Friday, July 4, 2008

True Crime

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 Jeff blogs at

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.

Jeff Markowitz


  1. That's disturbing. And funny.

    So . . . what would you like on your hot dog?

  2. Thanks for following me here from xanga, Eric (and for bringing me a Fourth of July hot dog). And thanks as well to the wonderful writers at The Stiletto Gang for hosting me today. Surely I'm not the only one who's had a brush with true crime. Tell me your own true crime tales.

  3. Excellent post! I (thankfully?) don't think I have my own true crime for retelling.... Will think on it, though. Still morning here, but I will give a holler when the dogs are on the grill.

  4. I totally think your first attempt at writing true crime should be this story. And I think you should infuse your wonderful sense of humor into the book--you could start a whole new genre: "Humorous True Crime."

    Great skiing conditions, indeed. I think I might've sided with your wife on this issue.

  5. Nice blog, although I'm pressed to find a 'true crime' in my life. A couple of break-ins, living near the biggest FBI shoot-out on record at the time in Miami, but I can't recall anything worth adding to a book. Or even a short story, for that matter.

    As for humor -- by all means. If Lawrence Block's hit man can make me laugh, what's wrong with humor?

  6. Thanks to Leah, Saadia and Terry for your comments. I'm the only one who's had a brush with true crime? C'mon. Tell me a good crime story before I tell you about the murder for hire at my high school graduation.

  7. I think Agatha Christie always had a sense of humor when it came to her mysteries. Hercule Poroit, who could be funnier?

    Happy Fourth of July! Our hot dogs are like four inches longer than our buns but they still taste wonderful and you're always welcome to join us.

    As to the true life -- that's a great story and I would write it as true life. I think you'd be great -- especially since you were there!

    karen from xanga

  8. I could write a tale of what happened in our house; it's not mine, but it's close to me!

    Great Post Jeff!


  9. well, the hot dog is now dead cold and the cold beer warm....but you dress the Jersey Devil and show up for a dog later this afternoon. as for the crime....if memory serves you did a fine job blending more than one theme like a good margarita...cheers!

    that Unc(t)ious fellow

  10. I drove into the middle of a California Highway Patrol shootout once, cars sliding all over the freeway, cops running across the cement, aiming and firing their weapons at something in the bushes. It was like being in a movie.

  11. Great story Jeff. Sorry I didn't get over here on Friday to read the blog, but it was my b'day and we were partying at my house. :-)

    Alas, I have not had such an exciting brush with true crime, but I do agree with some of the other comments that you could do this one as a book.