Instruments of Murder


294 pages
ISBN 0-14-301662-8
DDC 364.152'3





Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

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


The Collected Works brings together three of Haines’s previously
published volumes. The first, Celebrity Murders and Other Nefarious
Deeds, examines 47 famous cases, from Adolph Eichmann to John Lennon to
O.J. Simpson. The second, Murders Strange But True, offers 69 vignettes
of homicides committed for odd reasons or by odd means. The third,
Murder Most Foul: Crimes from Canada and Around the World, looks at 57
intriguing cases from 11 countries.

Instruments of Murder, Haines’s 26th true-crime collection, brings
together stories of murder committed by an assortment of means (a few of
the stories told here are also included in The Collected Works). The
more than 50 vignettes are arranged alphabetically according to the
perpetrators’ names, 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, sommonoform). 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
manner.” Each of Haines’s chosen 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. Young adults 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 20, 2024,