was enchanted and left his dwelling to gaze upon the form of the dexterous dancer.  
             Smitten by the sultry seductress, the genie offered the princess three wishes. For her last wish, in hopes of repeating her good fortune, the woman wished for the genie to be forever enticed by dancing.  Whenever someone's dance beat could match the rhythm of the jinn's mood he would be obliged to leave his bottle and grant them three wishes. The magician had no chose. He did make the wish provisional though. The dancing could only entice him on the anniversary of the night that the princess first charmed him from his bottle.