Murder and Mayhem (for writers)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

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The full title of today's featured book is Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers. D.P. Lyle M.D. compiled the top questions from his The Doctor Is In column for a couple newsletters for the Mystery Writers of America. I discovered this book at my library while looking for Howdunit Forensics, another book he wrote.

The questions are organized into three major sections: Doctors, Hospitals, Illnesses, and Injuries; Methods of Murder and Mayhem; and Tracking the Perp. These are further subdivided into chapters such as Traumatic Injuries and Their Treatment, Medical Murder, and The Police and the Crime Scene. Each question is headed by its simplified form, followed by the scenario and questions given by the submitter.

His answers are clear, even when he uses the medical jargon, because he explains what the technical parts mean. His light touch of humor glimmers in some of his responses. One writer asked whether drinking brandy while waiting for help to get out of a half frozen lake would enable the character to survive, if it would act like antifreeze. The brief answer, "Sorry, but your character is doomed, and his actions would only hasten his demise." Then Dr. Lyle went on to explain why and what would happen instead.

My favorite question is in the Odds and Ends, Mostly Odds chapter at the end. The writer had a teenaged girl whose father was having an affair with a young mom. The girl wanted to punish them both, so she was going to tamper with the diaphragm (contraceptive device) the woman was using by putting some sort of "hot" substance on it but wanted something that wouldn't be readily detected. The writer wanted to know what the girl could use. The answer began with "Tabasco. No contest." He gave a short explanation of why and what would happen, including how a spermicidal jelly would affect the onset of the burning, then finished with "What a totally diabolical question." It sure is, and I hope I get the chance to use it in a story sometime. Is that bad of me? ;D

Even though I'm not a mystery writer and have no plans to be one specifically, this is an awesome reference. He even stated that this is for all genres to keep from rehashing info from books and tv or using wrong or misleading info from the internet. It's going to my to-buy list, and I highly recommend that you read it at least once. None of us need any blunders that will cause our credibility to plummet.


Joshua said...

Sounds like it could be of use in a non-mystery setting, too. Very interesting.

Jaleh D said...

Absolutely it can. Some of the modern hospital stuff doesn't apply to some of my stories (medieval type settings) but just about anything can be modified to fit. It just takes an openness to think how to translate to accommodate different technology levels. Even when characters know whodunit by witnessing the attack/murder/accident themselves, it still helps the writer to know what happens biologically in order to describe the effects better.

Deniz Bevan said...

I like the Methods of Murder and Mayhem title! I'm still looking for the most appropriate way to off a killer at the end of my short story. It's my first mystery!

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