Sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m a little too obsessed with a good murder mystery. The mystery novel provides an intriguing puzzle, a deliberate tease to the brain: “You can’t solve this!” Therefore a good bit of the pleasure of the detective novel comes in trying, desperately, to solve it before the detective does.
But there is such a thing as going too far, and sometimes maybe I do that. The line is crossed when I start to “detect” real-life crimes.
I’ve only just read a story of a young woman (only a few years older than I am) who disappeared from her English flat. Here is the basic story: her boyfriend, who like her was an architect, left town for the weekend to visit his family. She went out Friday night to run a few errands, because she planned to bake mince pies for Christmas and needed some cooking materials. At 8 p.m. Friday, she stopped in at the local pub. At 8:40 p.m., she bought a frozen pizza at the supermarket. Shortly afterwards, she returned home, put the groceries away, and vanished.
Now, here’s the thing that turned on my detective radar. Police know she had finished her shopping because they found the receipt for the pizza and other goods on the kitchen countertop. They also found her phone, keys, coat, and purse. But the pizza was missing.
Don’t laugh. This is serious. She’s been missing for 6 days.
They even searched the trash. No box. No round cardboard thingy. No shrink wrap. No dirty dishes. No pizza. Now the police, lacking any other clues, are very sincerely asking the public if anybody has seen the pizza. They’ve even released, thanks to the receipt, a list of all the toppings.
So, to recapitulate: woman arrives home from shopping, with a pizza. Woman leaves flat without keys, purse, or coat, but with pizza. Abduction is suspected. The news article made no mention of forcible entry, or broken locks, or any clear indicator of foul play. Kidnapping is only suspected because, well, how else do you explain this?
My detective brain is going haywire. I’ve spent more than a little too much time thinking about this and can’t think of any scenario. Well, except for one. She went to the pub before buying a pizza; did she only get a drink, or have a proper meal, too? If she had the meal then she didn’t really need the pizza, except maybe for lunch the next day. Her boyfriend wasn’t around, so she could just heat up something frozen whenever it suited her. But then, why would the pizza disappear?
Maybe she was delivering the pizza to a neighbor. Maybe she dropped it off, said “Oh, no, you don’t need to pay me for that,” and went home to her fate. This could be established through interviews. On the other hand, if she was paid back there would probably be an equal amount of cash somewhere in the flat.
Then, probably, she was followed to her own flat, or it was in some way broken into. But if it had been obviously broken into, surely that would have been said. The one thing the media loves more than an ambiguous disappearance is an obvious abduction. So when I thought of the next thing, I realized that not only did it make a good deal of sense, but it demonstrated that my mind was too, too well-trained by Hercule Poirot, Adam Dalgliesh, Kurt Wallander and Lieutenant Columbo.
Maybe the neighbor killed her in the neighbor’s flat, before or after taking the pizza, and then lugged her purse, coat, and keys back to her own place to make it look as if she’d gotten home safely. It was staged to look like a totally natural “I’m home” scene, but without anyone at home. The pizza receipt was thoughtfully replaced and the pizza itself thoughtfully eaten.
The biggest hint that I am too addicted to detective novels came next.
What I should have thought was, “That’s absurd! Mentally you’re already accusing a ravenous neighbor of being a murderer, and very possibly a sexual predator of some kind, on the basis of absolutely no evidence and for absolutely no reason other than to enjoy a bit of a mystery!”
What I really thought was, “Hang on. If the murderer put the keys back on the counter, how did (s)he lock the door up again on the way out?”