This post first appeared in the June 2018 edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser.
“I have a no-murder policy,” said the tall, softly-spoken man in black.
If, like me, you were obliged to sit beside him for the next hour, would you be reassured by that remark, or alarmed?
What if that statement had a similar impact to those “Keep off the lawn” signs that make you want to do nothing so much as kick off your shoes and run barefoot across it, desperate to feel the cool blades of grass tickling the soles of your feet?
Or to those tantalising signs in the swimming pools that list all the things that you’re forbidden from doing: “No diving, no bombing, no running”, etc – I’m sure you can reel off the list as well as I can – at the same time helpful providing a clear line drawing showing you exactly how to commit each of those offences.
Having a murder policy of any kind might even exert the power of suggestion, in the same way that the instruction “Don’t think of oranges” immediately makes you think about oranges.
It’s All About the Context
Of course, context is all. If the man’s statement had been an unsolicited chat-up line in a wine bar, or his opening gambit at a speed-dating session, I would have been worried. What else might he have up his sleeve? “I have a no wife-beating policy.” “I have a no-coveting-my-neighbour’s-ox policy.”
As it happened, it was music to my ears, as what had brought Darren and I together was an invitation to speak on a panel at the Oakwood Literature Festival in Derbyshire last month, and he was describing his approach to writing his psychological thriller, Child Taken. As I am a writer of crime novels that are more Miss Marple than Nordic Noir, I really have to force myself to kill people for the sake of the plot. I’ve even started describing myself to readers as “the reluctant murderer”, which no doubt comes as a relief to my friends and relations. Listening to Darren, I was glad to know I wasn’t alone in my reluctance.
So as introductions go, his opening line was much more innocuous than one might assume. Although it turned out his surname was also Young. Now that was creepy.
To read more about my cosy mystery series, in which all the murders are gentle and sometimes there’s even a stay of execution, click here.
And if you’d like to read more of my whimsical columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, here’s a book of the first sixty of them, available in ebook and paperback.