How To Get Away With Murder

This article was originally published at NovelKicks.

In the very first of my novels, Only the Innocent, I wanted a man to be murdered and I wanted his killer to get away with it. I didn’t mind that people might guess who the killer was – the book wasn’t really about that. It was about why he had to die. The most important part for me, though, was creating an unbreakable alibi for his murderer, and that took some thinking about. If you want to be credible, it takes a lot of research – checking out train timetables, flight routes, maybe even tide tables. You might also want to check details like the time of sunset according to the month and location of your murder, if that’s relevant. Every detail has to be considered, or readers will see straight through it.

So, alibi is top of my list of techniques for getting away with murder. They couldn’t possibly have committed the crime, because they were in another part of the world or the country, and lots of people saw them there. I could tell you how to set that up – but perish the thought that this blog post becomes a reference manual for would-be murderers! In my latest book, Kill Me Again the alibi set-up works so well that the police are fooled for a long time – yes, even DCI Tom Douglas! But to talk about that here would be a spoiler, so I will resist.

Then you have to think about the way your victim is going to die. Is it intended to look like an accident? Or maybe it could be death by natural causes? In The Back Road my killer set up a fatal accident with huge success. And I think that’s poses an interesting question. Would he or she have been accused of murder, even though the victim was never touched? It never became necessary to find out in The Back Road, but maybe I will check that out with my wonderful police adviser.

If death by natural causes is the way you want to go, in other words it’s not a murder at all, you would be amazed at the wealth of knowledge out there on the Internet about this very subject. Scary thought! There are various forms of lethal injection, but of course first your victim would probably have to be restrained – particularly if you wanted to choose an interesting part of the body in which to hide evidence of the puncture site. Much is spoken about injections between the toes – so much that I’m sure these sites are regularly checked if foul play is suspected. In Only the Innocent the victim conveniently liked being tied up, and my perpetrator wasn’t particularly concerned whether the puncture site was found or not. The femoral vein was chosen not because of how it might be obscured, deep in the groin, but because it was a quick way of getting the poison into the blood. And, of course, a quick five minute search on Google will result in a plethora graphic images of groin injection, just in case you’re not sure how it’s done.

So, that’s alibi and method taking care of. But what about motive? It’s motive that gives the police the starting point and tells them where to look for the guilty party. But how do you disguise your motive? Kill Me Again actually explores one very useful method of doing this – but it’s probably better if I don’t give that away. The thing to do, without including any spoilers, is to confuse the police – make them question why this person has been killed. If it’s all laid out there on a plate, it’s too easy to identify the killer, so it becomes so much better if there is no apparent motive.

In the UK 51% of homicides against women were committed by a partner or ex-partner. What a thought! Homicides against men indicate that 39% are likely to have been committed by a friend or acquaintance (strangely, partners aren’t mentioned here). So the police have their initial line up of likely suspects. If your victim is therefore female and your murderer is a partner or ex-partner, the job of hiding that crime becomes far more difficult and you have to go back to my first paragraph and focus on a cast-iron alibi.

Do I really know how to get away with murder? I actually think that, on the basis of the research that I’ve done and some of the techniques I have used on behalf of my murderers (because sometimes, I really do want them to get away with it), I probably could have a good stab at it (no pun intended).

Have I ever thought about it? Well – you’ll probably never know.