Instruments of Murder


276 pages
ISBN 0-670-04480-6
DDC 364.152'3





Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
British Columbia.


This true-crime collection—Max Haines’s 26th—brings together
stories of murder committed by an assortment of means. The more than 50
vignettes are arranged alphabetically according to the perpetrator’s
name, with the particular “instrument of murder” following in
parentheses. Those instruments range from the conventional (gun, knife,
hatchet) to the exotic (scythe, nightgown, sheep dip, exercise
equipment). The collection includes Canadian as well as European and
American content, and for the most part focuses on crimes committed in
the last half-century or so.

Haines writes with a kind of lurid folksiness that can be very
entertaining, and this collection is especially well-suited to reading
aloud. Setting the context of a murder committed by an adulterous, and
very lusty, German couple, he notes: “Sure as God made little green
apples, Ursula and Kurt commenced doing it at every opportunity. And
tongues wagged in the village.” Introducing a murderous physician
named Bob Buchanan, Haines observes: “Doctors should really stay out
of the murder business and stick to healing. Don’t get me wrong; as a
class of killer, men of medicine can be extremely adept at sending the
unsuspecting to the great hereafter, but for some reason, at the
conclusion of the deed, they are prone to act in a downright stupid

Each of the stories is told with a sensation-sniffing concision, and
the skilful narrative pacing contributes to an impression of juicy
revelation. There is, indeed, a kind of ghoulish connoisseurship to the
author’s approach: the more unusual and creative the murder, the more
delighted is its narrator. At his best, Haines’s enthusiasm for
scandalous transgression and his perpetual awe at the base mechanics of
human motivation are wonderfully contagious.

Teen readers may find these stories thrilling, but the frequent sexual
innuendo and occasionally very vivid rendering of death may be
inappropriate for some.


Haines, Max., “Instruments of Murder,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 1, 2022,