Murder By Toaster: Mysteries With Surprisingly Lethal Weapons
Mysteries, suspense novels, thrillers, and crime novels in which relatively or usually harmless items are employed as effective murder weapons. The list was partially compiled by members of Fiction-L in January and February 2003, and partially from solutions to locked room mysteries listed in Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (Minneapolis, MN: Crossover Press, 1991 ... thanks, Dennis) and is added to continually. Suggestions for additional titles always welcomed. This list is full of spoilers, so beware!
If you like this list, you might also like 'How to Get Away with Murder' by Linda Stratmann, available online.
- Bloody Bonsai: An Elderhostel Mystery (1998): An obnoxious busboy in a senior citizen elderhostel in Bold Harbor (north of Cape May) is found with a bonsai tree sticking out of his chest. He's just the first.
- His Burial Too (1969): Locked-room mystery in which the body of a murdered man is found buried under the rubble of a fallen monument in the bell tower of a church. Fifth in the Detective Inspector Sloan series.
- Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon (2003): The practical joker in a software gaming company is strangled with a mouse cord while riding throughout the office on the automated mail cart. In the Meg Langslow series.
- Uncommon Grounds (2004): New espresso shop owner Maggy Thorsen investigates the death of one of her partners, electrocuted by the espresso machine on opening morning.
- Death by Dressage (1993): Equestrian mystery. Horsepower is the weapon, as someone arranges to have Nika Ballinger kicked to death by a horse. Fellow horsewoman Robin Vaughan investigates.
- A Queer Kind of Death: An Inner Sanctum Mystery (1966): Murder-by-radio-tossed-into-bathtub. Ben Bently, a young actor/model, is found dead in this bath. Set in Manhattan subculture. Features black, gay police detective Pharoah Love.
- Swing Low, Sweet Harriet (1967): Murder (accident?)-by-radio-tossed-into-bathtub. Story: Four women rose to stardom in the Hollywood musicals of the 30s, but their careers were ruined with the murder of their producer, movie mogul Barclay Mill. 33 years later, Mill's unsolved murder crops up again when one of the women, making a come-back through television, hires Seth Piro to ghost write her autobiography. Pharoah Love, a New York detective and Seth's friend, gets the impression that the murderer is alive and well and part of the Mill circle in Manhattan.
GEORGE C. BESTOR
- The Postage Stamp Murder (1935): Death by electrocution by towel rail.
HUGO BLAYN (aka John Russell Fearn)
- The Silvered Cage (1955): Poison pin exploded by sonic waves. In the Inspector Garth series.
LAWRENCE G. BLOCHMAN
- 'Murder Walks in Marble Halls' (?): Novelette in the collection CHAPTER AND HEARSE, ed. Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. The rod from a card catalog drawer is the weapon. Set in the New York Public Library. In The Saint Mystery Library No. 13 (1960), ed. Leslie Charteris.
M. MCDONNELL BODKIN
- The Unseen Hand (1908; short story?): Murder by paperweight on a train.
- Evans to Betsy (2002): A Constable Evans Mystery: Someone is killed in a locked steam room turned on to maximum. Plot: Constable Evans is looking into the death of the director of the Center for Celtic Spirituality in Wales.
C. J. BOX
- Savage Run (2002): An environmental activist is done in by an exploding cow. Series features a game warden in Wyoming. Box's second Joe Pickett mystery.
- 'The Veldt' (1951, in The Illustrated Man): Short story in which children kill their parents by locking them inside a high-tech nursery that simulates the predatorial environment of the African veldt, where machine-generated lions maul and kill the parents.
- 'The Tragedy of Brookbend Cottage' (1914): Murder by electrocution in locked room by means of a kite with wire. Online here.
- 'Mr. Strang Finds a Angle' (1971): Assault by pool ball in a sock. [Murder?]
- 'The Spherical Ghoul' (1943): Murder was already done, but identification of the body was made more difficult by the murderer, who lowered his pet armadillo onto the victim's head from a grate, let the armadillo chew up the victim's head, and raised it back up through the grate. The armadillo was concealed in a bowling bag.
- Death Has Many Doors (1952): Murder by induced heart attack caused by electric shock by means of static-electrified metallic side of a lampshade!
