Mystery writing is hard work. Most writers in the genre are not trained as police detectives or in crime scene investigations. Many resources are available from books and websites; there’s even a mystery writers’ police academy. But without thorough research, writers can get it wrong.

A case in point is a book I read recently. On Monday, the heroine goes to a cabin in a remote area known as a haven for coyotes and mountain lions. After searching the house for a missing person, she makes her way to the back porch. From her vantage point, she spies a shoe, and then a leg sticking up from the undergrowth a hundred feet below. Later, the day of death was determined to be the Thursday before.

Immediately my antenna went up as I live in an area infested with coyotes. Some years earlier, I’d had a real-life lesson in just how efficient Mother Nature is when dealing with the aftermath of death.

Suffering from writer’s block on a Thursday, I walked to the pond several hundred yards from my office for inspiration. There, in ankle-deep water, was the body of a deer with a vulture sitting on top of it. (Note: I later read that vultures wait twenty-four hours before beginning body cleanup). A friend was coming that weekend to fish, and I knew if I left the animal there, our outing would be ruined.

Finding no one to help, I finally waded into the water, put a rope around the substantial rack of horns, and my husband dragged the carcass out of the water with the tractor. He deposited it behind the pond. Thank God the remains did not smell or fall apart during the procedure.

Sunday afternoon, my friend and I went to check on the body. Amazingly, only skeletal remains were visible. I was able to snap the head off the spinal cord with surprising ease.

So, while the main character may have seen a mess, I doubt she would have seen a leg sticking up or, for that matter, any leg at all.

But, after realizing the writers spent most of their lives in New York City, I understood the mistake. Bless their poor pea-picking little hearts. They are forgiven.


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