Friday, February 22, 2013

Title: An old hand
By Author Emma Courtice

Appearing in issue #9, March 4, 2013
For sale date: February 21, 2013

Tag line:  It took a real pro – an old pro – to put two and two together and come up with murder!
Police characters:  Sgt. Norman Bain, Lt. Allard and Det. Gates.

The gist:  Mrs. Winslow, a 92-year-old woman who was in poor health with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, is found dead in her bed.  Near the bed was a call button, a telephone and a walker.  The paid companion, Anna, had been employed to care for Mrs. Winslow and had been doing so for twenty years. Mrs. Winslow has no family.  The victim was found clutching an empty prescription bottle (that had no label) in her hand, the hand that hung over the bed.  The childproof cap to the bottle was on the floor.  Anna claimed she doesn’t know where Mrs. Winslow got the pills from as she had removed all prescriptions into another room claiming the old lady had been sad and morbid.  Sgt. Bain asked Anna if she was the only heir which prompted Anna to retort, “And shouldn’t I be?  Have I not cared for her for almost twenty years?  Fed her, bathed her?” Sgt. Bain, who has his own aches and pains, pulled his own prescription bottle out of his pocket and tossed it to Lt. Allard, telling him to open it.  Lt. Allard realized that anyone could open a regular prescription cap, but not everyone could open a childproof cap. 
Crime scene:  Mrs. Winslow’s home.

Clues:  Childproof cap.  Anna’s demeanor. No label on the bottle.  
Suspects:  The paid companion Anna Stanley. 

Red herrings:  The mention of suicide  

Solution:  Mrs. Winslow could never have opened the prescription bottle that killed her. It had a childproof cap, which as Bain knew well, couldn’t be opened by anyone with severe arthritis.  Mrs. Winslow had been murdered and the open pill bottle placed in her hand to make it look like suicide.
My two cents:  I’m confused. Let’s start with the prescription bottle.  No pharmacy would send a senior citizen a prescription with a childproof cap.  There was no label on the bottle.  So it was obviously not her RX.  So an unknown quantity of some unknown pills that were obtained in some unknown fashion by a woman who was practically confined to her bed was ingested in an unknown manner by said woman who not only couldn’t even feed herself but had a paid companion looking out for her?  That was the purported cause of death?  Because if it’s not the old lady’s RX, toxicology will get to the bottom of that real quick.  And once a person dies every muscle stops working, so that container would have fallen to the floor…unless it was inserted into the hand after death.   This was all so poorly staged and not thought out by the killer.

So if the pills didn’t actually kill her, how did she die? The author didn’t tell us in the solution.  It’s a mystery all right.  A medical examiner can tell if someone is smothered. Did Anna smother the old woman and stage a suicide?  The woman is 92 and ill.  How much longer could she live anyway?  Now Anna was out of a job she had had for twenty years.  She would have inherited everything anyway when Mrs. Winslow died naturally. There was no motive given to kill her now.

Sgt. Bain has pains of his own, okay.  But he carries around his prescription bottle?  Even if you take a pill every four hours, most likely you don’t carry around the entire amount of drugs with you.  I thought him throwing his RX container at the lieutenant was theatrical. IMO Sgt. Bain should have told Lt. Allard to take Anna in for questioning instead of ‘throwing’ the solution to him. Especially if Allard is as annoying as the story states.  
Why was Det. Gates even in the story?  He didn’t do anything.

I don’t know why we need to know there was a call button, a phone and walker by the bed.
Unfortunately, there was too much left out of this story for me to give it a positive review.



majbooks said...

I think you've read too much into it. It's not my story, but, I am assuming that the old lady DID die of an overdose of pills. The helper acquired them, tore off the label, fed them to the old woman, then placed the bottle in her hand after she died. With rigormortis, I think the bottle would surely stay put. She is not the smartest criminal, but maybe got desperate for one reason or another to inherit the money. We only have 700 words, so backstory is non-existent. Also, I didn't mind the detective tossing the pill bottle to the other detective. It might be sort of strange, but I think the author was just trying to evoke some personality into the detectives. It's really not an easy task, again, with the short word count. Although it's not a really ingenious mystery, I think you might have been too harsh in your criticism.

Betsi said...

Jody, I'm wondering what your "mission" is with this blog. I see a lot of criticism -- and I agree that there's a lot wrong with some of the stories. But they were good enough for Johnene, and she paid the authors $500. So if you're trying to help writers get their mysteries published, I think you may be focusing on the wrong things. I look for what the stories have in common, the things that will help them sell. The accuracy of the police procedures doesn't seem to be all that important in making the sale.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Ladies, thank you for stopping by. I appreciate your comments and your points of view. We can certainly agree to disagree. That's what makes the world go round.

