Monday, January 22, 2018

Killing Cousins, and More

I read a few chapters from a book, then move on to another, a dozen or two per day, e-books and real, but not always the same books day to day. Others are confused when I explain my reading habits, but I never get confused about who's who or what's happened when I return for another few chapters, even if some days or weeks have elapsed since my last trip into that fictional realm. Yes, fiction is not at all like real life, where I find myself confused most of the time.

My only rule is not to read two books by the same author at the "same" time. Recently, I found myself reading two books by different authors, Beware of the Dog (A Virginia and Felix Mystery) by E.X. Ferrars and Twice in a Blue Moon (An Inspector Henry Tibbett Mystery) by Patricia Moyes. Both books are set in England and both are murder mysteries, but Beware of the Dog is an amateur detective mystery, told by Virginia of her sleuthing husband (estranged and not entirely trustworthy), while  Twice in a Blue Moon is a police procedural, even if the point of view is that of a character slightly removed from the actual investigation. What tied the books together and what set me to pondering was their theme. Both involve inheritances and long-separated cousins. I won't reveal spoilers in case you want to read the books (both are excellent), but let's just say that when it comes to cousins, blood may not be thicker than water. I thought back over other books and stories I've read, films and television shows I've seen, and realized that when it comes to crime fiction it pays to be wary of one's cousins.

Cousins usually don't fare well when they make appearances in crime friction. As you can see from the samples above, some writers just can't resist turning "kissing cousins" into "killing cousins." It's a good thing titles can't be copyrighted. Whenever a cousin turns up in crime fiction, it's a good idea to keep an eye on him, and cousins in such books would be well advised to sleep with one eye open. I'm not sure why mystery writers are so hard on cousins, but it may be because they're not often as close as siblings, sometimes not much better than strangers. It may also speak to motivation because cousins don't seem to find their way back into the fold till money comes into the picture, as in the case of both books that set me thinking about cousins in mystery fiction. Prodigal cousins are dangerous, but murder may be in the offing if you get too many cousins gathered in one place, as in this classic from Douglas Browne:

Considering how often the Grim Reaper visits cousins in mysteries, or how frequently the hidden killer turns out to be long-lost Cousin Roger, whom no has seen since Uncle Darby and Aunt Joan emigrated to Australia years ago, it's odd there is no specific word for killing one's cousin. I was greatly surprised when I searched for such a word and came up short. But I did pick up some grimly fascinating linguistic gems along the way. 

Almost all "killing" words end in -cide, from the Latin for "kill." For example, there's suicide, the killing of one's self and homicide, the murder of a person. We also have wives who kill husbands (matricide) and husbands who kill wives (uxorcide), as well as parents who just can't stand the kids anymore (filicide for son or daughter, prolicide for both), deadly siblings (fratricide for killing a brother, sorocide for a sister), and even nepotcide when it comes time to get rid of the not-so-favorite nephew when disinheriting is not enough. A murderous guest or host can do each other in with hospiticide, and you can eliminate that annoying senior citizen in your life with senicide. You can kill bees with apicide, not to be confused with apricide, which is killing a boar. And when I goof around, doing nothing in particular, I'm committing chronicde, killing time. But, as unbelievable as it may seem, there is absolutely no word in the English language for killing one's cousin, so I propose "cognicide," from "cognata," Latin for cousin...or am I guilty of linguicide -- killing language?