Sunday, October 19, 2008

Add Water, Stir, and Kill

By Camille Minichino/Margaret Grace

I'm very excited as I open a package from my favorite online miniatures store. I pull out a tiny bathtub, a bathroom sink, a two-inch male doll, and some mini-tiles to lay down a floor. Just what I ordered. Any other customer would probably be constructing a dollhouse bathroom.

Not me. I'm setting up a crime scene. All I have to do is throw the doll in the tub, add "water" in the form of resin, and toss in a miniature iron. There's no sizzle, but the doll is dead just the same.

I have a lot of friends in the miniatures community. They all have Victorian dollhouses or New England cottages or a country farmhouse. My most elaborate dollhouse is a mortuary. It's fashioned after the building where my Periodic Table Series protagonist lives. Gloria tiptoes past mourners on her way to her kitchen, trips over a trocar when she goes down to do her laundry. My dollhouse reproduction has an embalming room in the basement, viewing parlors on the "street level," and Gloria's apartment on the top floor. It wasn't easy to fashion an embalming table out of foil, but I had to, since no miniatures stores seemed to have any in stock.

I'm not always turning matchboxes into caskets and strewing dolly arms and legs around a crime scene. Here's a benign tip, for example, from my new protagonist, Gerry Porter, of the Miniature Mysteries series from Berkley: Lay some bell pepper seeds on a paper towel and let them dry. Then put a few of the seeds in an old contact lens/bowl and you have chips ready for munching (by a very small person). It's a project fit for family viewing.

But for the most part, when I buy a set of dollhouse dining room silver, you can bet that I'll pick out the tiny knives and sprinkle them with blood—uh, paint—in case there's a mini-murder by a mini-serial killer eluded by mini-cops.

"Why don't you write about romance instead of murder?" my husband asks me once in a while (when I have no crafts blades or scissors handy). "Don't you love me?" I can answer the second question (of course), but not the first.

I'm always looking for the creepiest take on a scene, whether I'm doing grocery shopping, performing a wedding, teaching a class, or wandering around a museum. At an exhibit of Chihuly glass art in San Francisco recently, where others saw magnificent irises, beautiful ferns, and interesting seaforms, I saw a CSI-type close-up of a gunshot wound.

Mystery writers and miniaturists apparently have the same occupational hazard—twisting things, morphing scenes easily from an idyllic pastoral into a bloody crime scene.

Or is it just me?


  1. Hi Camille, thanks for being our guest blogger today! My daughter does glass blowing off and on as a hobby, and Chihuly is her hero. Those works are amazing! And I'm like you, I see death hiding in the most innocent-looking places! I don't know if I was always that way, but perhaps it comes from thinking (and writing) constantly about murder and its aftermath.

  2. Camille,
    Did you enjoy the reoccurring miniature killer stories on CSI?

  3. I loved those CSI episodes. I tracked down the scenes to see if I get one, but they were auctioned off for tens of thousands for charity. A good outcome anyway.

  4. Thanks so much for hosting me today. Kill Zone is one of the few bookmarked blogs I keep!

  5. I loved the pictures and the description of your mini mortuary. I laughed at your adding blood to the tiny knives. We mystery writers have an interesting take on things.

  6. Camille,
    You may already be aware of this, but there's a coffee table book titled THE NUTSHELL STUDIES OF UNEXPLAINED DEATH by Corinne Botz that is nothing but pictures and descriptions of crime scene re-enactments.

    Why do I get the impression you're a Mr. Bill fan?

  7. Thanks John and everyone for making me feel welcome!

    I have Botz's studies of Frances Lee's Nutshell Studies by my side, Dana! Amazing work. I've blogged about her a couple of times -- as most of you know, she taught police detectives crime scene techniques through her meticulous miniatures. Her scenes were so realistic -- she knit tiny pairs of stockings using straight pins!

    For me, 000 needles are small enough!