Ever thought about the manners of death – the ways to die? Routine stuff for a medical examiner, maybe, but excellent fodder for a thriller writer. Take your pick: death by accident, suicide, natural causes, homicide, or undetermined—then include all five and torture the mind of the novel’s protagonist. In “The Five Manners of Death” Surgeon Diana Bratton struggles to keep her southern family together and her Aunt Phoebe off death row while bodies stack up around her. If only Phoebe and Diana’s ex-husband would behave.
A writing conference and newsletter article by fellow physician and author D.P. Lyle exploring the five manners of death drew me to the novel’s core and this premise: In “The Five Manners of Death” there are five ways to die. Surgeon Diana Bratton believes that homicide is the only one left. Then the police prove her wrong. Diana learns that murder is her family secret.
Research into this smorgasbord of demise led me to the State of Mississippi Medical Examiner’s office and a tour of the autopsy room—the morgue—as well as to the room of skeletal fragments. When the ME confirms homicide, of course, the circumstances of that death could now become police business. Most would consider the terms homicide and murder interchangeable. However, it’s just not that simple.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Program/Report July 2014/ ncJ 247060/bjs.gov/ “The Nation’s Two Measures of Homicide,” the U.S. Department of Justice and the CDC make clear distinction between homicide and murder: “Murder and non-negligent manslaughter homicides include cases suspected as murder, violence-related manslaughters, law enforcement-related killings, and homicides committed in self-defense. Negligent manslaughter homicides include determinations of unintentional killings of one person by another (excluding motor vehicle crashes).” While homicide is defined as death at the hand of another, individuals are not necessarily charged or convicted with the crime of murder in cases of non-negligent manslaughter (including justifiable homicide) and negligent manslaughter.
The FBI classifies homicides as intentional, justifiable, or negligent, while national statistic bureaus use two general categories: homicide or legal intervention. However, the ME is more likely to use the term homicide and leave the charge of murder (unjustified homicide) to the police based on other findings.
Confusing? Sort of—but not to the victim when the end result is the same—death.
So, the story behind “The Five Manners of Death” is a medical and legal crossroad of terminology that birthed one idea which boiled into a unique, intriguing mix of characters tortured by their own mistakes and often twisted expectations.
—Darden North www.dardennorth.com
Few authors write murder mysteries and thrillers and also deliver babies. A native of the Mississippi Delta and a board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology, Darden North is the nationally awarded author of five novels in the mystery/thriller genre, including Points of Origin, which was awarded an IPPY. He practices medicine at Jackson Healthcare for Women in Flowood, Mississippi, where he is a certified daVinci robotic surgeon. North also serves as Chairman of the Board of the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Foundation and on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association.
A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Mississippi, he begin his writing and publishing career as Editor-in-Chief of the 1978 Ole Miss yearbook and continued for the 1982 Medic while in medical school. Darden North’s fifth novel is The Five Manners of Death/WordCrafts Press/June 2017. He has presented at the Southern Expressions Conference on the construction of mysteries and thrillers and participated as an author panelist at “Murder in the Magic City,” “Killer Nashville,” “Author! Author! Celebration of the Written Word,” “Murder on the Menu,” and “SIBA Thriller Author Panel.” Darden North lives with his wife Sally in Jackson, Mississippi. In his spare time, he gardens, enjoys family, walks for exercise, and travels. Sally and Darden have two young adult children who work in the medical field. Visit Darden North the author at www.dardennorth.com.
Find out more about The Five Manners of Death on Amazon