I'm so excited to be handing over The Hippo to Ali Gunn today. I recently finished reading Ali's debut novel The Career Killer
(my review will be done VERY soon Ali, I promise!) and I can assure you it's DEFINITELY worth reading! Here's the cover and the blurb to entice you.
A public body dump, an invisible killer.
When young women are clinically executed and posed in
tourist hotspots around London without a single witness, the case ought to go
to a detective with decades of experience investigating serial murder.
Instead, newbie DCI Elsie Mabey lands the case, bringing
with her a ragtag team of misfits and rejects. Rather than the Met’s finest,
they’re the “not quite fired” of London policing.
She faces an impossible task: finding an invisible killer
while fighting her own invisible illness.
* * * *
That leaves just one thing left for me to do and that is of course the formal introduction.
Ali Gunn kills people for a living*.
The characters in Ali’s books are the kind of strong,
fearless women that every girl dreams of growing up to be.
Before becoming an author, Ali was a forensics specialist
turned publishing nerd. The first DCI Elsie Mabey novel, The Career Killer, is
I’m supposed to be explaining “How to kill someone” today
but, being a cheeky author, I’m going to assume what we really want to talk
about is “how to kill someone and get away with it”.
The actual act of killing is, after all, pretty
straightforward (though how a murderer kills and their odds of avoiding jail
have a complicated relationship as we’ll soon see).
Firstly, I’m going to run through a quick summary of why
killers kill. Generally, motive fits into one of five broad categories:
Greed – personal gain (money or non-pecuniary)
as well as organised crime by gangs
Lust – towards the victim, towards someone the
victim has or covets
Loathing – of an individual, of a group
Power – thrill/ adrenaline
Psychosis – mental illness, delusions of
We could break this down yet further but this is enough for
our purposes. We know that people kill for all sorts of reasons. This is
important because why someone kills affects how they kill. All unplanned
murders (e.g. a fit of rage or jealousy, being high on drugs or suffering from mental
illness) are likely to leave a lot of physical evidence. Remember Locard’s
exchange principle: every contact leaves a trace.
On the other hand, premeditated murder runs the whole
gauntlet from ‘bought a knife, stabbed someone’ right up to the most complex
and convoluted plans known to man. The latter are, of course, the most
interesting to read and write about.
Here are the best ways to avoid winding up in prison:
Don’t commit murder at all
. This sounds
like cheating but imagine, instead of killing someone, you simply convince them
to kill themselves. For a cracking sample, check out Linwood Barclay’s A Noise
Downstairs. Side note, this is also what my lawyers tell me I have to
tell you all. Murder is bad. Don’t. Ta muchly.
But if you wanted
to know how, just in theory of course, read on…
Have someone else do it. This could be a
simple hitman story (but watch out for how you pay – the cops will spot that ten-grand
coming out of your account!) or a more elaborate murder-swap ruse a la
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith (and as adapted by Alfred
Have the body go missing, never to be found.
Sounds easy, hard in practice. Think Lord Lucan. If there’s no body, it’s hard
to get a conviction (though not impossible). This might involve dumping the
body at sea, having it eaten by pigs, or thrown in a crematorium’s incinerator.
Have the body found, convince the police you
didn’t do it. The most basic option here is the alibi. A bribe might work
too. But you could just be smarter than the cops. Got any ideas? Leave a
comment and I’ll shamelessly nick it for my next book.
Convince the Crown Prosecution Service you
didn’t do it
. This is a bit more nuanced. The police might be convinced but
prosecutors won’t risk their reputation on a shoddy case. If you’d managed to
go all Dexter and leave little in the way of physical evidence (or you’re a
then this might do the trick.
Convince a jury you didn’t do it. This
might be a scapegoat, a paid fall guy, plausible deniability, a handy twin,
bribing or flirting with a juror, hiring the best lawyer in town, or just
putting on a brave face. Reasonable doubt is a nebulous beast after all.
Be insane, an “automaton”, part of a suicide
pact or other legal defence. There are, in the UK at least, a bunch of
legal defences that reduce your culpability and may result in a reduced charge
or time in Broadmoor instead of jail (hey, I know psychiatric institutions
aren’t much better but I only promised you’d avoid jail, right?).
But these are just the circumstances in which you get away
with it. The actual murder has to come first. We now know why you might want to
off someone (and it’s not just because Derek from accounting won’t stop droning
on about World of Warcraft) and we know which circumstances might avoid hard
The physical act is the simple bit. It’s usually one of the
Shooting. Not so big in the UK as in the
USA because we don’t generally have easy access to guns but this is the
ultimate point and click way to kill someone.
Stabbing. We do however have lots of
dodgy knives (especially in East London – thank God I don’t live there!).
Strangulation (or smothering). When
weapons aren’t around, why not get your hands dirty? Not got the strength? A
pillow is always popular. Pop it on their face, have a seat, wait for your
victim to snuff it.
Whack ‘em with something hard. When all
you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like it needs a hammer. In this case,
you’d be right. Give it a whack, hope you don’t get too much blood on the
carpet (side note – oxidising bleach is what you want there; not the
Use your fists. If you’re a big strapping
lad, you’ve probably got guns for arms. Use ‘em.
Burning. Bit messed up this one, isn’t
it? Lots of collateral damage. But if you’re a psychopath with a lighter and
your victim lives in a wooden home, you’ll get on like a house on fire.
Poison. Now we’re talking. No mess, no
fuss, you don’t have to be there when it happens. Double points if you can make
use of a pre-existing medical condition so it looks like an accident. Just
don’t Google for options on your own computer, eh?
The how you commit the murder is vital. If you’re caught
buying fertiliser and then your victim’s home blows up, you’re going to get
some awkward questions thrown your way. If its poison, chances are the police
will assume you’re a woman (yep, murder is seriously sexist; subvert that
rubbish ladies and beat your vic to death like a man).
Of course, it all comes down to means. You need to be one
step ahead of the world. Run a gun store? Probably best not to shoot someone
(that goes double for using your own gun). Got a degree in medicine? Go back to
We can’t all stick our victims in concrete boots, throw them
overboard off our private yacht, or have the butler do it. But, with a bit of
thought, I’m sure there are some cracking ideas out there.
If you’ve got one, leave it in the comments. Or email me it
(it makes stealing easier, okay? I’m a lazy crime novelist). And if you don’t
have any ideas, why not pick up a few crime novels? Start with mine, god knows
I need the cash. In The Career Killer
, there’s a serial murderer dropping
victims in London’s tourist hotspots without being seen by a single soul. Want
to know how? Read the damned book! 😊
Much love, happy killing,
Thanks for that masterclass in murder Ali! It's been an absolute pleasure to hand over to you today, although I must admit to being ever so slightly scared of you after reading this post. 😱
If you want to find out more and connect with Ali to exchange hints, tips and ideas you can use the links below: