Miles Kington: Meet the man with the poison pen

'I can't see how anyone can be killed by a pair of reading glasses. Can you help?'
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The Independent Online

I am glad to welcome today a guest expert, Dr Max Bantam, who is as far as I know the only living crime-novel consultant. When thriller writers need to know more about strangling or asphyxiation, are having trouble with alibis and autopsies, or can't even think of a good solution for a murder, it is to Dr Bantam that they turn for advice. A busy man, clearly, so it is very kind of Dr Bantam to spend a little time dealing with some of the problems that people are having with their crime novels in progress.

Dear Dr Bantam: In the novel I am writing at the moment, it is vital for the police to analyse the breath of the murder victim. However, as the murder victim is dead, it is a bit problematic getting a sample of his breath. Can you suggest a way in which they could actually do this?

Dr Bantam writes: You mean, like putting a bag over the dead man's mouth, and squeezing his body so he gives one last posthumous puff?

Dear Dr Bantam: Well, I hoped that you might be able to do a little better than that!

Dr Bantam writes: I certainly can. Just kidding. The trick is to engineer it so that the victim breathed into something before he died, and his breath is still trapped in that thing. Maybe he blew up balloons for a children's party. Of course, balloons don't hang around for long. So why not have him inflate a paddling pool for children or a lilo or an inflatable crocodile or something that is still inflated weeks or months later – and still contains a sample of his breath?

Dear Dr Bantam: I have a quite different problem in my work in progress. I need the main murderer to devise a foolproof disguise so that he can move through London unrecognised one evening. Not unobserved. Anyone can notice him. But he must not be recognised by anyone. Is there any disguise open to me today that previous thriller writers have never used?

Dr Bantam writes: Yes, there is. Football face paint. For years and years, the only people who used face paints were kids at parties and pretentious street performers. Suddenly, football fans do it too, with their club or country colours, which not only mark them out as a Swedish or Chelsea supporter but also make them all look alike. So why not have your murderer get painted up in football colours? Not Chelsea, obviously, or he will get beaten up. But a football fan with face paint generally goes unchallenged and unrecognised.

Dear Dr Bantam: I am trying to devise the perfect alibi for a murder near a motorway, and the alibi would be a breakdown on the motorway. See, the murderer stops on the hard shoulder and pretends his car has conked out. But just out of sight, on a nearby lane, he has left another car. He leaves the motorway on foot, gets to the car, drives off, does the murder, returns, gets back to his broken-down car and...

Dr Bantam writes: Forget it. It's terrible. You've been watching too many bad TV murder stories. Anyone else?

Dear Dr Bantam: I am writing a crime novel in which I want the victim to be killed by his own reading glasses. But I can't see how anyone can be killed by a pair of reading glasses. Can you?

Dr Bantam writes: Yes, easily. Put a deadly poison on the bits which go behind the ears. People who wear glasses sometimes inspect the lenses, but they never look at the ear sticks, or whatever they are called. As the victim puts his glasses on, the deadly poison will make contact with the ears and begin the fatal contamination.

Dear Dr Bantam: My problem is quite different from anyone else's. Inspired by the success of Ian Rankin, I have embarked on a series of crime novels set in Inverness, featuring a tough old cop called Inspector Gow. Gow is a local lad and has a slight drinking problem, but he is very real to me and I can clearly hear him talking inside my head. The trouble is that, what with the drink and the accent, I can't understand a word he says. What can I do?

Dr Bantam writes: Move to Scotland, get drunk and listen in again.

Are you writing a crime novel? Have you come to a hideous impasse? Get in touch with Dr Max Bantam straightaway, so that we can all share in your discomfiture!

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