Howdooit (Part 2)

Feel free to skip this post, if you're not interested in murder mysteries, or my slightly long musings on their puzzles.

There is the obligatory salacious footnote: I came up with all this walking around town for an hour after being stood up for a conjugal appointment. So there.

How many murder mystery puzzles are there? And why can't I think of one that hasn't been done hundreds of times before?

And while we're thinking about it, is there some way I can map out the puzzles in a way that'll let me explore the less-used outer reaches, or come up with one by throwing a few dice?

I reckon the basic structure of the puzzle is: Death X is disguised as Death Y by action Z. For instance:

- Murder of A is disguised as Murder of B by C switching the bodies.

- Murder of A is disguised as suicide by C placing a pistol in the hand.

- Suicide of A is disguised as death by natural causes by C faking the medical history.

Now, I think there are six basic types of death, one for each side of the (appropriately named) die. Here's descriptions and examples.

1) Murder - one person deliberately killing another, or through inaction allowing them to die.

- Shooting someone who's about to shoot you. Justifiable homicide or self defence.

- Not telling someone that a third party has poisoned their food.

- A doctor deliberately injecting so much pain medication that it stops a terminally ill patient breathing. Mercy killing.

2) Manslaughter - one person accidentally killing another.

- Punching someone in the jaw, leading to subddural heamatoma.

- Inducing a heart attack by taking someone on a fairground ride.

- A pharmacist providing the wrong pills.

3) Suicide - someone deliberately killing themselves, or letting themselves die.

- Wristcutting in a hot bath.

- A patient refusing blood transfusions on religious grounds, knowing it'll kill them.

- A prisoner on hunger strike for too long.

4) Suislaughter - someone accidentally killing themselves. I haven't been able to find a single word for this, so I invented a portmanteau for it - if you can think of a better one, please tell me.

- Making two drinks, one poisoned, to drink with the victim, then getting confused and drinking the wrong one. This is attempted murder, gone wrong.

- Overdosing on a recreational drug.

- Falling from a roof.

5) Biology - death from natural causes, inside the victim's own body.

- Death from illness

- Old age

- Heart attack

6) Nature - death from natural causes external to the victim.

- Struck by lightning

- Avalanche

- An out of control plane crashing into your place of work.

This list is not the only alternative, nor does it cover every possibility.

Feeding alcohol to an alcoholic until it kills them could be considered murder, manslaughter through reckless negligence, or even assisted accidental suicide. Eating poisonous wild mushrooms could be Suislaughter, Nature or Biology.

The Biology and Nature categories could be merged, and you might chose to disregard the deliberate/accidental distinction. Russian roulette could justifiably be placed in four of the six categories, killing an unborn child to save the mother would technically be considered murder here, and war crimes are different again.

However, I'm not trying to create a perfect classification of death, just a working method for generating detective mystery puzzles.

In a murder mystery, the manner and/or cause of death is disguised. Some examples:

- Murder disguised as Suislaughter. The tightrope of a daredevil walker is made wet and slippery.

- Suislaughter disguised as Murder or induced Suicide. After someone dies is a housefire caused by their smoking in bed, someone else claims to have found a stack of poison pen letters that drove the victim to kill themselves.

- Biology disguised as Murder. Following a natural heart attack, the victim is injected with belladonna and the syringe "hidden" where it will be found. A convenient death is used to frame a third party for murder.

- One Murder disguised as another. C framing D for a murder committed by E, in the mistaken belief that F is the killer.

- One Suicide disguised as another. Changing a suicide note to suggest a different motive.

- Suicide disguised as Suislaughter. A husband and wife run a swingers club. She comes home to find he's hanged himself. She changes the scene to make it look like auto-erotic asphyxiation, to avoid damaging the business.

The above gives a six-by-six grid of possibilities. But there's a third factor - the act of disguising.

1) The victim, deliberately.

- Someone arranges their own suicide to implicate an enemy.

2) The victim, accidentally.

- The murderee misidentifies their masked killer, and scratches the name on a desk before dying.

3) The killer, deliberately.

- The killer, a nonsmoker, leaves behind a half smoked cigar, implicating a cigar-smoker.

4) The killer, accidentally.

- The killer fakes a suicide note. The fraud is easily detected, but his misspells several words, leading suspicion to fall on a dyslexic person.

6) A third party, accidentally.

- The group of ramblers who discover the body destroy the killer's footprints with their own.

5) A third party, deliberately.

- The ramblers destroy the footprints, but the one who suggested the route did so deliberately to protect the killer.

- False confession from a mentally disturbed resident.

7) Biology

- The victim's hemophilia gives a wrong time of death. This could in principle also apply to the victim accidentally obscuring the facts, if you prefer.

8) Nature

- A corpse has been buried on one kind of soil for thirty years. The killer digs it up a reburies it in different soil, in the garden of the person who's just accused them of the old murder. The differences in soil confuse the forensics.

Obviously in the case of Suicide and Suislaugher, the killer and the victim are the same person - unless the killer has driven the victim to suicide.

The third party isn't just innocent bystanders or someone protecting the killer - it could be the police, the forensics team, or the detective themselves.

Now, I've got these eight categories, some rather esoteric (eg. the victim conspiring to cover up the circumstances of their own murder) and some overlapping (Biology and Nature blur together where corpses are concerned). And what I really want is six categories. Just so they can be selected by rolling dice. Yeah, alright.

So here's the shoehorned version:

1) Victim accidentally.

2) Victim deliberately, or their biology.

3) Killer deliberately

4) Killer accidentally, or a natural event or fact.

5) Third party deliberately

6) Third party accidentally.

If you want inspiration for the basic structure of a murder mystery, roll a die three times, and there it is.

Of course, none of this says anything about clues, motives or processes of detection. That's for another time.

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