On Killing

It’s Halloween. I’ve just dealt two death blows with an axe.

If you are (like me) a crime fiction writer, you will often face the problem of how to best kill one of your characters. It’s not an easy task. And believe me when I say that in fiction, a lot is done wrong. A LOT. (I’m sure I did it too)

Blood is a great example for shit going wrong. Let’s beat a cliche to death and assume your main character is a British secret agent and kills off a Russian KGB agent. Skin is pricked, blood is spilled, and the bad guy dies. Your British secret agent straightens his tuxedo, smoothes back his hair, and walks away. Nothing but an imaginary speck of dust dirties his lapel.

Total BS. Blood has won the contest of the stickiest red liquid in the universe. And severed arteries squirt that stuff everywhere. You think your secret agent is a pro, and did a clean kill? Haha. Severed arteries still squirt that stuff all over the place. Look, I’m a pro and I still got blood on my boots and jeans.

But let’s assume your British secret agent has blood on his hands, and not on his clothes because getting THAT off is a nightmare. He casually walks into the bathroom and washes his hands with soap and water. All’s good, right? Nope.

This is my bloody hand before washing.

And this is my bloody hand after washing. Note the blood around the thumbnail.

(washed twice with lots of warm water and soap)

Scrubbing with a brush, more soap and warm water helped, but you can still see traces of blood in the cracks. And my hands still SMELL of blood. This is important, because if your character is a professional killer, he/she will know how blood smells and will try to get rid of every last bit. You know what works? Doing the dishes, lots of them. By hand, of course.

More things that are impossible in real life:

  • Shutting a dead person’s eyes. Forget it. It doesn’t work.
  • A person bleeding out quietly. Oh my. I can’t even… Honestly, a body fights death. Like, dramatically. Even a decapitated body will keep on kicking for about a minute. Death is not romantic. It’s ugly.
  • Writing a medical examiner who is too stupid/ignorant to identify the killing blow. Nope. Don’t do it. When your professional killer sticks a knife into his/her victim, the still-beating heart will pump blood into the injured layers of tissue. The result is a dark red zone around the knife wound. A wound inflicted only minutes after death, will look entirely different (no dark red zone)

Perimortem injury (left), postmortem injury (right)

Notes on the two rooster I butchered: They roamed four acres of organic pasture together with a handful of hens and six goats. They had a blast as long as they lived. And they were very tasty.

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Annelie Wendeberg