Get the Crime Reads BriefThank you for subscribing!
- The Cartography of WolvesApril 22, 2021
CrimeReads on TwitterMy Tweets
It was my first dead body. For the crime beat, the man’s death was fairly pedestrian, except for the fact he was hanging upside down. There was no blood, unlike the bodies I’d see later. At the time, I was green, young and hopelessly terrified.
But it never got much better.
Death was part of the job, but it left me unnerved, especially after I filed the story and was alone with my thoughts. I’d often be left wondering, what did the person dream about as a kid? How did they feel when they first fell in love? And when they were brushing their teeth that morning, did the soon to be deceased even have an inkling what was going to happen to them later that day?
Most of the time, they never saw it coming.
Dead bodies, whether real or discovered on the pages of books, shock, horrify and even intrigue the armchair detectives in many of us.
Here are a six murder scenes in novels that left me saying, “No way! Did that really happen?”
The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
Long before the twists and turns of today’s wildly popular modern-day mysteries like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, there were the brilliant and immortal tales of Shirley Jackson. Talk about creating a buzz. This short story originally published in The New Yorker in 1948 caused an uproar, with readers threatening to cancel their subscriptions and the mailman unloading an avalanche of hate mail on the magazine publisher’s desk. The story starts out simply enough in a small village populated by what seem to be quaint characters preparing for an antiquated ritual to ensure luck for their upcoming harvest. Even the kids are into it. But this is no Little House on the Prairie. The final death scene jarred me like no other. All hail Shirley Jackson.
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
This book about ten strangers gathered for a weekend getaway at a mysterious benefactor’s island mansion changed my life. My mother, a writer and highly resourceful woman, checked this mystery out for me when I was twelve after I told her I didn’t want to go to the library anymore since I was sick of reading “kids’ books.” Long before the first body drops by cyanide poisoning, and along with it the chilling line, “One choked his little self and then there were nine,” I was head-over-heels hooked.
A Tap on the Window, Linwood Barclay
I get downright giddy when I know a new Linwood Barclay book is about to come out. And Barclay, the king of writing the everyday Joe lead who is put into nail-biting situations, creates one of my favorite reoccurring characters, Cal Weaver, in this gem of a mystery. Cal is mourning the recent death of his teenage son, Scott, who fell off a building to his death while high on ecstasy. Searching for answers, Cal picks up a hitchhiker who was a former classmate of Scott’s, and the private investigator’s already upended life takes another sinister turn. Cal gets put through the ringer in this story as a murder suspect, a grieving parent, and not to mention having to wrangle with a bunch of crooked cops. I was totally rooting for Cal in this book, so a surprise murder at the end left me feeling like I wanted to give the poor guy a hug.
Brighton, Michael Harvey
I grew up in Gloucester, Mass., and later lived in Boston, a city, if you’re from there, that is all about the neighborhood where you call home. All his books set in Chicago are terrific, but Harvey returns to his hometown for Brighton. His masterful descriptions of the city with its divergent neighborhoods that run from highbrow Back Bay’s brownstones to East Boston’s tight, triple-deckers where uniforms hang from laundry lines are dead-on. In Brighton, Kevin Pearce escapes his old Boston neighborhood to become a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist. But the past is never really over for any of us, especially if you’ve left a whopper of a secret behind. Plenty of bodies fall in this book, but when one victim gets pushed off a roof by a deliciously horrible killer, you’ll feel a chill go through you that’s colder than a Boston January night.
Nine Dragons, Michael Connelly
I’m fairly certain I’ll be able to quote Harry Bosch from my grave. I’ve read all of Connelly’s books, the standalones, the Mickey Haller and Jack McEvoy stories, and I even have a coveted signed copy of his Crime Beat on a bookshelf above my desk. But with Bosch, Connelly has created one of the best lead cop characters of all time. In Nine Dragons, Bosch investigates the murder of a Chinese Liquor Store owner he knows in LA, but rushes to Hong Kong when he discover his daughter Maddie, who is living there, has been kidnapped. As he digs in on unfamiliar turf, our salty Los Angeles detective believes the two cases may be connected. This story shows a glimpse of a softer Harry when we get to see him in a father role, which makes the gut punch of the death of someone he cares about hurt even more when they are murdered.
Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
Stephen King’s stories and characters have been rattling around my head for decades, because they are so indelible, I’ve never been able to let them go. And I’ve even understood when he had to off the good guys for the story’s sake. But looking specifically at his mysteries, there’s an unexpected death scene in Mr. Mercedes that caused me to never look at hamburger meat the same way again.
In the book, retired police officer Bill Hodges is being taunted by a twisted psychopath who mowed down a bunch of poor, hapless people camped out all night in hopes of getting a job. When a morally bankrupt and boozy character accidentally eats Gopher-Go laced hamburger meat infused with strychnine and their feet begin to march in place like a drum major saluting a field goal scored by the home team, I admit, I loved every ghastly and shocking description of their demise.
You’ve got to give it to the master storyteller. Mr. King is peerless when it comes to writing whatever genre he chooses.