Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Lesson in Murder from M.L. Malcolm

 M.L. Malcolm has worn many hats, both literally and figuratively, throughout her life. She's a graduate of Harvard Law School and was a practicing attorney; she owned and operated a travel agency; and of course, she's the author of the historical mystery novels, HEART OF DECEPTION and  most recently, HEART OF LIES. Please help me welcome her as my guest blogger today.

Learning how to kill

Violence bothers me. A lot. I’m probably the only person alive who thinks that the popularity of the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series is a terrifying sign of the moral deterioration of civilization. Maybe even the Apocalypse. Not that the book wasn’t good—I  did make it to the end of the first one, although I did it by skipping long sections of gore—it’s just that confronted with violence like that I shut down like a clam.  I can’t handle it, and I don’t think it’s good that most people can.
I’ve only had to incorporate one actual death scene in each of my novels.  Before writing such a scene, I always ask myself the three important questions relayed to me by a wonderful judge, my mentor back in the days before I found the light and started down the road toward becoming a Recovering Attorney.  I can still hear his deep, sonorous southern voice in my head, asking, “Did someone in fact, kill him?  Did he deserve killing?  And, did the right person do the killing?” (If all of these questions were answered by a “yes” at the end of a murder trial in the Deep South as little as forty years ago, the result would be a verdict of “not  guilty.” But I digress.)

I am very comfortable writing love scenes.  I am very uncomfortable writing about violence. So, before I could finish my first novel, I had to learn how to kill.

Nowadays my daughter, a CSI devotee and soon-to-be college freshman, could probably describe in disturbingly correct anatomical detail a dozen different ways to off someone and what the precise results of the chosen method of execution would look like; but she was young when I started this process, and not as well versed in the arts and science of murder. Before I could kill someone, I had to educate myself.
Leo Hoffman, one of the main characters in both my novels, is a veteran of World War I.

Heart of Lies,Leo avenges the death of his foster mother by killing her murderer when he is attacked by the same man. Leo is unarmed when this occurs, so I needed to figure out how to kill someone by hand. During my research I came across one of the most appropriate books ever written on the subject: Get Tough: How to Win in Hand-to-Hand Fighting, as Taught to the British and U.S. Armed Forces, by Major W. E. Fairbairn.
Originally published in 1943, the book gives detailed instructions on such handy subjects as how to kill someone using a book of matches, numerous approaches to disabling and maiming an opponent, and other techniques necessary to successful “gutter fighting.” 
The author had a fascinating personal history. Fairbairn joined the British Royal Marines when he was just a teenager. After serving in exotic places such as Korea and developing new, award-winning ways to prevail in hand-to-hand combat involving bayonets, he left the military, and, in 1907, joined the municipal police force in Shanghai. As one of the only places in the world anyone could enter without a passport or a visa, Shanghai was also one of the most violent and dangerous. It also happened to be the setting for a large portion of Heart of Lies.

Legend has it that early in his career as a policeman Fairbairn was beaten close to death by members of one of the Chinese Tongs, and subsequently took up Jujutsu to decrease the chances that this would happen again. Thus began his life-long fascination with no-holds-barred means of hand-to-hand assault and defense. He established the first SWAT style police unit, and along with Anthony Sykes developed what would become the most famous combat knife of World War II, the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife. When Churchill founded the Special Operations Executive to send covert operatives into Europe, Fairbairn was hired to train Churchill’s spies in everything from self-defense to stealth assassination, a.k.a. “silent killing.” 
In brief, he knew how to take someone out.  
So applying Fairbairn’s teachings, my character first crushes the larynx of his nemesis by…wait.  I don’t want to give away all the good parts.

But I highly recommend Fairbairn’s seminal works to anyone—make that any author—looking for novel ways to maim and kill.


Kay May 18, 2011 at 10:03 AM  

This was a really interesting essay, though I must admit I'm one of the people who loved Stieg Larsson's books, while deploring the vivid violence. I'm fascinated with the Fairbairn book and also with what she shares about the man.

I read another guest post by M.L. Malcolm that went in totally another direction yesterday. That fact alone will probably get me to pick up the books! :-)

kathy d. May 18, 2011 at 9:21 PM  

I liked Stieg Larsson's books, too, although I had to skip some of the violence, even more so watching the movies.

Did something happen with the font? All of a sudden it's tiny, and I can't read it, but the fonts in prior posts are fine.

Jen May 18, 2011 at 9:32 PM  

Oh my goodness. How bizarre. I have to see what caused that...thanks Kathy!

Jen May 19, 2011 at 6:13 AM  

Thanks for the heads up Kathy! I think some extra junk got in during my copy/paste. I think it should be better now.

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