In the first of what I hope to be a recurring segment, UK author Richard Butchins has the helm today to discuss how he selected the weapons featured in his crime novel, Pavement. The piece, due out in September but available for pre-order now, focuses on a loner who turns to killing.
What’s interesting to me – and hopefully others – is the thought process that goes into assigning a character a certain firearm or knife. Plots in thrillers and crime fiction pivot on firearms and knives. Their selection can be very important. I detail my own step-by-step process in my upcoming book from Writer’s Digest.
Butchins is an award-winning UK documentary film maker (check out his IMDb credits) so this should be a real treat. Enjoy.
My novel Pavement is about the internal world of a serial killer, a world where why he does things is more important than how. The story takes place in London and as such the protagonist’s choice of weapons is limited. In the UK access to firearms is extremely restricted and always has been, because of this we don’t have a culture of gun ownership and use in the same way as our American cousins.
Also the use of a firearm would be alien to my protagonist’s way of thinking. He would find it too easy and impersonal, not to mention far too noisy. So he goes for a tool, something that is not only or primarily intended for killing – the knife. The knife is a tool with a long history and variety of uses: carving knife, bread knife, fish knife, butter knife, scalpel and so on, we all own some. What’s more, a knife can be used to create, for example, in the hands of a chef or barber, to heal, when in the hands of a surgeon, or when in the hands of someone such as “Smith,” my protagonist, to kill.
The choice of weapon also serves to illustrate the obsessive nature of Smith as he repeatedly sharpens and hones his blade, testing their edge as he uses whetstones to sharpen his blades:
I choose my boning knife as the first recipient of my love. The trick is to have the back and edge of the blade flat on the stone; it is not like using a steel or a cinderblock. This is the ‘Art of Sharpening’ as opposed to your father at the table waving a carving knife and steel about, or some dozy chef in a restaurant sharpening one to cut up a turkey.
This is ritual.
He then tests the sharpness of the blades:
To check the blades’ sharpness I carry out the hanging hair test, designed for old style straight razors – it’s simple – I pluck out a head hair, a single head hair and see if my knife blades are sharp enough to cut through it when it’s held up in the air. You bring the hair slowly down on the blade and it should pass through the hair with no sound or resistance. It’s a controversial test in straight razor circles due to the fact that hair can vary in thickness and oiliness and so on, – there is a lot of passion amongst the aficionados of honing. But for me it’s fine; after all it’s not as if I am going to be shaving any facial hair, just dismembering a body.
He then explains why he needs very sharp knives:
I suppose I could just use an axe, a hammer and a saw, but I prefer to be efficient and precise – besides, I want to cut the body up into small, difficult to identify pieces, and do it quickly, so I need very sharp tools.
The choice of knives, by Smith serves a practical, artistic and psychological purpose as he carves his way to redemption.