Jeff Markowitz has written two mysteries for Five Star, A Minor Case of Murder (released in 2006) and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Murder (coming from Five Star in 2009). He will join Evelyn David, Jack Getze and David Handler on the panel, Laugh or I’ll Kill You: Humorous Mysteries at the New York City Public Library on July 15. Jeff’s website can be found at www.publishedauthors.net/jeffmarkowitz. Jeff blogs at www.xanga.com/doahsdeer.
When my mother read my first book I could tell that something was troubling her. Finally, she just had to ask. “Did you intend it,” she asked, “to be funny?” You see, it troubled my mom that I had written a funny mystery. Mysteries aren’t supposed to be funny, she told me.
I didn’t set out to write a “humorous mystery” in the sense of identifying “humorous mysteries” as the subgenre I intended to inhabit. But I did set out to write a mystery that reflected my own worldview, and apparently, some of you find that worldview funny. (Of course, to put this gently, some of you are deeply disturbed).
So now I write humorous mysteries. And people expect me to be funny when I talk about writing. I have until July 15 to figure out what’s so funny. Or to lower people’s expectations.
Sometimes, when I’m having trouble coming up with a plot for my next mystery, I think I’d like to write true crime. And I know just the story. Long before I ever considered becoming a writer of murder mysteries, my wife and I would make a trip every winter to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was an annual pilgrimage, a week of cross-country skiing in and around the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. Every trip was memorable, but only one trip was memorable for murder.
It was the winter of 1985. Driving north, we caught the tail-end of a news item on the car radio, nothing unusual, something about an open murder investigation. And then we arrived at this very small inn, one that we had not stayed in before, just outside of Jackson. The place had perhaps a dozen guest rooms, so, even at capacity it wouldn’t be busy, and yet, when we checked into the inn, things seemed especially subdued. But the snow was outstanding.
It was the kind of place where you would step outside, wax your skis and ski right from the door of the lodge. We spent the first day deep in the back-country. But when we returned to the inn, we noticed a news crew finishing up at the front. And that night, the inn was nearly deserted. If I hadn’t known better, I would have said we were the only guests.
But the conditions were outstanding. The next day, we took a long ski tour on the East Pasture Loop, and, returning to the inn from a different direction, we were confronted by yellow crime scene tape.
It took a few hours to piece together the story, but, apparently, several days before we arrived, someone had murdered the innkeeper and his wife, setting the bodies ablaze. My own wife was understandably anxious.
But the ski conditions were outstanding. I didn’t want to leave. “They’re not killing guests,” I told my wife, as I pushed furniture up against the door.
But we did leave, cutting short our vacation in the White Mountains and heading for Cape Cod, the beach beautiful in the dead of winter, ice floating on the water.
And that was really all I knew about the story until I stumbled upon a website recently. Apparently, in January of 1985, several days after the murders in New Hampshire, the remains of two charred bodies were found in a burned-out barn in Alachua County, Florida. Although there was evidence connecting the dead bodies in Florida to the dead bodies in New Hampshire, it took eighteen months to make a positive identification. The bodies in Florida were eventually identified as the daughter of the innkeepers and her ne’er-do-well boyfriend. A lengthy suicide note explained that they had killed the young woman’s parents because they didn’t approve of her boyfriend. Then they took their own lives so that they “could be together forever in death.”
I was right. They weren’t killing guests. This was no random act of violence. It was a crime of passion committed by a disturbed family member. I am tempted, even now, to tell my wife I told you so. But she is a passionate woman. I worry about disturbing her. It’s probably safer just to use it in a story.