- 'Delgray's Alibi' (1920): Death by gunshot in a locked room -- the gun was shot by the sun's rays focused through a magnifying glass outside a window, which exploded the powder in the gun's pan. [Not so rare a device as the reader might think.]
- Bangkok 8 (2003): A car full of snakes (python and cobras) is a murder weapon.
JOHN DICKSON CARR
- Death-Watch (1935): An impossible stabbing of a policeman with a steel clock hand as the weapon. In the Dr. Gideon Fell series.
- 'Terror's Dark Tower' (1935): Story in which there's murder via gimmicked binoculars. In the collection The Door to Doom and Other Detections (1980). Same solution used in 'The Wrong Problem' (1942).
- The Demoniacs (1962): Death by stabbing using a knitting needle, in a house on London Bridge.
- Dead Duck (1997): Judge Findlay S. Fish is killed with an expensive antique snow goose decoy. Features Chesapeake Bay (MD) reporter Hollis Ball.
- 'The Bird With the Broken Wing' ( ): This short story in The Mysterious Mr Quin (1930) employs a ukulele string as a murder weapon.
- 'A Terribly Strange Bed' (1852): Attempted murder by smothering at an inn by lowering the canopy of a 4-poster bed onto the victim.
- Dressed To Die (1998): A combustible (and mythological) substance called 'Dragon's Blood', made up of sulfur, quicklime, and bitumen, is used as a weapon.
- 'The Space-Time Masterpiece' (1936): Death by broken neck caused by a South American-style bolo that brings down both horse and rider.
- The Jaws of Darkness (1952): Death by arrow made of ice shot into the brain. [The ice arrow is another fairly common device.]
ROALD DAHLHere's More of Dahl's creepy short stories.
- 'Lamb to the Slaughter' (1953): Short story, first published in the September 1953 issue of Harper's, about a wife who kills her husband by battering him with a frozen leg of lamb, then later feeds the evidence to the investigating officers. Alfred Hitchcock's favourite Dahl story. In over 20 collections, including The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl (1992); Someone Like You (1969); and Lamb to the Slaughter and Other Stories (1995), along with 'The Bookseller,' 'The Butler,' 'Parson's Pleasure,' and 'A Piece of Cake.' Available online.
- 'The Way Up To Heaven' ( ): A wife kills her husband by leaving him trapped in an elevator between floors in their house while she goes away on vacation. Available in the collections Kiss, Kiss and The Umbrella Man and Other Stories.
- Hard Christmas (1996): A Cat Marsala Mystery. The Christmas tree farm's foreman is killed when he's fed into a mechanical Christmas tree baler.
- Miss Zukas and the Library Murders (1994): A librarian working at a library that is in the process of converting from a card catalogue to a computerized network becomes an amateur sleuth after discovering a body in the fiction stacks, a card catalog drawer rod through the victim?s heart.
- 'The Adventure of the Grice-Paterson Curse' (1956): Victims strangled by a hybrid creeper.
- Florida Roadkill (1999): About a crime spree through South Florida. A number of murders with everyday objects, including a man killed by a pair of women's designer jeans. She puts them on him while he's unconscious and leaves him in a bathtub. As they shrink, he slowly dies of lack of circulation. Other 'weapons' employed are a can of Fix-a-Flat and a rum enema.
- The Jig-Saw Puzzle Murder (1933): (Book plus actual jig-saw puzzle) Fatal projectile shot out by someone playing the flute.
- The Name of the Rose (1984): Brother William of Baskerville is sent to investigate charges of heresy against Franciscan monks at a wealthy Italian abbey but finds his mission overshadowed by seven bizarre murders. A monk poisons the pages of the scandalous book Poetics by Aristotle; when anyone licks his fingers to turn the pages, they ingest the poison.
RUTH DUDLEY EDWARDS
- Clubbed to Death (1992): A copy of The Economist magazine is used for murder in this crime novel featuring Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Jim Milton and Sergeant Ellis Pooley, set in a London gentlemen's club.
- Matricide at St Martha's (1995): A library ladder proves fatal. Crime novel featuring ex-civil service colleague Robert Amiss and academic politics.
- Goldfinger (1959): A woman is murdered by a full-body gilding of gold paint, which supposedly cut off air to the skin, causing death. Story: James Bond must stop the evil Goldfinger from robbing Fort Knox.
