Monday, February 28, 2011


Excuse me, but is that a ….?!?

While reaching for a ream of printer paper today, I dislodged a pair of neon yellow water pistols that had been nesting happily in that drawer. They were souvenirs of a conference. Of course, I should have given them to children to enjoy on a summer day, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that because, well, I liked them too much to part with them. At that moment it crossed my mind that we are not like other people. By that I mean mystery writers develop a few quirks on the way and are not likely to ditch those quirks in a hurry.

A glance around my office confirmed this. For one thing there was the skull candle sitting on top of the small bookcase. For another, that bookcase was shaped like a coffin and held the Ladies Killing Circle collection. The bookcase coffin was built by Susan Gates’s father for the launch of Going Out with a Bang. And how about that boa? Hmmm?

The skull candle was a good match for the skull flask that adorns the shelf by my desk. I’m quite attached to that flask and I know it will come in handy someday if I’m making a quick getaway and need a snootful of something to help with the extraction of, say, a stray bullet. We like to be prepared. For whatever.

I do remember my grandson asking me why I had a pair of handcuffs on my desk. I had to weigh the answer carefully and also to move those handcuffs as the key hadn’t been seen for a while.

Not so unusual really. Doesn’t every office have a roll of crime scene tape and a skeleton yo-yo? No? Well, what about a Derringer clock then?

These are the trappings of my working life. They’re all connected in some way with crime or death, but bringing a light-hearted touch. None of us really find death amusing or crime and criminals too cute for words, but somehow these small totems remind us that, whatever else, death is fascinating and solving murder mysteries remains a valid and intriguing pastime for reader and author.

During the long and rocky road to publication, these totems kept me going, potent symbols of the genre I wanted to write in. Since then, they also recall memories of book launches, conferences, and special events with readers and writers and friends from the mystery community. My friend Audrey Jessup’s dramatic black hat will always have a place of pride on top of my shelf.

Despite the whimsical ghoulishness of much of my collection, it reminds me of the crime writing community and the kind, collegial and (okay, I’ll admit it) slightly off-centre characters who fill the world with fabulous stories.

It’s a strange but wonderful club we belong to, and one I wouldn’t leave for the world. Oh, is that my fedora? The one I wore to the Festive Felons launch with Barb Fradkin years ago? Excellent. I was wondering where that was hiding.

So what small or large totems keep you writing or energized? Do they bring back any special memories?

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder (April 5, 2011), is brimming with names, no two the same.


  1. Ah yes, the skull candle! Love it. And you find these things in the strangest places. If you're ever passing through Barry's Bay in rural Ontario (population 1200), you'll find a fascinating shop with the best collection of the skulls, skeletons, tombstones and coffins you might ever want. Candelabras, coat hooks, book only by a ghoulish imagination. I vacillated over a skull door knocker, but thought the neighbours might be less understanding.

  2. Oh yes, Barry's Bay is the best! Skull wind chimes too.

  3. Some of my most memorable finds (skeleton earrings come to mind) were at Malice Domestic and so I'm looking forward to shopping there again. Hope the same vendors are still in the Dealers Room.

    I also found some wonderful handcuff earrings in the Vancouver Police Museum.

  4. Handcuff earrings! I am soooo jealous. MJ

  5. A Derringer clock?... time to kill?