Friday, August 30, 2013

Title: Catching a ride
By Author: Arthur Vidro

Appearing in issue #36, September 9, 2013

Tag line:  The men in the car soon discovered that the hitchhiker was one smart cookie!

Police characters:  None.

The gist: A man is starting a job tomorrow in another city.  He falls asleep in the terminal and misses his flight,  which was a short one as these cities are kind of close, but his bags had already been loaded and are gone.  He has very little money so can’t rent a car but wants to get to his destination to start work tomorrow.  He decides to hitchhike.  Two shady guys pick him up.  He can’t sit in the back seat because there’s ‘stuff’ back there and what looks to be a rifle butt.  The guys make him sit in the middle of them in the front seat.  He gets in the car because he wants the ride, but he’s nervous and doesn’t speak to them.  The guys are scruffy, unshaven and wearing dirty clothes.  They seem edgy and nervous.  A few miles down the road the state police pull them over, guns drawn.  These guys are bank robbers. The money is in the back seat.  Our man tells the cops he’s a hitchhiker and not with them.  The two bad guys tell the cops our man is lying and he is, in fact, the master mind.  One guy leers and says, “He’s the guy who planned this.” Our guy tells the cops to ask the two men one question.  They ask it.  The cops let our guy go.  So … your mystery this week is to figure out what the one question is.

Crime scene:  On the road, in a car. 

Clues:  He doesn’t speak to the two men.  

Suspects:  None. 

Red herrings:  None. 

Solution:  The question is “What’s your master mind’s name?”  They hadn’t asked our man his name and he never gave it. 

My two cents:    Okay, this one is pretty lame. 

Here’s where it’s a benefit to know what you’re talking about before you write your story.  Many, many, many times I have heard in court that the bad guys don’t know each other.  They seldom know each other’s  last names.  They sometimes know a first name, but almost always just call each other by some street name.  The state police (which was capped in the story but should not have been) know that and that wouldn’t convince them our man wasn’t part of the robbery because the two doofusses didn’t know his name.  

How about a copy of his airline ticket to prove who he was and where he had been before they picked him up?  His bags went on ahead.  He had his airline ticket on him with his baggage claim tags stapled on it. 

I had to laugh at the characterization of the bad guys.  Dirty.  Unshaven.   Scruffy.  Truly not your typical bank robber.  More like a drug buyer. 

I question the use of the word ‘leer’.  To leer is to look lasciviously.  Huh?  Maybe the author meant ‘jeer’?  I'm not a big fan of writers having folks jeer, snort, scream, gush, simper, or sneer out their words.  It's lazy writing.  All telling and no showing.

Why the two guys want to involve this hitchhiker makes no sense.  It’s not like they’re saying they didn’t do it, they did.  They admit robbing the bank but tell the cops our man is the ring leader.  They got pulled over very quickly after picking our man up.  They didn’t have time to have a fight with him or get annoyed with him in any way that would warrant them wanting to get him in trouble.  It just doesn’t work. 

And lastly, no bank robber with the guns in the car and a bag of money in the back seat is going to pick up a hitchhiker during  his getaway.   

Thursday, August 29, 2013

An excerpt of a post by Fierce Dolan 

"Short stories are an under-appreciated art in post-postmodern literature. It isn't that we don't know how to write them well; rather, we don't know how to honor their brevity. Ironic in a drive-through microwave culture, that, as I often hear readers say they don't enjoy short stories because they aren't long enough. It isn't that they aren't compelling, aren't as well-developed as their long haul cohorts, or don't accomplish as much in significantly less pages. Short fiction often loses out because we want more. Enjoying something so much as to want an extra scoop is a great problem to have."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Title: Blind witness
By Author: Adele Polomski 

Appearing in issue #35, September 2, 2013

Tag line:  Too bad no one had been around to see Annett Jordan take her daily swim …

Police characters:  Det. Laura Price

The gist: Annette’s lifeless body was found in the pool by one of her step-sons, Ben.  Ben’s clothes were wet as he had jumped in the pool when he saw his step-mom floating face down, but she was already dead.  Annette was a good swimmer and swam daily.  Det. Price noted bruise marks on the body indicating to her that the victim had been held under until she drowned. The police officer at the scene informed Det. Price that there were four persons waiting to be questioned; one in the cruiser and three waiting out back. The lady in the cruiser was blind and had glasses and a white cane.  She was a neighbor of the victim’s.  She claimed she was walking by the victim’s house and was nearly run over by someone leaving the house in a hurry.  She said she sensed that the driver had stopped to look at her, and then sped off.  She returned later when she heard the sirens.  The blind lady’s sister, who looked like a younger version of her, arrived at that moment.  The three of them walked to the blind lady’s house and out of the heat because it was ‘murderously hot’ outside. 

Det. Price then went around back at the victim’s house to talk to the three men, the two step-sons and the victim’s lawyer.  Ben, one of the step-sons, told the police that Annette had been expecting them and had wanted to talk to them about something.  Ben, who had arrived first and had jumped into the pool, suggested it had been a heart attack.  Ben called 911 and then called his brother, who then came to the scene.  The brother called the lawyer, who then came to the scene. The four of them went inside the house as one of the men claimed they might ‘die of heatstroke’. During the conversation it was learned that the attorney had been handling the family’s company and the company was losing money due to poor management by Annette and her step-sons.  The victim was about to announce to her step-sons today that she was planning to sell the business, a business that they both worked at and enjoyed a healthy salary from.  The detective told the three men that she believed Annette had been murdered and that there was a witness. She then led them to the front patio where a woman in dark glasses sat.  The attorney shook his head and said, “I’m afraid the testimony of a blind woman won’t hold up in court.” She got up and said, “I’m not blind, I can see perfectly.”  The lawyer was arrested for the murder of Annette.  

