Lemony Snicket on How to Solve Your Own Murder
As the bestselling author of the A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Wrong Questions series, Lemony Snicket knows a thing or two about the monstrous and macabre. His latest novel, Poison for Breakfast, invites readers to save him from impending death by uncovering his would-be murderer and, in this piece, Mr Snicket outlines the 13 essential steps everybody must follow in order to bring their own killer to justice.
Suspicious death is one of those phrases, like "sudden avalanche", "bear mauling", or "decaffeinated coffee" that, while already monstrous to read, becomes much, much worse when it happens to you. A great number of people find themselves suspiciously dead every year, and so it seems likely that it will also happen to you someday, especially if you are thinking about it late at night. Solving your own murder may sound like an experience that is either troubling or unnecessarily self-referential, but those sort of things already happen to you all the time, and it is best to be prepared. Like almost everything in life, solving your own murder is a thirteen-step process, so here we go.
1. Studies show that nearly 100% of people are vulnerable to death. Try to keep this in mind during your entire lifetime, in the hopes of avoiding the end of it. Treasure, if not every moment of your life – especially the one you're thinking of now, that was ghastly – a great number of moments that keep slipping by, while you do seemingly useless things like laundry, or reading a silly article on a screen. Hold onto these times, and perhaps your untimely demise can be prevented.
2. Oh no, it turns out death is inevitable after all – inevitable and suspicious. You should investigate at once, and murder investigations begin with the discovery of the body. Examine your own physical person carefully. You were so adorable when you were a baby. What happened? Why have so many things changed? Cover yourself with a sheet and take notes.
3. Examine the immediate circumstances of your death. Were you found at home, or did you manage to go out someplace? Were you having a good time, or were you quite bored and lonely, that is, half-dead already?
4. Look around for signs of foreshadowing, a literary device in which unpleasant events are hinted at before they happen. Did you just say something like, "I plan on living a long and happy life," or "Death doesn't seem like something worth worrying about?" Were you reading something concerned with mortality, like Death on the Installment Plan by the French author Louis-Ferdinand Céline, or Poison for Breakfast, by an author modesty prevents me from mentioning, in stores now?
5. Is there something laying around which could be used as a weapon against you, such as an alabaster statuette, or your own insecurities?
6. If there is no weapon to be found, is it possible you died of something slower and less violent, such as age, or despair? Find your least flattering mirror and take a good look at yourself. Are you old and/or sad? Is the mirror getting blurry with your own tears? Are you uglier when you cry? Why can you never find a clean handkerchief? That seems like such an easy task, and once again you are unable to provide a simple comfort, even to yourself. Is this why people don't like you?
7. Here we are, making a list of your enemies. Make it on a long sheet of paper divided in half by a stern line. On one side of the line are enemies who have no right to dislike you. On the other is a list of enemies who, let's face it, have a bit of a point. Some of the names on the list seem to be moving over to this half. Perhaps you shouldn't have made this list in ink. Now the paper is covered in arrows and Xs.
8. Cheer yourself up by making a list of friends. Surely these people wouldn't murder you! Of course, it's been a while since you've talked to a few of them. Perhaps they've changed their minds, or taken your long silence to heart. Can you be sure that your name is on their list of friends, or is it perhaps on that inked-up enemies list that keeps getting longer?
9. Strangers! They do seem to look at you suspiciously sometimes. Were you murdered by a stranger? This seems somehow sadder than even a friend betraying you so viciously.
10. Murder suspects are made to supply alibis, and come to think of it, almost everyone else in the world seems to be somewhere else right now, don't they? You recently heard some of them laughing, outside your window, or when you walked by someplace where everyone inside seemed to be having a better time than you were. How enterprising they were, making plans to enjoy themselves, while you were only pressing your face against the glass to watch them. The melancholy truth is that you are the only person who cannot account for their whereabouts.
11. This is all very upsetting. Feel free to panic, although you've probably already started. Your pulse is racing and your heart is pounding and…
12. Wait a minute, these are signs of life! You're alive! You haven't been murdered after all! Like any good murder mystery, there's been a good plot twist, and you're not the victim of a terrible crime – you're just a human being, as lonely and desperate as anyone else.
13. Congratulations, you have solved the case. Please return to step one to begin the cycle all over again, and then again, and again, and again. Each mystery – every moment of each mystery – brings you closer and closer to your own suspicious death, an event which only you can solve, if only you can decipher whatever it is about life that has so far eluded detection. This is an important case. We are, all of us, in the thick of it.
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