- Seventy-Seven Clocks: A Bryant and May Mystery (2005), set in 1973 London, includes death by exploding clock, bengal tiger, toxic makeup, and injection of snake poison.
- Comeback (1991): Mystery set in Tokyo, Miami, and Gloucestershire, England involving the cruel fates befalling racehorses. The killer uses an overdose of potassium chloride in i.v. bags to kill horses and a human.
- Conch Shell Murder (2003): The villain uses a conch shell as the murder weapon. Set in Key West, FL.
R. AUSTIN FREEMAN
- 'The Blue Sequin' (1909): A woman is found in a railway carriage, dead from a massive blow to the head by a sharp pointed instrument. The 'instrument' turns out to be the horn of a steer in a cattle-car passing on adjacent track, which the victim didn't notice when she leaned (too) far out of window. Not actually murder, but appears to be and has to be proven otherwise. This story features the first famous pathologist detective, Dr. Thorndyke.
SARAH HOSKINS FROMMER
- Murder in C Major (1986): Murders befalls recent additions to Oliver, Indiana's orchestra, first to an oboe player and then the flutist. The first victim is killed with puffer fish poison.
- 'Exposed' (published in I, Richard, 2002): Short story framed around students in a university course on the history of British architecture, during which an adult student dies of yew poisoning while roaming Abinger Manor. Thomas Lynley plays a small role.
- Death Knocks Three Times (1949): Death by blunt instrument in locked bathroom. Victim killed by the lid of an old Victorian bath in which he sits, which falls on him when he picks up a rigged loofah!
- Fat-Free and Fatal (1993): Kate Jasper, amateur sleuth in this series, takes a vegetarian cooking class in which one of the students is found choked to death by the salad shooter's electrical cord.
- Dewey Decimated (1977): Someone removes the rod from an old card catalog drawer, stabs the victim with it, then replaces the rod.
- B is for Burglar (1985): [VERIFY THIS] Kinsey MIllhone searches for a missing wealthy widow. A window sash or part of a window that had been pried out is used to bludgeon someone to death, then put back in plain sight.
- A Taste for Honey (1941): A 'murder by bees' mystery featuring Mr. Mycroft as the detective -- meant to be Sherlock Holmes in his Sussex retirment.
- Behold, Here's Poison (1936): A tube of toothpaste injected with nicotine kills two family members.
EDWARD D. HOCH
- 'The Invisible Intruder' (1984): Victim's throat is cut by a man outside the window using a pruning hook.
- 'The Problem of the Haunted Tepee' (1990): Victims died from oleander poisoning from sap emanating from their tepee poles.
- The Weight of the Evidence (1943): An Inspector Appleby mystery. As he's napping, Professor Pluckrose is crushed under his 'own' meteorite, which has been liberated from an exhibit.
- Posted to Death: A Simon Kirby-Jones Mystery (2002): The reformed vampire-turned-sleuth from the American South settles in an English village and investigates the murder of a mean-spirited postmistress. The villaness attempts to murder Our Hero (a vampire) with a garlic canape.
- 'A Great Whirring of Wings' (1943): Poison is administered by the murderer's putting poison on birds' beaks and having them peck the victim.
- Misery (1987): Horror novel about an author who is stalked and threatened by his 'Number 1 fan.' The author finally kills the retired nurse who has been holding him captive by crushing her skull with a manual typewriter.
- 'Tomkinson's Bird Story' (1924): Victim is stabbed to death by a stork from a nearby zoo in a locked upper-storey room with a seemingly inaccessible window. [Murder?]
- Rest You Merry (1978): Nose drops poisoned with taxine from yew bushes prove fatal. Debut of Professor Peter Shandy of Balaclava Agricultural College in New England.
- Corpus Christmas (1989): A wealthy trustee to a small, private Manhattan museum is killed at the museum's Christmas party. Weapon is a walking stick from a museum display. Second in the Sigrid Harald series.
- Baby Doll Games (1995): NYPD homicide detective Sigrid Harald is outraged when a shadowy figure kills a dancer before an audience of horrified children. The dancer is thrown from a scaffold onto an iron fence during a performance. In the Sigrid Harald series.
- The Waltz of Death (1941): Victim is killed while listening to a Brahms piece. The pianist plays a special arrangement with dissonances that shattered aspirins just swallowed by the victim,which kills him. [Would shattered aspirin in the gullet actually kill someone?]
