Saturday, April 20, 2013

Title: A doggone crime
By Author Emma Courtice

Appearing in issue #17, April 29, 2013
For sale date:  April 13, 2013

Tag line:  The detective was leery of giving a criminal the benefit of the doubt, but maybe this one time…
Police characters: Det. Sgt. Marie DeLuca

The gist:  Benny Goyette, aka Benny the Mouse, a well known burglar, was seen by police leaving the neighborhood where a murder had been committed and was brought back to the house for questioning.   The body of the woman who lived in the house was still at the scene at this point.  Benny denies killing the woman, claiming when he was in the house there wasn’t anyone else there.  So he doesn’t deny stealing from this house, but he denies killing the woman.  Benny’s MO does not include physical violence of any kind.  The safe in the master bedroom of the Darwins had been drilled out and a valuable stamp collection and jewelry had been taken.  According to Mr. Darwin, he and his wife had come home early from a dog show, surprised the burglar, who then hit both Mr. and Mrs. Darwin over the head with a fireplace poker.  Mrs. Darwin died from her injuries.  Mr. Darwin survived but had a gash on his head.  The Darwins owned a miniature poodle and the dog was seen by police running through the doggie door and into the backyard.  There were no fingerprints.  There were tool marks on the door. Benny, who professes to be a pro, said he would never gain entry by prying open a front door.  
     This is from the story: “You think I (Benny speaking) pried open that front door to get in?  Ha! Whoever did that was an amateur.  I had no need for a pry bar and I can prove it.”  With that he got up from the chair and strode toward the kitchen and the back door.  Before Marie could stop him, he was gone.  And almost as quickly a policeman marched him back inside.

Crime scene:  The Darwin’s home.
Clues:  There are no fingerprints.  Benny the Mouse doesn’t commit bodily injury crimes.  He’s strictly a burglar with a lot of experience.   There are pry marks on the door, something Benny claims he would never do.  If you believe Benny, there wasn’t anyone else in the house when he was there.  Their poodle ran out of the house through the back door doggie door.

Suspects:  The story is all about did Benny hit the couple over the head with the poker and kill the wife or not. 
Red herrings:  Not so much red herrings as false information.  See below.

Solution:  The solution was a full column.  Since Benny took pride in his work and considered himself a pro, he would never leave pry marks on the door.  He showed the cops how he got in by going through the doggie door.  When the Darwins came home to find their house had been burgled Mr. Darwin took the opportunity to kill his wife with the poker and knock himself in the head to make it look like the burglar did it.  The solution said the poker did have fingerprints on it…and they belonged to Mr. Darwin. Also Mr. Darwin used the poker to make pry marks on the door which was a mistake because the real burglar, Benny the pro, would never have done that.
My two cents:  First off, when you have to use a full column (there are only 4 columns to the whole page) to explain the solution, you haven’t set the crime up well enough.

The author didn’t make it very clear that Benny left through the doggie door.    She also gave us a false clue when she said there were no fingerprints, when there were.  The author didn’t tell us where the fatal blow was on the wife.  Back of the head?  Front?  Where was this gash on Mr. Darwin?  Could it have been self inflicted or not?  Did he fight the guy?  The killer didn’t conk them on the head, one-two, while they just stood there.  Did Benny have any jewelry or stamps on him when he was caught moments later leaving the neighborhood?  Mr. Darwin witnessed the whole thing, why can’t he identify the killer?  No one asked him to give a description of the killer?  None of this makes sense.
Although the solution took a whole column, the author used almost half a column in the body of the story telling us about the dog running around the house, and getting out the front door but a police officer grabbed the dog and got a bite for his troubles, and there was dog hair in the house, and how the Darwins had come home early from a dog show for their prize dog….on and on and on.  All wasted space.  All that adds nothing to the story.  Cut all that nonsense and give us some good clues, or even red herrings.  Benny could have had dog hair on his clothes from going through the doggie door.

This story was not well thought out.  Too much fooling around with the dog details and not enough setting a good crime scene.  There is no excuse for misleading the reader by saying they found no fingerprints and then at the end of the long solution throwing in, oh by the way, Mr. Darwin’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon.  So I guess he conked himself on the head.  I know I felt like doing that to myself after reading this disaster.


Anonymous said...

"I know I felt like doing that to myself after reading this disaster."

I couldn't help laughing when I read this. I enjoyed the analysis.

Congratulations to Emma Courtice for having a short story published. This mysteries are very difficult to write!

Jody E. Lebel said...

Yes, you have to give Emma credit for breaking through to WW. She's sold before. I didn't care for her last story either... "An old hand" where she tried to make the old lady victim hold onto a RX container through rigor mortus. I got a lot of flak from readers for my comments in that story. I don't find her stories believable,
but -- Johnene likes her. And Emma's check cashes just fine. You should try writing a myster...I promise I'll be gentle when you sell your first one. lol

PAM said...

You both not liking the story doesn't matter, WW bought it. That's the important part. Emma Courtice has sold quite a few mysteries to WW over the years so she must have something that appeals to the editors. We also don't know how much editing was done on this story.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Pam, lots of things that are published get poor reviews. Of course it matters what the reader (and that would be the two of us you referenced above) thinks. It is, after all, about more than a paycheck. Emma's writing is not my cup of tea. She's lucky I don't work at WW. I realize a writer can't please everyone. She doesn't please me. And this is my blog. My opinion. Which can't possibly please everyone either. As writers we have to take our lumps.

You are very right about not knowing the amount of editing that was done to Emma's story. It could have been chopped so much it was left in disarray...but do you think Johnene would do that? I don't. She's pretty savvy. For whatever reason the magazine chose that story and they ran with it. We will never know the reason why.