Wednesday, March 14, 2007


You know, looking back at the entries on this log, I'm struck by something: the sweet innocence of our hobbies. Doll collecting, scrapbooking, knitting – not a Civil War Re-enactor or gun collector in the bunch! So it further strikes me that no one thinks it odd that such a group of sweethearts could take pleasure in murder. Nasty people, murderers. Watch Court TV for a week for a glimpse. What a bunch of cold-hearted, greedy, posturing, self-centered people – and that's just the attorneys!
So why do we nice ladies write about murderers? For the contrast, maybe? Could be. There's hardly any two things more unalike than a middle-aged woman sitting at a table glueing photographs into an album and a housewife in the kitchen stirring arsenic into a pot of soup. Wait a minute, better contrast: a woman sewing a tiny evening gown for a Barbie doll and a woman filing a sharper point on a steel knitting needle. No, wait!
Never mind.
I think what we're interested in is the evil that lurks in all of us. The sweetest child in the world erupts with rage when someone takes his favorite toy from him; the nicest woman on the block may think black thoughts about her husband if she finds out he's having an affair with a woman she thought was a good friend. Very, very few of these angry people act on the anger beyond a verbal explosion or two. But I have a friend who knows a great deal about poisons. She points out that the ratio of men to women in prison for murder is singularly lopsided; well over ninety-five percent are male. "We're not that different," she says of her sex. Whereas a furious man will grab a club or gun or knife, a woman will go into her kitchen and cook. "Here," she'll say to her husband. "I made your favorite dessert. No, no, I can't have any, I'm on a diet. You eat it all up." Now who do you think is more likely to get arrested? That man with blood on his clothes and his wife dead at his feet (a surprising number, on cooling down a bit, will call the police on themselves), or the woman all in tears at the sudden, unexpected death of her husband (and who keeps her satisfied smirk for her bed, at night, with the lights off)? There are some problems with poison, of course. One is, not everyone dies. People who compile the ugly statistics consider a "lethal dose" the one at which half the imbibers die. That means the other half don't, and I imagine they might look with suspicion at any dessert offered them again. Another is, getting hold of the stuff. In the old days, you could buy a couple packets of fly paper and soak the sticky coating off to get the arsenic embedded in it. It's had to find poisonous flypaper nowadays. Of course, a surprising number of house and garden plants are poisonous – though the process of looking up which and in what doses can leave a trail for investigators to follow later. A third is, if it works, the temptation to do it again is strong. Many a female poisoner is caught only while working on her sixth, or twelfth, or two dozenth victim, and then only because two things combine: her prospective victim has an amazing capacity for arsenic and the hospital has a nurse who wonders why every time the guy's wife brings a special treat to him he gets sicker.
Cat owners are less inclined than dog owners to think the animals we live with appreciate the same things we do, and in much the same way. Still, we like to think our cats do love us, if they are less slobbery about it, and understand our joys and sorrows. But once in awhile the animal will do something that shows us they have a different view of the world. For example, my orange cat Snaps (don't blame me, he came with that name) has suddenly decided he wants me to carry him up the stairs. He is a young, energetic, slim fellow, but he just dotes on being carried. He'll get in front of me as soon as I start up, then rear onto his hind legs and reach for my chin with his forepaws (he's an amazingly long cat). If I brush him aside, he'll go up a couple more steps and repeat the reaching motion. If I pick him up, he'll purr loudly and roll around in my arms, often kissing me on the chin to show how happy he is for the ride. He refuses to get down along the way, but hops off nicely at the top. Is it a game? A power play? Most cats, on being lifted and carried up or down stairs, will object strenuously and try to get away. But not this cat, he dotes on it. I have a feeling that if I could figure out what that's about, I'd have broken through a feline-human barrier of understanding.
SPEAKING OF CATS: Got the cover art for Knitting Bones – and it's beautiful! It features Sophie the cat (who was once our pet and now lives with Betsy). Go to my web site,, in a couple of days for a look.


Deb Baker said...

I have two wayward cats of my own. I love their independence AND I love to hear them purr.

You're study of poison is scary. Are you, by any chance, making treats for our panel at Malice?

Deb Baker said...

I did it again! You're/your. I need a comment editor.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing its harder for women to get away with poisoning their husbands these days with the advancement of testing I'd think more poisonings would be detected.
We have 2 cats, Elsa and Loki. Most of the time we are but staff for them I think, but every so often they become really affectionate.
The dog, Peabody, DOES like what we like-food, outings etc. We wants to be with his pack always.

Caryn said...

Oops, anonymous was me. I don't know what I did!

Monica Ferris said...

Deb: No, I am not bringing treats to Malice. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has warned me that if anyone I know dies unexpectedly, he will do a very thorough autopsy (I am not making this up, and I'm not sure he was kidding).
Caryn: my poison expert says 1) if they don't suspect poison, they don't check; and 2) there are not enough fluids in the human body to check for every possible poison. And yes, Ms. Zahray is very scary. I have her e-mail address if you're really interested.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


Lucy (the other poison expert) told me that the BEST time to kill anyone with poison was over a long holiday weekend. She said that the body will sit before the autopsy, and while it sits the poisons degrade.

Made my husband really nervous about Thanksgiving!

Also, a local woman was poisoned by her husband--he repeatedly added antifreeze to the Gatorade she drank while exercising. A local cop told me most poisoners are not caught UNLESS they are serial poisoners.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Great minds think alike! I'm planning on mostly blogging about cats tomorrow.

And regarding niceness and murder, those of us who write mysteries can kill off anyone we want--vicariously--and get rid of our aggressions in a relatively harmless way that hopefully also amuses other people!