Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The Complete Cozy Sleuth Kit
by Guest Blogger Sheila Connolly
Recently on a blog I commented that I had my fingerprints taken many years ago when I obtained a stockbroker's license (long and boring story), so somewhere in Washington my prints are on file, which would make it difficult to commit a crime and get away with it. Some smart person replied, "wear gloves." Well, duh. But it started me thinking...
Traditional/cozy mysteries usually feature an amateur sleuth who just stumbles into things–like finding bodies. Now, most sensible people, when confronted with a dead body, would probably (a) freeze, (b) throw up, (c) run screaming in the opposite direction, or some combination of these. Ideally they would run screaming toward the nearest phone (assuming it's not in their pocket) and call the proper authorities and let them take care of things. But our fictional sleuth does not have that choice, because unless she gets involved there won't be a story. Therefore she (and we) had better be ready for whatever may come her way. She needs the Cozy Sleuth Kit.
The list of contents has been growing steadily, thanks to many kind suggestions from mystery readers. Here are the basics:
--plastic bags (for evidence, or course)
--camera (with spare batteries)
--flashlight (with spare batteries)
--cell phone (yeah, I know it takes pictures, but I still haven't figured out how to transfer them anywhere, and besides, what if it's not charged?)
--a magnifying glass (a classic)
This last item inspired additional comments. Bring a pen? No, a pen can run out of ink. Bring pencils? But they wear down. Bring a pencil sharpener?
This led to:
--a knife, preferably Swiss Army style (now you can sharpen your pencils!) or
--a Leatherman multi-tool (I don't have one–should I think about it?)
I'm boggled by how many of these items I carry regularly (all except the knife), even though I don't expect to run into any bodies (but never say never).
But if you're going explore serious sleuthing, there are several more items that might come in handy:
--duct tape–always useful
--chocolate (come on, most of our amateur sleuths are women)
--a pocket flask filled with the Good Stuff (to calm your nerves, or to snap an important witness out of a dithering fit)
--a wad of cash (in case you have to bribe someone? or flee the scene unexpectedly? maybe you should carry your passport too)
and, last but not least:
--business cards from a friend on the police force AND a good lawyer
The last trick is to find a purse or bag that will hold all this stuff without becoming so heavy that it drags you down. Woman are used to doing that, right? One kind soul suggested wearing cargo pants, but they're so unflattering (sleuths should always look their best, in case there are television cameras on the scene), and besides, it's too easy to forget what you put in which pocket and you'd waste valuable time hunting for it and dropping things and...you get the drift.
As the Girl Scouts say, Be Prepared!
Sheila Connolly has taught art history, structured and marketed municipal bonds for major cities, worked as a staff member on two statewide political campaigns, and served as a fundraiser for several non-profit organizations. She also managed her own consulting company providing genealogical research services. Now a full-time writer, she thinks writing mysteries is a lot more fun than any of her previous occupations. Currently she writes two mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her Through a Glass, Deadly (March 2008, under the name Sarah Atwell) was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel; Pane of Death followed in November 2008, and Snake in the Glass in September 2009. Under her own name, her Orchard Mystery Series debuted in 2008 with One Bad Apple. The sequel, Rotten to the Core, came out in July 2009.