Photo credit: Jill Wellington, Pixabay

How to survive a murder mystery By Dana Dratch

When it comes to fiction, who doesn’t love a good murder mystery?

The classic whodunnits combine all the best elements: Suspicious characters. Glamorous settings. Curious clues. And malicious motives (the more the merrier).

After the victim is dispatched (preferably neatly), the focus quickly turns to the “who,” “how” and “why” of the puzzle – with minimal time out for tears. And reading the will.

But those classic cozies also offer up some pretty solid lessons in real-world survival. Here are four:

  1. If your meal tastes “off,” for the love of Agatha Christie, just spit it out.

How many characters realize that their tea cake, poached fish or evening cocoa tastes “off,” but don’t want to make a fuss?  So they swallow their objections (along with who-knows-what else). Next thing you know, the inspector is declaring it a homicide and telling everyone not to leave town.

So if that coffee comes with the faint odor of bitter almonds, dump it and get yourself a fresh cup.

Oh, and if you’ve contracted some condition that renders you unable to smell or taste, you might just want to do the cooking yourself.

2. Blackmailing a murderer is a good way to become Body #2.

Snaky servants, slippery relatives and nosy neighbors who try to cash in on errant eavesdropping or the well-timed lurk don’t last long in murder mysteries. (And they’re not too popular in real life, either.)

Blackmailers, who monetize their knowledge of the crime, are a special subset of murder mystery villains: Those who often become victims. Because Karma is alive and well in cozies.

3. Share what you know.

They’re the staple of the murder mystery: Those dithering, weak-willed or obstinate souls who announce that they “know something” but can’t or won’t reveal what. (For some reason, they soon head off to deserted houses, crowded train stations, or long, dark walks in the woods.)

So if you suspect you know who killed the Countess or how the missing matchbook might reveal the murderer, speak up. Snitches may get stitches, but at least they make it to the end of the book.

4. Never tell anyone you’re drafting a new will.

In murder mysteries, wills are motive. The victim could be a smoker who drinks heavily, eats butter by the pound, and skydives every weekend. In a cozy, the biggest threat to his health is a greedy heir.

And altering a will just doubles the danger. Half of those nearest and not-so-dearest want to prevent their quarry from changing his will. The other half would kill to keep him from changing it back.

The lesson here: If anyone asks, you’re leaving everything to a charity that rescues migrating sea snails. And since you also have an aversion to the aroma of bitter almonds, you’ll be dining out for the foreseeable future.

As a reporter, she’s used to covering the news. Now she’s the headline.

Alex Vlodnachek has been a reporter for 12 years, a P.R. rep for three months, and a murder suspect for all of 24 hours. When her agency’s double-dealing CEO is stabbed, scheming co-workers cast the new redhead as a compelling red herring. The story is media catnip—especially her salacious nickname: Vlod the Impaler.

Even Alex has to admit she looks guilty.

Out of a job and under suspicion, Alex is running low on cash, when she’s visited by a second disaster: her family. Soon her tiny bungalow is bursting with her nearest and not-so-dearest. To keep herself out of jail—and save what’s left of her sanity—Alex returns to her reporting roots. She goes undercover to reclaim her life, break the story, and unmask a murderer. Pretty much in that order.

What she doesn’t know: The killer also has a to-do list. And Alex is on it.