“As someday it may happen that a victim must be found, I’ve got a little list.”
I’m planning to kill my neighbor.
Lest you fear that I’ve just made you an accessory before the fact, rest assured that no actual blood will be spilled, although I do have a particularly gory end in mind for this guy. He’s one of those of selfish, antagonistic neighbors—apartment-dwellers will recognize the type—who has no consideration for anyone else, yet complains constantly about the rest of us. And so, he must die. Most likely, in book three.
In the first installment of my Isobel Spice mystery series, The Temporary Detective, Isobel arrives in New York City eager to pursue her acting career. On the first day of her first temp job, she stumbles across an obnoxious, overbearing secretary dead in a bathroom stall, a pair of scissors buried in her ample bosom.
Okay, so who was this secretary really? Why, the woman who got me fired from my first temp job, of course! She thought I spent too much time yakking on the phone to my friends, which, admittedly, I did. I had the idea for my series shortly after that, although I didn’t write the book for almost twenty years. I guess you could say I hold a grudge, because even after all that time, she was still my first victim. I put her on the page—and then I killed her. [Insert maniacal laugh.]
Writers have always populated their fiction with thinly disguised acquaintances. D.H. Lawrence wrote an amusing poem on the subject, called “I am in a novel,” in which the protagonist is shocked to learn, via his fictional alter ego, what his author friend really thinks of him. After years living in New York, temping and working in the theater, I’ve filed away a handful of standout jerks whose demises I have been plotting for a while.
In the second Isobel Spice novel, Bad Publicity (due out early next year), Isobel temps in a public relations firm, where a troublesome consultant drinks poisoned coffee before a meeting. Wanna guess? That’s right: a demanding client who made my colleagues and me miserable, and then fired us. Off he goes into the beyond, dispatched with a not-so-accidental overdose of prescription drugs.
Which brings me back to my belligerent neighbor. Since Isobel’s third adventure is still in the planning stages, I hadn’t quite settled on my victim until the other day, when this guy did something particularly galling. In the unlikely event that he reads my book, chances are slim that he’ll recognize himself, despite being a class-A narcissist. Like most of us, he has little awareness of how others perceive him.
One of the great things about being a writer is having the power to create your own world and populate it with whomever you want. It’s a particular perk of the mystery novelist that you get to regularly de-populate it as well. From now on, every time I find myself trapped in the elevator with my neighbor, I can relish the secret knowledge that—at least on paper—he’s going to get what he deserves.
Joanne Sydney Lessner is the author of Pandora’s Bottle, a novel inspired by the true story of the world’s most expensive bottle of wine (Flint Mine Press, 2010) and The Temporary Detective (Dulcet Press, 2012). Joanne also enjoys an active performing career, and with her husband, composer/conductor Joshua Rosenblum, she has co-authored several musicals, including the cult hit Fermat’s Last Tango and Einstein’s Dreams, based on the celebrated novel by Alan Lightman.