I enjoyed a weekend of murder and mayhem this month at Malice Domestic, an annual convention of cozy mystery authors and fans in Bethesda, Maryland. I met some of my favorite authors and learned a whole lot about common poisonous plants and the Washington, D.C. Crime Lab.
What is a cozy? Even authors and fans try their hand at definitions. Generally, it is a crime novel without the blood and gore with an amateur detective who is somehow involved with the victim and/or suspect. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series is a prime example. Current authors include Margaret Maron, Joan Hess, Sheila Connolly, and Carolyn Hart, all of whom were on workshop panels at Malice Domestic.
One might wonder about the skewed interests of this demographic. A popular feature is a talk by the “Poison Lady,” Lucy Zahray. This year, she described common plants, grown in gardens and homes everywhere, that are not only toxic, but kill in ways dear to the heart of mystery writers. Poison symptoms mimic heart attacks, cirrhosis of the liver, Lou Gehrig’s disease, as just a few examples. Symptoms may take weeks to appear, leaving plenty of time to establish an alibi, or may cause temperature elevations, fudging the time of death. And by the time symptoms appear, the toxin has metabolized in the body, leaving no trace.
What a set-up for the perfect crime. I started looking nervously around at the audience, feeling creeped out by all this. And I examined my sandwich more closely.
However, for an author, there is one little hitch. How could an author establish that a crime had occurred, so her amateur detective would have one to solve?
On another topic, Alicia Oltusky has written a fascinating book called Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life. Her family’s business was the diamond trade on New York City’s 47th Street, the diamond district. In the diamond district, “all secrets are valuable, all assets are liquid, and all deals are sealed with a blessing rather than a contract.” One intriguing fact is that the process for synthesizing diamonds is being used to convert cremains into diamonds. I googled this and found that, yes, for around $14,000 you can turn Uncle Harry into a 1-carat diamond. A very small diamond might cost you $2,000. Think of the possibilities. You could wear Mom and Dad on each ear or design a diamond necklace of your pets. Maybe this could be better than sending a body off in a trunk or running it through a mulcher.
For a mystery author, ideas are everywhere.