April 29 – May 5: “Methods of murder: what are some of the most memorable?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Murder is in the air this week as ITW Members T R Kenneth, Jerry Kennealy, Lisa Towles, Gary Haynes, Nicole Bross and Lynn Cahoon discuss the most unusual methods. Do writers try too hard and, if not, what are some of the most memorable? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss it!


Lisa Towles is a crime novelist living in northern California. Her 2017 thriller, Choke, won a Distinguished Favorite IPPY award and a NYC Big Book Award in the thriller category in 2018. Her other books, under the name Lisa Polisar, include Knee Deep, Blackwater Tango, The Ghost of Mary Prairie, and Escape: Dark Mystery Tales. Her short stories have been widely published in literary journals and she was a journalist and art reviewer for many years.


Gary Haynes studied law at university before becoming a commercial litigator. He is interested in history, philosophy and international relations. When he’s not writing best-selling thrillers or reading other people’s novels, he enjoys watching European films, traveling, hill walking and spending time with his family.



Nicole Bross is an author from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she lives with her husband, two children and one very large orange cat. When she’s not writing or working as the editor of a magazine, she can be found curled up with a book, messing around with her ever-expanding collection of manual typewriters or in the departures lounge of the airport at the beginning of another adventure.  PAST PRESENCE is her debut novel.


Jerry Kennealy was the recipient of “The Eye,” the 2017 Life Achievement Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. Jerry has worked as a San Francisco policeman and as a licensed private investigator in the City by the Bay. He has written twenty-five novels, including a series on private eye Nick Polo, two of which were nominated for a Shamus Award. His books have been published in England, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Spain. Jerry lives in San Bruno, CA. with his wife and in-house editor, Shirley.


T R Kenneth has long been focused on the Nazi regime and Reinhard Heydrich in particular, who was a main architect of the Holocaust. In A ROOM FULL OF NIGHT, the author takes the reader from modern flyover America to deep inside the darkest reaches of the Third Reich, where everyman hero Stag Maguire is forced to confront the shadowed corners of human infamy. She divides her time between London, Singapore and the U.S.


Lynn Cahoon is the award-winning author of several New York Times and USA Today best-selling cozy mystery series. The Tourist Trap series is set in central coastal California with six holiday novellas releasing in 2018-2019. She also pens the Cat Latimer series available in mass market paperback. Her newest series, the Farm to Fork mystery series, released in 2018. She lives in a small town like the ones she loves to write about with her husband and two fur babies.


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  1. When I think of cozy mysteries, I think of how frequently Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple deduced the use of poison as a murder method. This subgenre harkens back to previous eras, when poisons might have been more available with looser security controls, such that with the right access, a motivated killer could easily find strychnine powder to add to someone’s tea or sleeping draught. A more memorable method, though, was used in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band, where a venomous Indian swamp adder (snake) was coaxed into entering the victim’s room via a ventilation duct while the unsuspecting victim slept.

    I think the unusual and memorable methods of murder definitely have merit, because they create an element of surprise. It’s a balance, because you want your readers to feel clever, to feel like THEY are an amateur sleuth solving the crime themselves as they’re reading your book. There’s tremendous satisfaction in “calling it”, as I say, on page 20 and being right, when the killer’s identity is finally revealed. But I think there might be more satisfaction in the surprise that comes from a singular, inventive, and fresh idea. One example is an invisible murder weapon such as in Christopher Brookmyre’s A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away. The murder weapon: a mercury-laced icicle that melts shortly after use. I know icicles have been used before but wow, that’s just genius.

  2. I think the early Agatha Christie, Sherlock classics definitely had the most exotic and clever weapons. DNA and modern crime labs have made it a bit tougher now. In an early Nick Polo book, the murder weapon was a hot tub. I had investigated a tragic wrongful death that took place when a young woman dropped an earring while alone in a hot tub. She went searching for it and her hair got caught in the tub’s suction drain. There were several similar incidents and the resulting lawsuits prodded the manufacturers to relocate the drink to the top of the tubs. In the book, the bad guy drugs his wife, dumps her into the tube and forces her hair into the drain.
    In the just published SILENT REMAINS, the weapon is a tan jaung dao, a spring activated 6 inch spike that, according to an FBI friend, is swift, silent, deadly and used all too often by the MSS, Chinese State Security.
    In I’m Dying as Fast as I Can, due out next spring, the weapon is a balloon-filling helium canister, readily available from Amazon. A local coroner told me that the gas is the go-to method is assisted suicide deaths.

