Monday, December 27, 2010

Weather and Murder

We have over a foot of fresh snow on the ground, with more falling. We've had blizzard conditions (defined as "Less than 1/4 mile visibility and winds at more than 35 mph for three hours") overnight. It's beautiful, transformative, and dangerous. Later, when the sun comes out and we shovel the walks and driveway, it will invite sledding, snowball fights, cross-country skiing. But for now it's still frigid. The biting wind threatens exposed skin. Wires are at risk of collapsing and leaving people without power.

One of the 'rules' of writing is Don't Begin with the Weather. But conditions like this just beckon for a crime story. I'm particularly in mind of winter murder since finishing Louise Penny's
Dead Cold recently. It takes place in small-town Quebec, a setting I am well familiar with. I have visited my sister Jannie in exactly that setting frequently over the decades. Penny describes the weather and the cold, snowy setting almost as a character. Because she's such a good writer, you don't realize it, but after you finish reading the book, the mind-pictures of the ice and bitter temperatures remain vivid.

I have set stories in every season except deep winter, and I haven't written a murder story involving blizzard conditions yet. This weather just might kick-start a few ideas. How would you stage a snowy murder?


  1. Since snow would easily show footprints (or boot prints), I think I'd have to drop a body from the sky--a small plane, maybe. Although the image of bright red blood drops spattering the pristine diamond-sparkly snow would be a fun one to create.

    The irony is that I live in the Colorado Rockies and we did NOT have a white Christmas.

  2. Edith, this makes me think of Donna Tartt's A Secret History. (No spoilers; what follows is all in the opening.) A group of friends seem to have committed a perfect murder that looks like an accident. They leave the body, sure that it will be found and all will be well. But it snows and snows overnight, and the body is not found for more than a week, and by this time, the group of friends have turned on one another.

    When I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania, someone broke into a video store (adult section) at this time of year. The police followed footsteps in the snow up the road, down a street, up a sidewalk, up someone's porch. The boots were neatly put by the door. The cops peered through the window and saw the 14-year-old boy--watching porn.

    Snow can hide, or it can give away.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Kari and Ramona! Nice ideas and vignettes.

  4. Hello, Edith and glad to meet you. I'm a new Guppie, although I've been a writer all my life. Snow, eh? A few thoughts come to mind. The most obvious - a body is found, frozen-over, once the snow starts to melt or people start shoveling (I live in Arlington, MA, near Boston, by the way!). Second, the storm's windy ferocity uncovers a crime from the past. It could be a body, or some type of evidence from a past foul deed. Finally, the storm could remind a protagonist of something else, an association, that would help solve a completely different mystery.

    How about those for starters?

  5. Nice to meet you, Margy. We're nearly neighbors! Thanks for the great ideas.

  6. I started my first novel with a snow scene. It was the day after the storm and my main character travels to her hometown in PA. She passes by a lake made more beautiful by the pristine snow and decides to stop. When she gets out of her SUV, the wind blows off her hat. Chasing the hat, she runs into a partially buried body in the snow, the daughter of a friend of hers, as it turns out.

  7. Nice, E.B. I like it. Is that a publically available book??