Thursday, March 08, 2012

Mama, I Just Killed a Man (and other murder scenarios)

Oh, this should be a good writing/reading day. It's really dark and it just started raining.

I showed off a little to the preschoolers last night. There's a man in our church who collects musical instruments, and he brought his flutes to show them. We're working on the concept that smaller instruments make higher sounds, so we compared the sound of the flute to the sound of the piccolo, etc. Since flute is my instrument, when he was letting the kids try them, I picked up the "regular" flute and played the main theme from Star Wars (one of the few things I can still play by memory). I think at least a few of them recognized it, and I knew one would because his parents are geeky. The kids weren't allowed to touch the glass flutes, but he let me play one. Most of the kids couldn't get a sound out of any of the flutes because they never did grasp the concept of blowing across it instead of into it, but our special needs girl was the one who did it perfectly and even got a really nice tone out of it.

Then there was a very interesting dinner discussion in which a cop, an accountant (both men) and I were trying to figure out how you could do a "jukebox" musical based on the music of Queen. We figured "Bohemian Rhapsody" could give you the basis for a plot ("Mama, I just killed a man"), and the way you could actually use the epic song would be to break it into its components (because it's a lot of smaller songs put together) and use those at various parts of the story, sung by different characters, and then either for the act one finale or the big pre-finale number, bring them all together, kind of like "Tonight" near the end of West Side Story.

And now I really need to get Queen on CD because I have a sudden craving to hear "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Because my brain tends to fry if I do too much brainstorming all at once, I've been alternating with reading those books I got as background for writing a mystery. One is by a forensic pathologist who's brought in, kind of like a private investigator, to go over evidence before a trial, particularly when the defense isn't happy with the way the investigation is done. This guy warns them that he'll testify on what he finds, good or bad. He's not taking sides, just looking at the evidence. I'd thought that the general way of getting the amateur sleuth into the story in a mystery, which is often that the wrong person has been arrested but the police are so convinced that it's the right person that they don't even look further, was a literary device, but it turns out to be frighteningly common. This guy would show up, look at crime scene and autopsy photos and ask really obvious questions that no one seemed to consider because the original investigation took it at face value and didn't look beyond their initial assumptions. Sadly, in real life it doesn't work out the way it does in books. By the time they figure out the oops, it's usually too late to find evidence that could lead to what actually happened, so the real killer is never found. Most of the time, there's no malice involved in the sloppy investigation, just investigators who are busy and distracted and who are focused on too many other cases to question one that seems like a slam dunk. Apparently, it's relatively easy to stage something to look like suicide and have it accepted as a suicide as long as nothing looks too terribly out of whack and as long as the person behaved in such a way that suicide might be a possibility. The investigators are prone to accepting it on face value (though it would be dangerous for a killer to assume this because any investigation at all can reveal that it's not suicide). That was kind of eye-opening. So, it's not at all unlikely in the real world for the police to fixate on one thing and not look beyond it. The person wrongly arrested may not be convicted (though there have been way too many cases of that happening), but by the time the case goes to trial and it shows up how weak the case is, the trail has gone cold and finding the real killer will be more difficult. Thus, the reason for the amateur sleuth to step in during the investigation while the police are distracted.

I feel strangely relieved to find that the scenario isn't so contrived, and I've already figured out a plot reason for a relatively high murder rate in an unlikely place, so I may be able to pull this off.

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