  3. This is a hard question. As a cozy author, I don’t spend a lot of time with the HOW someone is killed, more about the why. That being said, I’m trying to figure out new methods of disposing of my victims. And yes, I know how bad that sounds.

    I tend to gather news reports of interesting, real, murders to give me some kind of jumping off point when I’m planning the next book.

    The one I’m writing now is a stabbing, but it’s the weapon the killer used that’s both the clue (or more likely, the red herring clue) as well as the murder implement.

  4. I’ve just had a good look through the books I’ve read in the past six months, and while a lot of them are centred around murders, none of them feature particularly unusual ones, so I guess that’s not something I instinctively reach for… one thing I do appreciate is a death where you’re not even sure if it *is* murder, or a cleverly disguised accident or suicide. An unreliable narrator is a great device, but an unreliable death is even better, as far as I’m concerned. It adds an extra layer of mystery to the plot, and can pit characters against each other.

    In my novel, Past Presence, the main protagonist, Audrey, is the only person who suspects a string of deaths in her small town are actually murders, due to the fact that the deaths mirror those from the victims’ past lives (which is not usually the case). I really enjoyed creating the extra conflict as she struggles to convince others of what’s really going on without revealing her secret ability. It isn’t until the fourth person dies that it becomes obvious to the rest of the town that something isn’t right.

    I think more than unusual deaths, I appreciate unusual suspects, people who have a truly unique reason to take a life. Getting inside the mind of a memorable villain is a much greater pleasure for me than a heavily contrived method behind the actual act.

  5. Do we try too hard?
    Yes and no. Of course, the murder should fit the situation. If a character is a walk-on and serves no purpose other than to be gone, then who cares how he/she is rubbed out? Keep it simple. However, if there’s a message in the method of murder, or if the character is pivotal, then the murder plot point is vital. An elaborate method of killing in this case may really move the plot and character forward.
    There are many layers to a well-constructed murder, and all should be thought out to serve the plot and character development. If complex serves your purpose, go for it. But one warning: If you’reIf just into describing one gore scene after another, perhaps you’re not writing a thriller. You might be writing porn.
    Just saying’.

  6. I can think of methods of murder that I could never write down. This seems to me to be the central issue. Yes, murder can be performed in unusual ways, but the methods must be relevant to the plot. There is no point, in my opinion, writing elaborate and unusual methods of murder unless there is a reason why the murderer would do such a thing. In my new novel, The Blameless Dead, the serial killer murders his victims in a manner which is unusual, both in the sense of the act itself, and in respect of the motivation and the attendant ritual. These elements are not at odds with the plot, but rather they are central to it. A great example of this is found in Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs. Although the acts of murder are not unusual as such, the ritual and motivation are. Can I recall unusual ways in which people are murdered in novels? That is to say the act itself, as opposed to the motivation and ritual. Certainly, I can. In Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter, a wife uses a frozen leg of lamb to beat her husband to death. But the really interesting bit is that she cooks the murder weapon and feeds it to the police officers who are investigating her husband’s death. Nice one! So, do I think some authors try to hard to think up unusual ways to dispatch the victim or victims? Yes and no. It depends if the method has meaning within the plot as a whole.

  7. I’m with Gary on the Lamb to the Slaughter story. Hitchcock did a version which ended, while the cops, frustrated at not finding the murder weapon, are eating the cooked lamb, and saying -“The weapon might be under our very noses.”

    1. I feel like maybe I have the read Lamb to the Slaughter. Is it going to ruin my childhood love of Dahl’s books, though? Serious question.

  8. Seems like we’re talking less about behaviors and more about people, or as Nicole says, “memorable villains”. In your opinion, what makes a villain most memorable? Their method of killing, the ritual behind it (Gary), their motivation for it?

  9. So, Stephen King has written some absolutely bonkers deaths over the course of his career, particularly in his short stories. So many times I’ve been left speechless, wondering what the hell I just read. Too much? Too far? Maybe sometimes, but it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, too. I mean, The Raft? The Lawnmower Man? The Mangler? WITAF? Dolan’s Cadillac is another one that’s always stuck with me.

  10. Nicole – I don’t think Lamb to Slaughter will ruin anything. Both TV versions, by Dahl and Hitchcock, have a nice light touch. No such thing for Dolan’s Cadillac. The movie garnered some 4 star rating, purely because of that terrific ending.

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