In my research, I’ve always tried to be true to the spirit of my novels. For MOZART’S LAST ARIA, I learned to play piano. For my next novel, which is about Caravaggio, I picked up oil painting and dueled with a rapier. In a more general crime writer’s vein, I have recently become addicted to driving a knife into flesh and seeing my hands covered in gore.
Admittedly the flesh I prefer belongs to a sardine, but it’s a new experience for me which I feel will inspire something true and deeply gory in the next set of characters I write about.
Because gutting a fish is pleasurable in an instinctive way, as I expect hunting big game must be (for those without environmental scruples). A sardine, for example, dispenses much more blood than you’d expect. Its guts are easily missed – just a long string of puce-colored material that splits between your fingertips. But the blood…and the sensation of piercing the flesh with a knife and filleting it along the belly….It almost makes you see where (fictional) murderers are coming from.
Perhaps blood is… in my blood. My grandfather was a butcher in South Wales. My grandmother hated Christmas because she spent the weeks leading up to the holiday behind the shop plucking hundreds of turkeys. But my grandfather cheerfully spent his days chopping and gutting and filleting in the front of the shop.
I remember my grandmother’s fridge, a big old yellow thing on whose handle as a three year old I had to lean all my weight to open it. Inside, there was always a tall stack of sliced ham. My grandmother would laugh as I peeled off another piece, rolled it up, and ran off to eat it with my grandfather in the front room.
The slaughtered meat got its revenge on him, however. He died of heart disease at 61, mainly because he had bacon and sausages for breakfast every day and meat for every meal. I suppose the ham wreaked its vengeance on me by leading me to the Jewish and Muslim city of Jerusalem, where pork products are typically not favored.
I doubt that there are very many vegetarian crime readers. I suspect that something carnivorous lurks in every mystery fan. This is why poisoning mysteries are sometimes less than satisfying. Even in MOZART’S LAST ARIA, where the great composer’s sister suspects her brother was poisoned, I added a couple of rather ghastly deaths to satisfy the need in us for a true conflict, out in the open, with blood on the tiles.
For my Caravaggio novel, I’ve been planning to return to Naples, where the troubled Italian artist wrought some of his violence. On my last trip, I spotted a rough looking bar. I think I might be able to get into a nice, bloody knife-fight there. Just to see how it feels. But that’s for a later blog post…