Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

A kill switch by any other name: How about ‘Gone with the Wind’?


Coming up with an appealing, intriguing title for a book can be a daunting task.  Years ago when I sold my first book—on business writing—I worked hard to create a clever title.  My publisher changed it. 

The expression about judging a book by its cover, and by extension its title, is a cliché because it’s what people do.  Think of the memorable books you’ve read and they probably had memorable titles.  Not always, but it helps.

When I was ready to send in the manuscript for my recently published mystery,  therefore, I threw myself into the work of creating a heart-stopping title.  Actually I’d been thinking about the title all the while I wrote the book, but now that it was finished, I brainstormed nonstop.  I also solicited help from writer friends, and Desert Kill Switch was the top choice.

Mostly out of curiosity, before I sent my manuscript to my publisher, I did a search for “kill switch” on Amazon.  I discovered that within the last four years no fewer than six mystery/suspense books have been released with the title Kill Switch or The Kill Switch, one from a famous New York Times best-selling author.

How can multiple new books have the same name?  Copyright protection does not extend to book titles.  I could have named my book Gone with the Wind.

Disappointed, I went back to brainstorming.   A friend and I came up with dozens of optional titles: Nostalgic Cars and Corpses, Desert Death Drive, Desert Death in High Gear, and on and on.  One of my favorite optional titles was Nostalgia City Road Kill.  Can you imagine, however, how many books have the words road kill in the title?

I took another look at the other six kill switch books. None seemed to talk about the kind of kill switch that’s the focus of my book. In fact, the words kill switch rarely appeared in the books. I was persuaded the other authors were not talking about the same kill switches I was.

So what is a kill switch?  In my book, it has to do with car sales.  A relatively small number of auto dealers in the US install GPS trackers and kill switches in the cars they sell to people they consider high-risk borrowers.  Here’s how it works:  Miss a payment, sometimes by as little as a few days, and the dealer throws a switch.  Your car is dead.  If you bring your loan current, you can drive again.  If you don’t, the dealer uses the GPS location and comes to get your car. No repo man needed.

I emphasize that a minority of dealers use kill switches, but news reports indicate that as many as two million cars on the road in the US are wired with the devices. 

These sinister-sounding mechanisms, and a dealer who uses them, are central to my book’s plot.  In addition, the book takes place across the arid landscape of Arizona and Nevada, hence, “Desert Kill Switch.”

I was ready to stick with Desert Kill Switch.  Until I thought about the word girl.

The suspense/mystery books Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train sold millions of copies and each quickly became a movie.  Maybe The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started it, but regardless, girl has become popular in book titles. And not just a few, but dozens.

NPR recently explored the phenomenon. Crime novelist Megan Abbott told Morning Edition, “I have talked to other crime writers that have been urged by various professional people in their life to put the word girl in their title.”

Kill Switch Girl? Girl with a Kill Switch?

Maybe next time.


A thought on “A kill switch by any other name: How about ‘Gone with the Wind’?”

  1. Vanessa Shields
    I rather enjoy the title Desert Kill Switch – and I was fascinated when I learned what a kill switch – in the context of the story – actually was. Scary stuff. And that lent itself to ‘thrilling’ parts of Desert Kill Switch. I’ve read a few of the ‘girl-in-the-title’ books…and, I am definitely NOT moved to grab a book because the word ‘girl’ is in the title. Funnily enough – there are never ‘girls’ in the stories – but women – grown-up, killer ‘women’ or what have you. Huh. Book titles are wild animals in the jungle that is marketing for books. I think you made the right decisions, Mark! Now…if your title was Dessert Kill Switch…


  2. Troy Del Rio  9:33 a.m.      The Girl with her hand on the kill Switch.

Return of the Scandinavian sleuth

The Keeper of Lost Causes (Department Q)
by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Translation by Lisa Hartford
Plume, reprint edition  416 pages
Paperback $12.09

“Just because somebody is a shit, it doesn’t mean he has no integrity.  Like yourself, for example.”

Carl Morck’s had it tough.  Smart-alecky responses from a guy he’s questioning are nothing.  Weeks earlier he and two fellow Copenhagen police detectives were ambushed as they investigated a crime scene.  One of his team was killed, the other, Hardy Henningsen, paralyzed.  Morck’s physical wound was superficial.

The experience does nothing to soften the generally acerbic detective and his superiors decide that for the good of the force, Morck will be assigned to the basement, in charge of cold cases.

               He actually liked the man, [thinks Morck’s boss] but those eternally                       skeptical eyes and caustic remarks could piss anyone off…

Prior to the shooting, Morck’s wife, Vigga, left him for a succession of young artists, and Vigga’s son Jesper, who loves heavy metal at high volume, decided to stay with Morck.  When Morck visits his buddy Hardy in the hospital, his friend, paralyzed from the neck down, asks Morck to kill him. Keeper of Lost Causes Cover No wonder Morck would be happy sitting in the police department basement doing nothing.

The new cold-case squad, Department Q, consists only of the battered and blue but likable–in an arm’s length sort of way–detective and his assistant Hafez el-Assad, an enigmatic Syrian refugee.   Morck initially limits Assad’s duties to driving him around, mopping the basement floors and generally staying out of his way.

But when Morck’s boss wants to see what case he will be working on first,  Assad suggests a five-year-old missing persons case.  Morck likes it, in part because one of his rivals in the department had failed to solve it.  Soon Morck and Assad are absorbed in the case of a popular, beautiful politician who disappeared.  You will be absorbed too.

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen is another in the line of what one reviewer calls “Scandinavian sadism.”  Readers all over the world were hooked on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book series by Stieg Larsson, the Swedish writer who died unexpectedly at age 50.  The popularity of Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbo has increased since the publication of the Larsson novels.  Adler-Olsen shouldn’t be far behind.  His American publisher even adopted a book cover for him similar in font and layout to the Larsson books.

Adler-Olsen’s story is told in chapters that, for part of the book, jump back and forth between detective work by Morck and Assad and the earlier life of the missing person, Merete Lynggaard.  Sadism is an appropriate description of the treatment Lynggaard receives, but it’s as unique a form of torture as that rendered on, and ultimately by, Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander.   Lynggaard’s strikingly bizarre fate is revealed early in the book, but what keeps the plot lively and surprising is the search for the motivation, the means and the culprit or culprits, not to mention an ingenious plot twist that will not be mentioned here.

Selection of a Muslim sidekick for Morck is curious.  It was a newspaper cartoonist in Denmark who ignited a firestorm of violent protests in the Middle East and elsewhere in 2005 by drawing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.   Adler-Olsen doesn’t mention or allude to the controversy and although he has Morck criticize Assad from time to time, the comments are not as derisive as those he uses on other police employees, and none are directly related to Assad’s faith.

For much of the book, Assad, who is not a policeman but simply a civil employee, is treated as a driver and gofer, yet his take on human nature and his powers of observation become useful to Morck.  Assad’s not-quite-perfect mastery of Danish gives him a unique voice and makes for some amusing misunderstandings between him and Morck.

Morck’s relationship with his wife, stepson and with Hardy are not resolved, neither is the reason for the ambush at the beginning of the book.  None of these things are essential to the Lynggaard case and await further exposition in following novels in the series.

The book has an entertaining and believable relationship between the two protagonists, a complex plot and a fast, breathless conclusion.  Assad and Morck, with his many burdens, will be back.

%d bloggers like this: