Friday, June 21, 2013

Title: The art of murder
By Authors: Tracie Rae Griffith and Robin Christine Ireland

Appearing in issue #26, July 1, 2013
For sale date:  June 21, 2013

Tag line:  It wasn’t long before Detective Kay and Sergeant Morgan had the case all buttoned up!

Police characters:  Detective Christine Kay and Sgt. Morgan

The gist: Stephanie called 911 to report that she had found her step-mother dead.  The victim, Allison, was found in an upstairs bedroom, lying face down, dead from an apparent blow to her skull.  Her black dress and heels suggested she was getting dressed for an evening event.  The dress had jeweled buttons, which were now bloody, that fastened at the neckline.   A statue nearby was the suggested weapon.  The bedroom window was open, but there was no mention of a ladder.  Det. Kay noted it was not an easy window to get to from the outside.  A jeweler’s box was found empty.  The victim had a cast on her arm from a tennis mishap a few weeks earlier. Stephanie said she had last seen her step-mother about an hour ago when the woman had gone upstairs to get ready for the opening at an art museum.  She said she often helped her step-mom get dressed because of the cast, but she hadn’t helped her tonight.  She did admit that she and her step-mom had had a fight earlier about how much money Allison had donated to the museum.  Stephanie said the only reason she went upstairs to get her step-mom had been because the cook had asked her to. 

The cook was found sitting in the kitchen with her shoes off complaining of sore feet.  She had been cooking risotto, a rice dish that Allison insisted on having prepared in the classic way, which includes non-stop stirring.  The cook claimed to have been standing doing just that for the last hour, and admitted she asked Stephanie to go fetch her step-mom so she could check the dish, as was the woman’s habit, before the cook served it.  The cook noted that she wasn’t too upset that Allison was dead because she had heard the woman trying to convince her husband to remove the cook, who had been a faithful servant for 20 years, from his will. 

The husband, Walter, was in his study obviously upset.  He had married a younger woman who liked to spend his money but he said he really didn’t mind because he loved her and they both loved art.  He was an artist himself at one time and showed the detectives a landscape that he had done.  But he said his arthritis now prevented him from painting anymore because he couldn’t hold a brush. 

Crime scene:  Allison’s home.

Clues:  Allison is dressed in a dress that has jewel buttons at the neckline.  She and Stephanie argued over money being given to the museum, money that would otherwise be Stephanie’s inheritance.  Walter is unable to hold a paintbrush with his arthritic hands.  The cook learned of Allison’s plan to cut her out of the will.

Suspects:  Stephanie or the cook.

Red herrings:  The open window and empty jewel box.

Solution:   Stephanie lied when she said she hadn’t helped her step-mom dress.  Det. Kay knew that with a cast on her arm Allison would never be able to fasten those buttons by herself.  Walter had such bad arthritis he couldn’t manage it.  The cook hadn’t been able to leave the risotto or it would have burned.  Stephanie was angry over her inheritance being wasted.  She opened the window and took the jewelry to stage a burglary.

My two cents:  Another solid mystery from Ms. Griffith and Ms. Ireland.  Two suspects had motive but only one had the opportunity.  Had the bedroom been on the first floor, Stephanie might have gotten away with the fake burglar trick.  I have cooked risotto and you really do have to tend to it because it sticks quickly.  She was cooking it during that hour that the murder took place, preparing dinner for Allison and Walter, who were then going to go out to an art museum opening.   All of the author’s (these two authors) details worked and were believable. 

My only gripe is with WW for almost spoiling the story with a tag line that points you right to the clue that will solve the case.  Those tag lines are added by WW and are out of the author’s control. 


Mary Jo said...

My trouble with this story was at the very beginning, and it may have simply been an editing error. Stephanie calls 911 and says her step-mother is dead, not that she has been murdered. The detective immediately says to her sergeant, "Let's go." The thing is, people die everyday and usually it is from natural causes. I don't know about your town, but here we do not have enough police to run out and check on everyone who has passed away. On a 911 call like that, the paramedics with the fire department come out and see if the deceased can be revived.

So this "mystery" got off to a rocky start for me. Well written or not, otherwise, I thought it was quite obvious from the first mention of buttons and no one was available to do the deed but Stephanie.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Mary Jo, I remember that you said this story put the author in the ground with the first sentence, but I didn't read it the way you did. Detectives don't answer 911 calls, so I think we had to take a leap here and assume the call came in through the proper channels, and the 911 dispatcher got more information before contacting the DB. We just heard one sentence of the 911 call in the story to get the detectives to the scene to get the story rolling. (She WAS dead...cuz Steph killed

You're right in that the word murdered would have warranted the detectives rushing over and that a person passing from natural causes would get a different team to respond.

Although I didn't say so in my blog, the cook could have taken the risotto off the burner for a minute, run upstairs to argue with and kill the woman, then come back down and continue cooking. But the police were buying her "I've been cooking for an hour" story" so I did too because of the buttons.

I sort of wish they had seen a little blood on the bronze statue also to justify calling it the murder weapon. But that's not a deal breaker. And you never know what Johnene cut.

