Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Complete Cozy Sleuth Kit

by Guest Blogger Sheila Connolly

Recently on a blog I commented that I had my fingerprints taken many years ago when I obtained a stockbroker's license (long and boring story), so somewhere in Washington my prints are on file, which would make it difficult to commit a crime and get away with it. Some smart person replied, "wear gloves." Well, duh. But it started me thinking...

Traditional/cozy mysteries usually feature an amateur sleuth who just stumbles into things–like finding bodies. Now, most sensible people, when confronted with a dead body, would probably (a)
freeze, (b) throw up, (c) run screaming in the opposite direction, or some combination of these. Ideally they would run screaming toward the nearest phone (assuming it's not in their pocket) and call the proper authorities and let them take care of things. But our fictional sleuth does not have that choice, because unless she gets involved there won't be a story. Therefore she (and we) had better be ready for whatever may come her way. She needs the Cozy Sleuth Kit.

The list of contents has been growing steadily, thanks to many kind suggestions from mystery readers. Here are the basics:

tex gloves
--plastic bags (for evidence, or course)
--camera (with spare batteries)
--flashlight (with spare batteries)
--cell phone (yeah, I know it takes pictures, but I still haven't figured out how to transfer the
m anywhere, and besides, what if it's not charged?)
--a magnifying glass (a classic)

This last item inspired additional comments. Bring a pen? No, a pen can run out of ink. Bring pencils? But they wear down. Bring a pencil sharpener?

This led to:
--a knife, preferably Swiss Army style (now you can sharpen your pencils!) or
--a Leatherman multi-tool (I don't have one–should I think about it?)

I'm boggled by how many of these items I carry regularly (all except the knife), even though I don't expect to run into any bodies (but never say never).

But if you're going explore serious sleuthing, there are several more items that might come in handy:

--duct tape–always useful
--chocolate (come on, most of our amateur sleuths are women)
--a pocket flask filled with the Good Stuff (to calm your nerves, or to snap an important witness out of a dithering fit)
--a wad of cash (in case you have to bribe someone? or flee the scene unexpectedly? maybe you should carry your passport too)

and, last but not least:
--business cards from a friend on the police force AND a good lawyer

The last trick is to find a purse or bag that will hold all this stuff without becoming so heavy that it drags you down. Woman are used to doing that, right? One kind soul suggested wearing cargo pants, but they're so unflattering (sleuths should always look their best, in case there are television cameras on the scene), and besides, it's too easy to forget what you put in which pocket and you'd waste valuable time hunting for it and dropping things get the drift.

As the Girl Scouts say, Be Prepared!

Sheila Connolly has taught art history, structured and marketed municipal bonds for major cities, worked as a staff member on two statewide political campaigns, and served as a fundraiser for several non-profit organizations. She also managed her own consulting company providing genealogical research services. Now a full-time writer, she thinks writing mysteries is a lot more fun than any of her previous occupations. Currently she writes two mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her Through a Glass, Deadly (March 2008, under the name Sarah Atwell) was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel; Pane of Death followed in November 2008, and Snake in the Glass in September 2009. Under her own name, her Orchard Mystery Series debuted in 2008 with One Bad Apple. The sequel, Rotten to the Core, came out in July 2009.


Gina said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Sheila. I like your Amateur Sleuth Kit, but I would add:
1) a cat (for companionship, when that cop/lawyer boyfriend is being unreasonable); and
2) a first aid kit (for scratches and bites incurred while trying to stuff the cat into the purse).

Martha Reed said...

Sheila, hi. Depending on the age of your sleuth, how about using a backpack (teen) or a briefcase (adult)? I think it would be funny to see a fitted out briefcase like an assassin would use to conceal a rifle only kitted out to fit sleuthing tools. How about that?

Annette said...

Hey, Sheila! Greetings from a fellow Guppy!

It's scary that I already carry just about everything you've mentioned. As for pen or pencil? I carry a pen...actually two or three in case I lose one.

I'd like to recommend two things to your list: pepper spray--a gal can never be too careful and a sleuth frequently runs into baddies. Also small digital recorder--she may over hear a conversation she'd like to record and they're great for "taking notes" while driving.

Welcome to Working Stiffs!

Joyce Tremel said...

Welcome, Sheila! Great post.

Since a sleuth always needs to look her best, she needs lipstick, and a compact to powder her nose. And if she thinks she's being followed, she can use the mirror to look behind her. Don't forget a bottle of clear nail polish to fix any runners she may get in her stockings.

Something tells me we all read too many Nancy Drew books as kids.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, this is hilarious! I love it. As Gina mentioned, a cat would work well, too.

I'm tweeting this one!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I keep that kit in the trunk of my car. But it also includes golf clubs. Oh, and a travel umbrella.

Joyce Tremel said...

Will, that's provided you can get your trunk opened, lol!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

You had to ruin my day, didn't you, Joyce.

Joyce Tremel said...

That's what I'm here for!

Jena said...

Better include some paper bags of various size in order to collect any bloody objects. DNA deteriorates in a sealed plastic bag.

I second the motion on carrying a cat -- you can always throw it at the bad guy when in danger. :)

Wilfred Bereswill said...

You ladies can keep your cats as a weapon, I'll stick to the Smith & Wesson Model 29.

I know what you're thinking — "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But, being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Sheila Connolly said...

Thank you all for having me! Yes, it's scary how much of this is already lurking in my purse (I could even fit a notebook computer in there). I even have one of those tiny digital recorders, which gets amazingly good sound reception. In that goes.

I like the idea of bringing a cat along. How about a Siamese? I've seen people carry those draped around their necks in public places, and the cat seemed to be quite at ease about the whole thing. Plus Siamese are fairly intelligent, and good judges of character (can you tell I've had a couple?). It might be reassuring to have the S&W along, but you don't need a permit to carry a concealed cat (do you?).

I agree that pepper spray is a great addition, and at least band-aids for first aid (you can always pour the Good Stuff over the wound to disinfect it, right?). And the umbrella. Or maybe one of those mylar blankets that folds up into the size of a tissue, so you can protect the crime scene from rain.

PatR said...

What about the purse? I think your next blog needs to include suggestions and styles for the perfectly accessorized amateur sleuth!
Funny blog, Sheila. Come back again soon!

Patg said...

Shoot, I'm nver going to be prepared. I don't carry hardly anything in the way of real necessities, much less cozy, mystery girl stuff.
Oh yeah, I have a whistle on my key chair--oh year, I have that monster key chain that could not only knock someone cold, but then be used to chain them to the ground.
Oh yeah! Hummm. But I guess I should get a first aid kit.