I think of the holidays, I think of family. And whenever I think of family, I think of murder.
No need to start calling the proper authorities. Sure, my family drives me a little bit batty at times, but I don’t spend my time plotting their demise. However, whenever I am stuffing my face at one of those raucous holiday parties, I can’t help but think it would make a great setting for some murder mystery story.
After all, so many of the key ingredients for a good mystery are already in place. Means, motive and opportunity.
I’ll start with motive, because murderous motives can run high in families. I’m thinking fictionally of course. Kill off a sibling or two, and suddenly someone gets a much better share of that rich uncle’s inheritance. And speaking of inheritances, when is that rich uncle or great-great-Aunt what’s her name going to kick the can and leave you a fortune to squander? Money not your motive—how about revenge? The brother who stole your girlfriend in high school and ended up marrying the woman of your dreams; the cousin who gave you that bum stock tip and cost you a fortune; the sister who never has a problem with her pumpkin pie crust… sure, you can spend the whole year avoiding this loathsome person, but not during the holidays. Plan on spending lots of time with them in close quarters so that your vengeful thoughts can boil over.
Means and opportunity go hand in hand during the holidays. Put a bunch of people in one place, add a fair amount of food, alcohol, some general chaos, and boom. Where did that carving knife go? Does this punch taste a little funny to you? Oh, I don’t want any apple crisp, but you should really try some. Almost everyone is just a wee bit tipsy, so no one is going to remember exactly who left the room at what time to check on the roast, or notice that Uncle Al has been missing for hours…until of course his body turns up. Was he strangled with the Christmas lights? Poisoned with the mistletoe? The possibilities are endless.
Families often abound with kooky characters who would not normally come together in one place if it were not for that turkey that needs eating, or those gifts that need to be exchanged. And if you are like me, you probably base the characters in your stories, at least loosely, on the people you encounter in real life. Even if you have the most wonderful, least annoying, sanity provoking family in the world, I am sure there is at least one quirky personality that through the magic of fiction might make it into your next story. And I am sure that you could devise a reason why someone might want to slip a bit of cyanide into their eggnog.
There are, of course, many, many tales of murder and suspense that are set during this holiday season of ours. Here are just a few titles to inspire you:
· “Christmas Crumble” by M.C. Beaton
· Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
· The Fleet Street Murders by Charles Finch
· Jerusalem Inn by Martha Grimes
· Tied up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh
· The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin
I’m going to give myself a little homework assignment over the holidays. While the wine is being drunk and the stuffing is getting gobbled up, I’m going to keep my writer’s eyes open, and plan a little murder. On paper, of course.
Nina Mansfield BIO:
Nina Mansfield is a Greenwich, Connecticut based writer. Her debut novel, SWIMMING ALONE a young adult mystery, was published by Fire & Ice YA in August 2015. Nina began her writing career as a playwright; she has written numerous plays, which have been published and produced throughout United States and internationally. Nina’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mysterical-E. Nina is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Dramatists Guild. Please visit her at www.ninamansfield.com.
SWIMMING ALONE book blurb
The Sea Side Strangler is on the loose in Beach Point, where fifteen-year-old Cathy Banks is spending what she thinks will be a wretched summer. Just when she begins to make friends, and even finds a crush to drool over, her new friend Lauren vanishes. When a body surfaces in Beach Point Bay, Cathy is forced to face the question: Has the Sea Side Strangler struck again?