How to Get Away with Murder (at Comic-Con), by Max Wirestone


mossMax Wirestone’s The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is a book about MMORPGs, digital thievery, and murder—a mystery in which the clues are all written in Geek. As a math and science nerd and a librarian, Max has assembled a disturbingly comprehensive stockpile of knowledge on how to take advantage of geeky interests in order to get away with murder—and with New York Comic-Con kicking off tomorrow, it turns out there’s no time quite like the present. We’ll let him explain.

Max Wirestone (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Frantz)

Max Wirestone (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Frantz)

In 1970, comic book letterist Shel Dorf founded the San Diego Comic-Con, creating a place for likeminded folks to geek out about the important issues in nerd culture: upcoming comics, outsider culture, and the all-important question of who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman.

Since then cons have become a staple of geek culture – including everything from video games to role-playing to niche interests like Dark Shadows and Discworld. They’re a chance for geeks to celebrate the things we love with others who love them. It’s a judgment-free space, and if you want to dress as an Elizabethan or a Klingon, or even a Elizabethan Klingon, you know that not only will you not be judged, you’ll be celebrated.

You know what would fit in great there?  MURDER.

Oh, don’t get all squeamish on me. I’m talking about a nice, old-fashioned murder; something tasteful that Arthur Conan Doyle would approve of. A guy in a pith helmet gets hit with a blowdart, that sort of thing.

Not sold? Consider the advantages.

Everyone is in disguise
You can wear an obvious disguise without anyone batting an eye.  When witnesses describe the assailant, all they’ll have will be useless phrases like “I believe the killer was dressed as Rocket Raccoon.”  Change costumes and you’re unrecognizable. Plus, if your costume is popular enough, Iron Man or Gandalf, let’s say, there are probably six or seven others dressed identically.

Blood is not all that alarming
Here’s a phrase that doesn’t get wheeled out enough: “I’m not covered in blood, officer; I’m cosplaying.” With some clever planning, you can easily work your murder into your outfit. Why, look, Edna – it’s Dexter! (This does have the downside of a total strangers coming up to you and having their pictures taken with your blood-drenched self, so consider carefully.) There are endless options here. Jack the Ripper? A vampire? Carrie? No prob.  Blood is all part of the show.

You can move the corpse
Need to haul your dead victim around? How about a little salute to Weekend at Bernie’s? With a couple of Hawaiian shirts and the right corpse, but not only will you have an easy way to hide your crime, you’ll make a lot of hipsters’ weekends. Disadvantages here still include pictures: in this case bystanders actually draping the arms of a corpse around them for photo opportunities. A little grisly, but they asked for it.

No one will notice the smell
It’s a cliché that nerds smell bad, but let’s be honest, on day three of a con, there are at least some pockets of aroma that could charitably described as ‘a little iffy.’ The nice thing is that no one is going to comment on a bad smell because that would be ungentlemanly.  So, go ahead and stuff the corpse into that closet.  What would someone do, yell, “Hey, an uncertain smell is coming from this fellow in the corner”? The hell they will.

You can openly brandish your murder weapon
Guns are out, but exotic weapons are encouraged. Katana? Sure. Glaive? Why not? Whatever that crazy weapon Buffy the Vampire Slayer was using when she ran away from home and got kidnapped by demons at a homeless shelter? Knock yourself out! Heck, knock out several people. And no matter what you pick, there’s probably a few other folks with the same thing.  Only at a con could a detective say something like: “Now that we know the victim was killed with an atlatl, we’re down to seven suspects.”

You can catch your enemies unaware at panels
Snatch your victim while he’s stumbling out of a mind-numbing panel on “The Greatest Moments of the Sixth Doctor Who,” why don’cha? He seriously won’t know what hit him.  Alternately, you could probably kill someone in full view of a crowd during the reveal of a new Star Wars trailer and no one would remember a thing.

Conceal evidence in an overcrowded con suite
Got some bloody gloves that you need to dispose of? Leave ‘em with the coats and bags in a con suite. You’ll never see them again.

You can’t do worse than Denver
Even if you did kill somebody, it’s probably still not as bad as that time the Denver Comic Con had a Women in Comics Panel without a single woman on it. Now that was a real bloodbath.

On the other hand…
It is perhaps worth mentioning that there is one very significant downside, which is there are a lot of witnesses, everywhere.  EVERYWHERE, I tell you. Seriously, you cannot pee at a con without witnesses.

Which is perhaps just as well, because I don’t want to sell the con killing spree concept too successfully here. Not just for the senseless loss of human life, but also because I like getting invited to them. Advocating murder is probably not a great career move.

No, what cons are the perfect place for is a fictional murder. They’re fun and kooky and hijinx ensue without any catalyst. At my son’s first convention, we were there for five minutes before zombies started breakdancing.  In a place like that, where you can get your picture taken with Mr. T and someone cosplaying as Christina Hendricks with an accordion at the same time (or actually meet Christina Hendricks) – isn’t an old-fashioned murder mystery the perfect addition?  It’s like a masquerade ball, but instead of harlequins and a knave of hearts, you’ve got someone in succubus costume and two guys dressed up as Optimus Prime.

I took advantage of this in The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, where a murderer really does try to take advantage of the con chaos to commit murder. There are no zombies breakdancing at that convention, but there are cosplaying harpies, scantily-clad elves, and a giant inflatable Phoenix that gets riddled with bullets. Weekend at Bernie’s cosplay optional.

It’s not what Agatha Christie would have written, but you know what?

She would have had a hell of a time.

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is available October 20.

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