Guest-Tamara Berry

Jessie: Glad to be seeing the sun for the first time in days!

I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Tamara Berry a couple of years ago at The Poisoned Pen, in Scottsdale, AZ. She was funny and articulate and a total delight. I am so pleased to welcome her here to the Wickeds blog today!

But I Was Hypnotized! The Ultimate Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card

One of my favorite parts about writing cozy mysteries is pulling a story from real life…and then twisting the narrative to fit my own nefarious plans. As the title of my newest Eleanor Wilde Mystery Hypnosis Is for Hacks suggests, I dug deep into the world of hypnosis to help plot, pull off, and obscure a murder. Not only did I learn how to hypnotize someone—“you’re getting verrrrrry sleepy”—but I looked up the ways and means of using hypnosis as a means for getting away with murder.

As it turns out…you can’t. Not legally. Not in the modern age. 

Everything we know about the science of hypnosis suggests that you can’t make anyone do something against their will, no matter how good of a hypnotist you are. You can lower inhibitions (much like drinking alcohol) and you can help people reach a state of mindfulness (similar to meditation), but you can’t actually force someone to get up and dance like a chicken, quit smoking…or murder an enemy in cold blood.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened in a famous case from 1895. According to newspaper reports, a Kansas man named Thomas McDonald shot and killed his neighbor, Thomas Patton, while under hypnosis. He was arrested and underwent a trial, but was later acquitted because he wasn’t in control of himself at the time. Instead, he claimed to be under hypnosis thanks to a third party, Anderson Gray, who orchestrated the whole thing from afar. 

Naturally, there’s a lot more to this story than a dangling pocket watch and a man with shotgun. As it turns out, Gray was in a land contract dispute that Patton could bear witness to, so he needed Patton out of the way to win. What better way to do that than murder? Only instead of hiring a hitman or doing the deed himself, Gray convinced McDonald that Patton was sleeping with his beloved wife. This incentive, when added to a deep hypnotic state, was all McDonald needed to go and commit the murder for him. Fortunately, Gray was eventually convicted of planning the whole thing, so he couldn’t go around hypnotizing the enemies of his enemies as a means of getting his way for long. 

These days, a defense of murder-by-hypnosis is much less likely to fly, so I don’t recommend following in McDonald’s footsteps. Of course, that didn’t stop me from using hypnosis in my own mystery tale. In Hypnosis is for Hacks, no one commits any actual crimes while deep under, but they do experience all that’s weird and wonderful about this tale. 

Readers, aave you ever undergone hypnosis (whether for personal growth or entertainment)?

About the Book

Eleanor Wilde has traded a career as a sham medium for a (relatively) respectable life in a small English town, providing the locals with herbal remedies and elixirs. But on a trip to the seaside town of Brighton, her past comes calling–and so does a killer…

Though Eleanor is delighted that her brother, Liam, is visiting her in England, she must reluctantly agree that her quiet village lacks something when it comes to sightseeing–namely: sights. True, there’s nearby Castle Hartford, belonging to the family of Ellie’s boyfriend, Nicholas. But even Nicholas’s mother is eager to ditch sleepy, sweltering Sussex for a vacation in Brighton, taking Ellie and a relieved Liam with her. Yet hopes of a breezy seaside holiday quickly turn stormy, in every sense…

The ominous change in weather is accompanied by the reappearance of Ellie’s former partner-in-crime, Armand Lamont. Back when Ellie earned a living as a phony medium, Armand’s hypnosis skills helped the pair persuade many gullible marks to hand over their savings. Ellie assumes that Armand has resurfaced with blackmail in mind, but before she can figure out his angle, she and Liam witness a man being pushed from a boat by two shadowy figures who then vanish into midair.

Phantoms? Demons? Though Ellie doesn’t believe in either, the recovered body is real enough, as is a string of thefts plaguing their luxury hotel. Ellie has a theory, and it requires inviting Nicholas to join them under a fake identity. Their evolving relationship is as complex as this case, and Ellie’s authentic supernatural abilities too are developing in surprising ways. But as for whether the outcome will be good or bad, not even her witchy powers can say…

About the Author

Tamara Berry is the author of the Eleanor Wilde cozy mystery series and, as Lucy Gilmore, the Forever Home contemporary romance series. Also a freelance writer and editor, she has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a serious penchant for Nancy Drew novels. She lives in Eastern Washington with her family and their menagerie. 

Find her online at http://www.tamaraberry.com.

19 Thoughts

  1. Welcome to the blog, Tamara! I’ve never been hypnotized or seen it happen, and I’m glad to know it can’t be used for murder. Best of luck with the new book – it sounds delightful.

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    1. Thanks for having me! A few years ago, my (now) teen was chosen to go up on stage at a hypnotist show at the local fair. They got pulled in deep and did all the dancing and theatrics that went with it. It was hilarious. (But they later admitted that it was all done consciously.)

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    1. I’ve seen a few shows (I’m a huge fan of magicians, and there’s often a hypnotist or mentalist act included). I find them highly entertaining, if not always believable. 🙂

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  2. I’ve never been hypnotized and wouldn’t want to. I think for me it would be the matter of giving up my control – IF it worked.

    Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Hypnosis Is for Hacks”.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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    1. You’re right – all the research I’ve read says that control is a HUGE part of it. Some people are more willing to give in than others. (I’m in your camp! No way!)

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  3. Congrats on the book, Tamara!

    I’ve never been hypnotized. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work (so to speak), but I’m a little afraid of what might happen if it did. Like Kay, I don’t think I want to give up any “control” that I have.

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    1. Thanks, Liz! It *is* kind of scary to think of what might happen if you weren’t in total control of your own actions. I assume it’s like that state when you’re only half-awake and still dreaming, and it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. (Which I hate!)

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  4. Welcome to the Wickeds and congratulations on the new book! I was at an event where a mentalist had us put our fingers in front of our faces and then had our two index fingers pull to each other. Mind did and my husband’s didn’t.

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    1. Ha! That’s kind of hilarious. I find what mentalists do to be absolutely fascinating. Their ability to predict human outcomes is so surreal to me (even though I understand the science behind it).

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  5. I stir clear of hypnosis. I don’t like the idea of people playing around in my mind, whether it actually does anything or not.

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  6. What fun! The perfect read for halloween week.

    Yep, guilty of being hypnotized. First in college. I was a psy major and we had to both learn to put folks under and undergo it ourselves for a course called tests and measures. We were disappointed about the chicken thing. We could get subjects to cluck, but not to dance. It was the 70s, that probably had something to do with it. The second time was for seasickness. I had never been seasick, but I was taking a refresher dive course and the instructor assured the class that they would get seasick and recommended a certain pill remedy. I felt that thought sink in and take root so I canvassed friends for hypnotherapy practitioners and went. It worked.

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    1. How fun! I think I’d much rather the hypnotist than the hypnotistee, even in a class setting. I have a friend who used to work at one of those hypnosis centers (the kind that specialize in weight loss and quitting smoking), but she was just the receptionist, so she never got to do any of the hands-on work.

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  7. I always thought I would like to try it just for fun. But, as I’ve gotten a lot older, I think I wouldn’t want to lose that control. That’s why drugs never appealed to me. I love the idea for a mystery, tho’.

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