Startling Facts from Researching Novels

In Praise of the Semicolon

Call for submissions (paying markets)

Not open for further replies.

Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
In writing my Cornish Detective novels, I try to make the plots as intriguing as possible by finding unusual ways of murdering someone. My novels contain a strong forensic element, so more weird facts titillate the reader, some mind-blowingly unbelievable.

*In Sin Killers, one of the murder suspects was born and raised in North Vietnam, the daughter of a witch, one who dispenses traditional medicine and poisonous concoctions. She inherits these skills and uses the poison that comes from several species of brightly coloured frogs, which is exuded from their skin to drug my protagonist detective. Traditionally, it's used by primitive tribes to coat their arrows or darts. It's estimated one frog contains enough poison to kill ten to fifteen adult humans, 10,000 mice or two adult African bull elephants!

* Also, in Sin Killers, the Vietnamese witch and her Cornish husband, who's a Druid, are found on arrest to have been eating their victims. Historically, this happened with Druids and the Vietcong in the Vietnam War. Various cuts of human meat are stored in the freezer, and their huge hellhound of a dog has been gnawing on a human tibia. To my detective's amazement, (and mine), he learns there are no laws on the British statute books against cannibalism. Killing people is illegal, but eating them isn't! He muses to himself, that it's no wonder The Walking Dead television series is so popular on television. It appeals to a primitive instinct: and no cooking is involved!
Eating people is wrong, but is it against the law?

* In An Elegant Murder, the drowned body of an elderly woman is discovered floating in a flooded quarry. When autopsied, she's found to have been carrying the calcified body of a baby. These are correctly termed lithopedions but are commonly referred to as stone babies. A rare phenomenon, occurring in an ectopic or abdominal pregnancy outside the womb. The foetus dies, and as it's too big to be reabsorbed by the body it calcifies, protecting the mother from infection.
It can go undetected for decades and is only noticed when an X-ray is taken. The mother is often unaware of the dead baby, attributing any discomfort and pouchiness to ageing. Up to menopause, she'd have menstruated as usual. The world record for carrying a stone baby is 65 years, by a Chinese lady who sensed something was wrong, but couldn't afford to pay a doctor.

*In The Perfect Murderer, a serial killer is taking victims as part of an ancient roleplay game, that's organised online these days. He's a master of camouflage, having served as a sniper in the Bosnian War of Independence, and he's also skilled at disguising his appearance with makeup, wigs and facial and body prostheses to mimic disabled war veterans. To trace where he's been hiding in the countryside, the police call in a bloodhound.
Their powers of smell are truly amazing. A normal breed of dog typically has a sense of smell that's 100 thousand times more sensitive than a human, but a bloodhound's is estimated to be 100 million times superior. They're skilled at following very aged scents—the record is over 330 hours—a scent trail almost two weeks old.

What startling facts have you discovered when researching your stories?

I love that picture!

Now to the topic. I also love to do research and it's part of the fun of writing. It's not just the standard how to kill people and how do bodies decompose stuff typical of any mystery writing. My latest short story required research into cycles of the moon - maybe you all knew them, but I didn't - the one before that, bull sharks; before that, string quartets. At some point, research may become a form of procrastination, but that's another thread. As for the strange facts, they're in the stories.
I'm currently researching cults, and immolation. Lots of potential to discover weird stuff, right? And gambling addiction. I need to tie them together somehow for my protagonist. Hmmmm, we'll see...

For my first book, I researched clipboards. Nothing exciting to report there. And Post Office union rules. Same goes.

As for the second novel: the Mafia, Saint Tropez and the Matterhorn, as well as expensive yachts. Incredible, the size of these things. Posher than my house, that's for sure. Very designer. It certainly was nice to get lost in that fantasy for a while.

I ought to research wine and chocolate ...
Last edited:
For some years, I've spent time studying and thinking about the work of certain local landscape artists and travelled to Namibia (the Namib is the oldest desert in the world) to look at oil paintings by Adolf Jentsch, a committed Taoist and painter who fled to Africa to escape Nazi Germany. Now, following the unexpected and tragic death of the brilliant artist Walter Meyer (see image below), I'm working on a fiction that draws certain themes together.

It's almost a joke out here to say that if you were to head off to the most remote, inhospitable and inaccessible corner of the Namib, Karoo, Kalahari or Kgaladi Transfrontier Reserve, you'd find some misanthropic artist in flight from civilization, camping out with an easel and determined to capture the immensity and harsh light of the desert.

Not open for further replies.

In Praise of the Semicolon

Call for submissions (paying markets)