"She put the mustard on the wrong side of the table. She knew I like it placed left of the cruet. It was a deliberate incitement."
And "I asked him to stop, but he just wouldn’t. He’d been picking his nose for half an hour. Then I cracked."
Both of those motives for murder were actually given by defendants in court.
Real Life is so much funnier than Art.
When writing my Countess Ashby dela Zouche series, I always raided the official session records, transcripts from the Old Bailey and Stephen’s History of the Criminal Law of England for weird and juicy titbits. When writing modern crime it’s much the same, only the source material is everywhere – there is a massive stream of reports in the newspapers.
When I decided to write a modern standalone with a body-under-the-patio theme, I scanned the daily papers for statements and evidence which captured that same sense of the ridiculous. I knew it was going to be hard work keeping up a humorous element which didn’t interfere with the reader’s immersion in the page-turning nature of the story, but that is exactly the kind of challenge I love.
Once I’d made up my mind on all that, other ideas flooded in.
I wanted to have fun with characterisation, the way Wilkie Collins did, particularly in The Woman In White. Collins used multiple narrators. He explained himself, saying he wanted the story told in the same way as "the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court – by more than one witness".
So I resolved to write the novel with multiple narrators, like a relay race, where the narrators pass the story along in much the same way that runners pass the baton.
Arthur Schnitzler had done something like that in La Ronde, where, during a series of romantic encounters, a dose of the Pox is passed along through the characters, scene by scene.
Another influence on The Murder Quadrille was Patricia Highsmith’s Woodrow Wilson’s Necktie. In that short story we follow, with glee, a boy while he kills his employers and then has fun arranging their bodies in the waxworks where he works. While he’s doing it you feel really sympathetic with him and his capers seem very funny. Then Highsmith turns the tale round. Suddenly we see it all in a totally different light, realising that what the boy has done is actually appalling.
So the next thing I wanted to do throughout the story was to reverse the reader’s opinions and sympathies.
As I did in the Countess novels I chose to use the chapter headings as a way of giving a clue about what was about to happen, while linking in all the time to the title and the "feel" of the book. So I plumped for dance definitions, and learned a great deal along the way.
I opened chapter one (FOXTROT— a pace with short steps, as in changing from trotting to walking) with scene setting which I detest with all my heart – a dinner party. Such a stressful event was an excellent way of setting up my cast of characters and providing the tiny ridiculous incitements which lead to murderous thoughts.
From there I started the rather nail-biting journey into what is now THE MURDER QUADRILLE.
Naturally mayhem ensues – right up to the final chapter which could only be: THE TWIST— rock’n’roll dance in which partners dance separately, with much hip swivelling
The Murder Quadrille by Fidelis Morgan is published in paperback on 25th October, £8.99.
The ebook is available on itunes and Amazon now http://amzn.to/P4oDFz