Murder Most Refined: Dispatching victims with panache by Arlene Kay

Most “cozy” mysteries (think Miss Marple, Murder She Wrote, Father Brown) are character driven and avoid gruesome scenes of torture or the astonishing array of weaponry found in thrillers. Bodies fall of course, but they tend to do so in a genteel fashion with a minimum of gore. Very often, items common to most households are put to good use by an imaginative murderer. Poisons, said to be a woman’s method, are almost a trope in modern novels, although science continues to provide some intriguing options. Powdered caffeine, for instance, is readily available at health food stores and on-line. A teaspoon of this seemingly innocuous substance can induce a fatal heart attack in an alarmingly short period of time without arousing unnecessary suspicion. Similarly, although leaching nicotine from cigarettes is a nasty habit it can produce deadly effects if it is directly absorbed into the skin. In one of my novels, the murderer mixed liquid nicotine into a conditioning hair pack, applied it to the unwitting victim’s scalp, and returned an hour later to “discover” the corpse. These unseemly but essentially bloodless ways of dispatching an antagonist are still within the bounds of both traditional and edgier cozy mysteries. Kitchen knives, dog leashes, fire extinguishers, meat thermometers and the trusty blunt object are the type of weaponry that any one of us could obtain and use without possessing specialized skills.

The lure of characters with martial arts, sharpshooting and acrobatic skills is greatly exaggerated and almost beside the point. A gentle rooftop push achieves the same goal as the artillery used by macho men in more muscular novels. Thus, in cozy mysteries, a villain’s age, gender or physical limitations are never barriers to committing an almost perfect crime. Dead is dead, as they say.

The key to a successful mystery lies in motive and character rather than method. Readers expect the author to furnish clues and craft scenarios that allow them to solve the murder and unmask the killer. Period. No need to pepper the narrative with excruciating detail or dwell on the pain of victims, many of whom tend to be female. For me, the most chilling villains are the ordinary ones. Jemma the homeroom mom, Joe the earnest neighbor, or Mary the syrupy sweet boss are types familiar to us all. Indeed they may live next door or even WITH you. When the mask of evil is lifted, these mundane killers shake us to our core. Recall that the BTK killer was a cub-scout leader and the president of his church council. Theodore Bundy volunteered at a suicide help line and several “angels of death” served as friendly, sympathetic, hospital nurses.

Crime fiction serves up a menu with something for everyone. Whether traditional, police procedural, thriller or hard-boiled, mysteries continue to delight and intrigue their readers. But for those who prefer murder most refined, nothing beats engaging one’s “little grey cells” to solve the crime.


Leathersmith Persephone “Perri” Morgan makes the kind of beautiful custom leashes and saddles that make wealthy dog and horse show lovers swoon—until murder strides onto the course . . .

When Perri’s BFF Babette hosts a meeting of Fairfax County’s affluent animal lovers to save a local horse rescue farm, the agenda gets sidetracked by the discovery of a corpse in the master bedroom. Everyone present is a suspect, including Perri’s main squeeze, Wing Pruett—Washington, DC’s sexiest reporter.

While Perri scours local horse and dog shows hoping to unmask the killer, she uncovers bad manners, infidelity, and low-level crime in her hunt for the killer—but what she can’t find are grounds for murder. When the killer strikes again and she gets a warning to stop her sleuthing, Perri has to muster all her training—and all her allies, human and animal alike—to make it out of the ring alive.

Praise for Arlene Kay’s Boston Uncommons Mysteries

“Reminiscent of the comedy-mystery movies of the thirties…An entertaining first entry into the Boston Uncommons Mystery series.” —New York Journal of Books on Swann Dive

“Highly entertaining . . . I can’t wait for the next book in the series!” —Jaye Roycraft, author of Rainscape