- Sayonara, Sweet Amaryllis (1983): When Mrs. George Baldwin swoons in the midst of a madrigal at an exclusive cocktail party, everyone thinks she's drunk. But it's really the fugu (blowfish) poison that's taken effect. Inspector Tetsua Otani novel.
- Kimono For A Corpse (1987): A wealthy businessman is 'accidentally' killed by a falling chandelier that might have crushed anyone in the crowded room. Set in the international fashion world. Inspector Tetsua Otani novel.
T. JEFFERSON PARKER
- Where Serpents Lie (1998): The murder weapon is a 31-foot-long, 545-pound anaconda. [OK, not normally thought of as harmless, but it is unusual!] Features Terry Naughton, a California sheriff's deputy who heads Orange County's crimes-against-children division.
- The Courtship Gift (1999): The main character returns from work and finds her husband dead of anaphylactic shock brought on by a bee sting. Psychological thriller set in Dublin.
- A Fatal Grace (2007): A woman is murdered during a curling match when she in a metal lawn chair attached to an electric heater by a cord hidden under the snow.
MELVILLE DAVISSON POST
- 'The Doomdorf Mystery' (1914): Story in which a victim is murdered by a shaft of sunlight. Features Uncle Abner as the detective. Apparently a similar idea is central to M. McDonnell Bodkin's 'Murder by Proxy' (1897).
- Six Were Present (1956): Death by stabbing at a darkened seance table with the 'sharpened end of a cripple's crutch.'
- 'The Three Widows' (1950): Doctor murders patient via poisoned thermometer. Stepmother, fearing her stepdaughters have a strong motive to murder her, takes extraordinary precautions to prevent this but doesn't succeed.
MARY REED and ERIC MAYER
- Three For A Letter (2001): A boy is murdered with a prototype artificial hand. This is the third in the John the Eunuch Byzantine historical mystery series
- 'Cat's Paw' (1988): Murder by cat -- the victim being strongly allergic to same -- is hinted at in this short story, collected in Mystery Cats (1991).
- Unnatural Death (1927): A nurse commits murder by injecting air through a syringe.
- The Nine Tailors: Changes Rung on an Old Theme in Two Short Touches and Two Full Peals (1934): Murder by change ringing (a form of church bell ringing).
- Busman's Honeymoon: A Love Story with Detective Interludes (1937): Murder with a hanging flowerpot.
- The Lovely Bones (2002): Someone is killed with an icicle through the heart.
- 'The Squaw' (1893): Short story in which a man is murdered by Countess Elizabeth Bathory's infamous Iron Maiden. Story: An Indian spirit pursues a man to his eventual death in a medieval Nuremberg torture chamber. Stoker's most anthologised story.
- Shooting Stars and Other Deadly Things (1999): A Carrie Carlin mystery. A local philanthropist has been killed by a cyclist wielding an unusual murder weapon -- a stick and a star.
- Shibumi (1979): A sharpened pencil is used as a lethal weapon, as is a drinking straw. Story: A massacre in Rome airport, involving the CIA, and the perfect assassin, Nicholai Hel, in Japan.
S.S. VAN DINE
- The Scarab Murder Case (1929): A heavy statue of Anubis propped askew by a pencil stub on top of a library shelf falls on the victim when the victim (a neat freak) tries to straighten it.
- Ghostwriter (1999): An autographed copy of The Godfather and a copy of Crime and Punishment are murder weapons.
- The Cactus Club Killings (1999): Murder by homicidal succulent Euphorbia abdelkuri (with its poisonous sap). A Joe Portugal mystery.
- A Deadly Little Christmas (1998): An exploding Christmas tree is a murder weapon. A Caroline Rhodes mystery.
- If Looks Could Kill (2002): The protagonist, who is allergic to peanuts, is given a food with peanut butter in it, which almost kills her. Features Bailey Weggins, the single, thirty-something, true crime writer for a leading Manhattan woman's magazine.
- 'Death Sits in the Dentist's Chair' (1934): Murder by cyanide which dentist packs inside tooth beneath a temporary covering which disintegrates, releasing the poison (and throwing suspicion on the dentist's rival, to whom the murderer had then referred the victim).