|A pastoral Florida scene, but what's under the water?|
I was talking the other day with my critique partner about a popular event in the Big Lake area, a festival I missed. It’s called Mud Fest, and it occurs each year at this time. The article about it in the paper focused on the controversy between the fun seekers and the environmentalists over whether driving four wheel drive vehicles through wetlands is ecologically sound. Well, of course it’s not. But the thought of churning up the wetlands with those giant, really behemoth wheels got me thinking about what else other than vegetation and probably snakes, toads, and frogs might be uprooted. I thought of a dead body, and knew I had to attend this event next year. The opportunity to locate a body in all that muck is just too appealing for a mystery writer.
There are the usual spots for placing bodies to be discovered by amateur sleuths, unknowing passersby or police such as face-up (or face-down) in a swimming pool or other body of water—I wonder why they’re rarely found at the bottom of the pool. Imagine how exciting a read if someone dove innocently into the water and landed on a body. That gets the adrenaline pumping more than a casual, “Oh look. There’s a body in the Smithington’s pool.”
In abandoned houses, on the street, in the trunks of cars, in a garbage dump, in churches, apartments, state parks, on beaches, in motels, bodies find their way into the most familiar places in our lives. How about some uncommon ones? This is my favorite way to go. Put the body someplace unexpected. Give your reader an extra shot of surprise and do it in the first five pages of the book, of course. You can see why Mud Fest churned up more than dirty swamp water for me.
Here are some of my favorite locations: in a brew barn from A Deadly Draught or in the dumpster of a classy country club as in Dumpster Dying. Perhaps in a beer cooler at a barbeque festival. This one is the location in the second of my Big Lake mysteries entitled Grilled, Chilled and Killed due out this fall. I do not avoid the more mundane locations, but I may sprinkle the scene with mysterious or, in the case of a humorous mystery, funny elements to get the reader’s attention. For example, in Grilled, Chilled and Killed, the body is not only stiffening up in a beer cooler but it is covered with barbeque sauce and someone has shoved an apple in the victim’s mouth. An over-the-top description of the body, but the clues are significant in solving the murder.
In my brewer’s series Hera, my protagonist, has found her neighbor’s body on his brew barn floor. In the second book, someone else discovers a body, but it is in her brew barn. Now the brew barn has become an almost mundane place for murder, but in this case the question surrounding the death is whether it was suicide or murder.
If murder is not shocking enough, the writer can always locate a body in a wholly unexpected place. It’s an attention grabber, and one the writer can use to advantage by making the location generate its own set of clues.
How do you like your bodies? With a double shot of surprise, murder plus odd location, or decaffeinated, face-down in the Smithington’s pool?