The story hinted that the old lady committed suicide by pills. It was staged to look that way. Most times in the solution the author will tell us the actual story. That wasn't done here. To me there were so many sketchy parts that I started to question a lot of things. This could come from my background in criminal court work. I hear a lot of lies and poor planning from criminals...all day long. lol

As far as the rigor mortis, that doesn't begin to set in for 3-4 hours reaching maximum stiffness in 12 hours. I don't think they waited that long to call the police. I have personally witnessed a death as a nurse's aide some years ago. I held her hand as she expired. Afterwards we had to prepare the body for the family to view. There is NO way you could put something in a dead person's hand and have them hold onto it. The killer in this story should have put the pill bottle in the hand lying on the bed. At least the bed sheets would have held up the bottle. There is a degree of research a writer must do to write a believable tale. When the facts are wrong, it draws the reader out of the story.

My mission? To criticize what doesn't work and make note of what does. If you agree there's a lot wrong with some of these stories, then I don't understand why you're asking me what I'm doing. My purpose is to slice and dice these stories so that they can be better understood by wannabe WW mystery writers, to point out dumb (and not so dumb) mistakes, and help us overall write a sharper believable crime scene. I am quick to point out good work. Some stories hit the mark. Some do not. Just because Johnene likes the gist of the story, doesn't mean it's accurate. Johnene had a referee at a baseball game one time instead of an umpire.

One of these stories on this blog had a woman lying dead in her dressing room, blugeoned in the back of the head by a candlestick. The author had the detective say at the end; "I think this woman was murdered." I had to read that three times. Did she think the woman hit her own self in the head -- to death -- while dressing? My mission is to eliminate this type of error.

If writing a good crime scene doesn't interest you, pay no attention to my comments or writing tips. I'm not everyone's cup of tea. But I do work with cops, FBI/DEA agents every day... and I know my 'stuff' when it comes to crime.

As an aside, Kate doesn't always like the romance stories. When they don't work, she says so. It's how we learn.

Pam said...

For someone who works with LEOs, I'm surprised you don't know it against the law to carry prescription medication that is not in the original bottle with its label. I thought that part of the story was great.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Well, I understand your point. But no one ever said it wasn't the patient's RX, just that the label was taken off. Maybe the aide didn't want anyone to know what she had given the old lady, although toxicology would have figured it out later. There were many things left to guess work in this story.

Jody E. Lebel said...

By the way, it's not against the law to have an empty RX container with no label on it. I have several in my medicine cabinet.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Maybe you're speaking of the detective's RX bottle? It isn't against the law to have your RX pills in a different container and have that container on you. That's what fancy pill boxes are for. Yes, you must prove that you have an RX for the pills should they be found, but you do not have to carry the prescription on your person.

Mary Jo said...

So I want to know how the heck did she get the label off the pill bottle, or did she have a little stash of new bottles? I don't want to discard my empty pill bottles with the labels still on them, but they are taped on and are not coming off.

My problem with these stories is that with only 700 words to work with it is difficult to impossible to present a story with enough detail to explain what happened, how, why and who as well as who not. Well, I am still working on it, but don't expect to see my byline anytime soon.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Mary Jo, that's a good question. Most pharmacies have those stick on labels that are impossible to get off. (If you want to discard your old RX containers just cover up the info on the label with a black Magic Marker.)

As far as having only 700 words to get it all in, that's why I didn't see the value of having a detective mentioned who wasn't involved in the story, and the 'stuff' by and around her bed. It took up precious word count that could have been better used explaining the crime. Like how a woman who has to be fed managed to consume a whole bottle of pills with no water??

Mary Jo said...

Now that I think of it, I would say that the care giver went to a lot of trouble for nothing. She could have done the old lady in and who would even have suspected anything wrong? 92 years old and extremely disabled, she simply passed on. Even a ME would probably have just signed off on it as he already has enough work to do.

So maybe this story tells writers they should stick with younger, vital victims. We don't have time to guess whether it was murder or not.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Mary Jo, interesting point. Although it's still not nice to off grandma. There's no motive for this murder. There are only 7 reasons to kill...and we don't know why this care giver did it. A good story has to have a wrap up and all loose ends need to be tied for it to be a satisfying read.

Mary Jo said...

Seven reasons? Let me take a stab at this. Hate, jealousy, covetousness, fear, mental aberration, social injustice, and rite of passage. Well, I am sure I got some of them right.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Beside your average psycho, people will kill: for love, out of hatred, for revenge, in anger, because of greed, when in fear, and because of carelessness(bank robbery gone wrong). Some of them bleed (haha) into the others...