Sunday, August 12, 2012

writerly factoid: killing with knives

Long ago, I read that no one has ever been documented as having been killed with a thrown knife. I don't know if it's true, but I also can't think of anyone who was killed by a knife-thrower. So if someone is killed with a thrown knife in your story, at least one reader will slow down there.

I'm looking at you, Dashiell Hammet. I'm halfway through Red Harvest, and I was loving it right up to the thrown knife. But that was just a bump; I'll keep on reading.

ETA: Karen Conlan provided this link: Myth: Deadly Throwing Knives : Escape Pod


  1. A quick web search showed a man convicted of manslaughter after -accidentally- killing his host with a thrown knife to the heart.

    So yes, it is entirely possible.

  2. I was about to start reading that. Seems suspicious to me...

  3. New York Times, March 26, 1898:

    KILLED BY THROWN KNIFE; "Jew Gus" Suddenly Ends the Life of the Woman with Whom He Lived. HIS ATTEMPT TO REFORM HER While Drunk Himself, He Meets Her in a Saloon, and After Scolding Her, Hurls the Cheap Weapon with Fatal Effect.

    By a remarkable feat of knife throwing "Jew Gus" contrived to kill "English Mary," the woman with whom he lived, in the back room of the Beehive saloon, southwest corner of Oliver and South Streets, at 1 o'clock yesterday morning. Police and knife-throwing experts in the museums agree in the opinion that the man would probably fail to duplicate his fatal marksmanship in a thousand trials.

    (Emphasis added)

  4. Thanks, y'all. I love that the only examples so far are about stupidity and freakish luck.

    Clementine, it really isn't a reason to avoid the book. Hammett isn't writing a naturalistic story. But it did make me slow down.

  5. In real life, didn't warriors throw knives to distract the target (make them flinch, duck, or dodge) until the thrower could close the gap and attack?

    Alternatively, a thrown knife might be useful if soaked in poison. (The thrower would have to wear gloves to handle the blade.)

    1. I'm pleased that Steve's a bit famous for doing the "throw to distract" thing, but in real life, you would just lose a weapon that might be useful once you were close. Also, you may've just given your opponent another weapon.

      The soaked-in-poison idea could be cool in a story, but the more plausible version uses blow darts or arrows

  6. Conducting a quick and probably erroneous analysis, it looks to me like a thrown knife might have something like 15 to 30 joules of kinetic energy, which if I am continuing to calculate rightly (ha ha!) translates to something like 30 to 60 pounds of force driving the knife into the target (assuming it penetrates on the order of about 4 inches, and that everything is linear, ha ha!). I'm probably off by an order of magnitude someplace, assuming my calculations even have the right shape.

    That definitely seems like it's on the edge of not being very likely to be fatal, given that the damn thing is, at best, coming straight on instead of up-and-under.

    Go for the eyes!