Mary Jo said...

Yes, I thought the chunk of metal should have had blood dripping from it, and so I stumbled over that, too. However, with only 700 words (probably less than that by the time Johnene got through with it)the space is very limiting. I admire anyone who can set up a crime, sprinkle clues and non-clues, identify suspects and reach a conclusion, and sell it as a satisfying story. Wish I could.

Oh, about the first line--I wondered if Johnene changed "murdered" to "dead" just to safe space. Who knows?

Jody E. Lebel said...

Mary an aside, I had asked you a question on Kate's blog and I think you missed it. I'm really curious about a statement you made. You said it was obvious to you that the cow story was not WW material. was a boy meets girl story that seemed innocent enough. What element was missing for you to believe WW would reject it?

Chris said...

I thought this was a pretty solid story, with decent clues and alibis and a reasonable conclusion. The absence of blood on the statue could have done with some explanation, but maybe it ended up on the cutting room floor.

I used a plastered arm as a reason why someone couldn't be a suspect myself in a story I sent in a couple of months ago, so I'm now hoping that's not going to work against it.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Chris, I'm with you on the statue, but Det. Kay did say "This just might be our murder weapon". So that 'might' saved her. I don't think the arm in a cast will stop your story. Look how many times we've seen a romance at a tag sale. And your cast was used in a different way. If you sent it a couple months ago...that's a good sign it's on Johnene's desk...woo hoo.

Mary Jo said...

Jody, I did not miss your question, I just did not want to say more. Since you ask again, though, I think Pat's story was head and shoulders above anything you will ever read in Woman's World. She found a home for it in a different publication, and that is good. I hope she will expand on it and come up with a longer story or maybe even a book. She has a great setting, great characters and her word illustrations are so evocative I want to read more. Boy meets girl is only incidental here.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Mary Jo, thanks. I was thinking that maybe you had a pattern in mind, or some type of formula that you noticed the romances seem to follow that Pat's story didn't. I was hoping to learn the 'magic' I'm guessing you think her story was just a little too sophisticated for WW. On the first romance I sold to WW, once I saw the final product in the mag, I made the comment that WW took my story and dulled it down and dumbed it down.

Chris said...

I suspect that's quite a common experience, Jody, and not just with WW writers. I haven't yet sold to them but I've noticed with other mags that they do tailor work to their house style, editing out the little gems we authors are so proud of. Galling but there it is.

Mary Jo said...

Yes, ladies, it seems that popular fiction of quality has no home in today's print publications. I wonder if it is better or worse (could it be?)in electronic stories.

It would appear that Woman's World, and evidently UK mags, too, dumb everything down for their perception of the dumb female readers. Does not say much for the average woman, does it?

I hear that a woman may soon be running the Federal Reserve Bank. How could that be?

Mary Jo said...

Chris, language is a funny thing. When you said you once used a plastered arm as a weapon in a story, I immediately got the picture of someone ripping the arm off a plaster store mannequin and beating someone to death with it. I was almost rolling on the floor laughing.

Mary Jo said...

Oh, oh, Chris, I didn't read your remark correctly, did I? Well, it was late at night.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Sun Jun 23 9/8c ABC
New TV show...Whodunnit?

Thirteen strangers arrive at the sprawling estate called Rue Manor and are met by Butler Giles, who welcomes them to their new residence where they will play out their high stakes game of murder and intrigue. Before they can even settle in, the guests are thrown straight into the game after making a startling and gruesome discovery -- one of their own, bloodied and dead on the floor of the great room.

Maybe we'll get some hints for our stories....

Chris said...

OLD TV show, Jody! We had that show here in 1972. It ran until '78 and was loosely based on the board game Cluedo. I used to love it, although it was quite hammy.

I just tried to watch the first episode of your version on catch up but it wouldn't play because I'm outside the US. Did anyone see it? Any good?

Jody E. Lebel said...


Yeah, I watched it. You, as the TV audience, are also trying to figure out whodunnit. Each week someone else is murdered. It's no cozy though. The murders are a bit gruesome. Bones sticking out, glass embedded in her head from the fish tank. Next week they set a guy on fire.

So this week I'm thinking the murderer is Dan, white male, white hair, the ex detective who lied and said he was a high school coach. He didn't do well in figuring out this week's killer and they chose him to be one of two that get killed next week. I think that's a red herring...I think he IS the killer. In the previews he was the last to show up right before the guy was set on fire at 4:30 in the morning.

I wonder if you can get the show on the computer?? The board game is called Clue over here. I still have one. Mrs. White did it with the rope in the

Jody E. Lebel said...

Chris, try this link. I think you can watch it on the computer.

Chris said...

Thanks for the link, Jody, but that was the same one I tried watching it on this morning and it's no-go - it just won't let me join in the fun. Never mind, I'm watching Wimbledon instead.

Mary Jo said...

I watched maybe ten minutes of the show last night. It is not for me. I thought it was confusing and boring. All the NCIS shows have better murders and autopsies. Except I don't like them either. Murder She Wrote is still more my style. Love Angela Lansbury and am always thrilled with the scene of her at the old typewriter.