• D L Richardson

Cause of death in thrillers

I loved doing the research for cause of death in THE WIDOW CATCHER. What I learned is that they call it Forensic Science for a reason, because the rules of death are grounded in absolutes. If too much blood is lost, a person dies. If too many internal organs are damaged, a person dies. If there is no oxygen, a person dies. In thrillers and mysteries, unless there is a supernatural element, we rarely have scope for miraculous recoveries. People may survive gunshot wounds, but they cannot dodge bullets. People may survive being held underwater for a people or time, but they cannot breathe underwater. I typically write fantasy and science fiction, so writing THE WIDOW CATCHER made for some interesting writing when I searched for ways in which the protagonist would kill his victim, while abiding by the rules of death in the natural world.

I turned to my trusty ‘Encyclopedia of Forensic Science’ written by Brian Lane. I bought this book many years ago, 2004 from the date on the front cover, and I have been dying (excuse the pun) to use it. Here are two pieces of information I found particularly interesting.


There are three proximate causes for death, a failure of one of the organ essential to life.

  • Coma is a failure of the brain – such as bludgeoning in the case of homicide, narcotics, haemorrhage.

  • Syncope is a failure of the heart – such as natural failure or homicidal as a result of poisoning or extensive injury.

  • Asphyxia is a failure of the lung – such as drowning or strangulation, poisoning, paralysis of the lungs due to electric shock.


A crime-scene kit was originally known as a ‘murder bag’. Ex-superintendent Percy Savage of Scotland yard was sent off to investigate a death and Sir Bernard Spilsbury was astonished that the police officer touched putrid flesh and evidence with is bare hands. When the officer told Sir Bernard that none of the police even carried gloves with then, sir Bernard had a talk to Dr Scott-Gillett about the need for evidence bags and gloves, and thus began the start of chief inspectors carrying a ‘murder bag’ to each crime scene.

The killer in THE WIDOW CATCHER used passive methods of murder to rid himself of his obstacles, so as not to dirty his hands. In the planned follow up book THE THIEF CATCHER, the killer will be certainly getting his, or her, hands dirty. Be sure to sign up to my newsletter to be kept up to date on all my thriller releases. You can sign up here. Plus receive a free word search sampler.

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