‘Eviltude’ is our family’s term for a certain kind of transgression: those delightful delicts that are entirely voluntary, pleasurable and unregretted. Taking the last piece of chocolate cake without apology or second thought is eviltude, as is buying that adorable, vulgar sequined vest that you will never have the guts to wear in public. Eviltude can be identified by a certain YAHOO! feeling, lamentably scarce in my day-to-day life.
There are days, though, when it just isn’t enough. Respectability weighs heavy, and the odds of becoming a pirate seem vanishingly small. That is one of the times when writing murder mysteries comes to the rescue. (Yes, I know we call it crime fiction now. Mine are murder mysteries.)
Kate Flora blogged the other day, on Maine Crime Writers, that “writing things out of our systems is why we crime writers usually are pretty cheerful.” And this is true. Giving an unpleasant character some of the traits of your venomous neighbor can really ease your mind. It probably counts as eviltude. But it seems to me that Kate left out a lot of the upside. When I am plotting crime, I’m not just relieved of care, I’m gleeful. There is nothing I couldn’t do! And nobody I don’t want to get caught, will get caught!
I just finished reading The Map Thief, a nonfiction account of Edward Forbes Smiley III, who stole hundreds of rare maps from libraries, sold them to collectors and lived the jet set life among the ultra-rich. I learned the details of library security systems, the twist of the wrist used to run a razor blade down a book binding, and the little alterations that can be made to disguise a stolen parchment. It just so happens that my mystery #2 concerns the theft of an ancient manuscript, complete with gorgeous illuminations, glittering and bizarre.
As I read about Smiley, I kept thinking, “I could use that! I could use that, too!” It was almost as if I were stealing the books myself. Onward to piracy!
With only two plots (and no completed manuscript) to my credit, I’m amazed at the amount of mayhem I have already enjoyed. Young and old have fallen at my hand, by poison, violence and an intricate plot involving a clown at a children’s party.
As a bonus, every murder needs alternate explanations that the detective must investigate and discard. It’s as much fun as killing your venomous neighbor two or three times. In mystery #1, the first victim is found to be full of botulism toxin. Of course, it is found in the canned tomatoes. But the victim’s house is also full of Botox (as is the victim’s fiance.) How to choose? Shall I have a single murderer kill several people off, one per source of botulism? Or shall I invent more murderers? Now sounds the evil pirate laugh, BWAH-HAH-HA-HA!
I’ve begun to see opportunities for murder in every chance-met object. Here in rural New Hampshire, we have myriad neglected houses dating back a century or two, just crying out for renovation. What if, while the carpenters are rebuilding the sash windows, having found lovely antique sash weights for the purpose, a murderer finds his victim alone in the house?
In my saner moments, I fear no good can come of this. Vicarious eviltude could take me to new and dangerous places. I might just wear that vest. To a bar. Where I would get into a fight. With a cop…. Or maybe I should just keep my eviltudes vicarious.