Crime scene:  Annette’s home, her pool. 

Clues:  The witness was blind.  The lawyer handled the finances of the company. 

Suspects:  One of the three men. 

Red herrings:  Both step-sons didn’t want Annette to sell the business and had talked her out of it before.  Both men would lose their easy income. 

Solution:  The detective had had the blind woman’s sister sit on the front patio and put on her sister’s glasses.  When the lawyer commented about a blind woman’s testimony, Det. Price knew he had been the one who had almost hit the blind woman in the driveway before he sped off.  The lawyer had been stealing money from the company for years and feared an audit before the sale would reveal his crime. 

My two cents:  There was no time frame on this story.  We don’t know how long Annette had been floating dead in the pool.  When I first read it I wondered how the lawyer drowned the woman, sped off, yet was still there when the police arrived, all dry and waiting with the two sons.  I guess we have to assume there was time for him to run off to ‘somewhere’ and change his wet clothes, dry himself off, maybe even wipe out his wet car seat, and get back when the step-sons called him.  That would work if she was floating dead for hours.  It might have been a good detail to know. At the very least it would tie up that loose end in the reader’s mind. 

Also I’m not sure why the sister had to play the blind woman on the porch.  We don’t need the sister.  Why couldn’t the blind woman play the part of the blind woman?  And I’m not sure why she had to say she wasn’t really blind.  What was the point?  If they were trying to gauge his reaction to that revelation, then maybe it would work.  But it didn’t seem to have a real part in this story.  He gave himself away with his statement. 

The blind woman said she could sense the car driver stop and look at her.  Maybe blind people can do that.  I don’t know, but it seemed hokey. 

 The silly references to ‘dying from the heat’ were a little distracting but all in all it was a good story. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Some good news for me today
     about my romantic/suspense novel PLAYING DEAD. 

Rebecca Forster is a USA Today best selling author with more than 25 books under her belt. She teaches at UCLA Writers Program and works with The Young Writers Conference, a program that helps motivate middle school children to explore the power of words. She is particularly drawn to kids and writing because both of her sons have always had a passion for it. Eric is a playwright and Alex is in film. She is married to a Superior Court judge.

She LOVED my book Playing Dead.  woo-hoo.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Title: Dismissed for cause
By Author:   Emma Courtice

Appearing in issue #34, August 26, 2013

Tag line:  Mr. Ferguson had given his employees the boot.  Now, it was their turn…

Police characters:  Sgt. Norman Bain

The gist: Wallace Ferguson lay dead in his bed upstairs.  No murder weapon was found.  The story didn’t give a cause of death, but said a fireplace poker was missing from the set.  The handyman and the maid had both been given a month’s notice last night.  The handyman was questioned but he was pretty hung over and didn’t remember much. After getting the bad news he had begun to drink heavily.  He didn’t even remember finishing the bottle.  There was a trail of muddy footprints from the back door that were unmistakably made by the handyman’s work books.  The footprints were uneven as though the walker was unsteady, and they led first to the fireplace, then upstairs to the old man’s room.  Then more footprints were seen very clearly by the old man’s bed before they led back down and outside towards the handyman’s quarters over the garage.  The handyman had been found asleep in his own bed, clothes still on, but muddy boots on the floor.  Crime Scene found a bloody fireplace poker in the bushes by the garage.  No fingerprints were found on it.   Sgt. Bain pointed the finger at the maid. 

Crime scene:  Old man Ferguson’s bedroom.

Clues:  Muddy footprints everywhere and no fingerprints on the poker. 

Suspects:  Handyman and the maid.

Red herrings:   None. 

Solution:  Sgt. Bain didn’t figure the handyman was sober enough to have the presence of mind to wipe his prints off the poker before he threw it into the bushes. Also the footprints were excessive and very clear, as though someone had re-muddied the boots and made trails.  The maid killed Ferguson and tried to pin it on the handyman as he was getting drunk and wouldn’t remember.  She put on his boots and made the prints.  She had to wipe off her fingerprints from the murder weapon. 

My two cents:  She almost got away with it.  If she had only thought to go up to the sleeping handyman and press his fingers on the poker before she discarded it in the bushes by his quarters, she may never have gotten caught.   Of course she overdid the muddy prints in an attempt to frame the handyman, and that would not have gone unnoticed by the police, but had his fingerprints been on the murder weapon, that mud detail would just have been something the defense attorney would use to plant a question in the minds of the jurors. 

This story started out by telling the reader how cheap Ferguson was.  He didn’t have a dish washer.  The clothes were hanging on the line.  I’m thinking this was done to tell the reader why he was firing his help; otherwise that information isn’t germane to the story.  All in all, this tale worked.  There were no procedural errors.  There were no mistakes in the construction of the story.  It moved along well and the clues were not so obvious that the reader wouldn’t bother to read the solution. 

Just as an aside, there was not one exclamation point in this story.  Not even in the tag line.  Do you think WW is paying attention to this blog?  lol

Friday, August 9, 2013

Title: Sister dearest
By Author: Marianna Heulser

Appearing in issue #33, August 19, 2013

Tag line:  Lily and Violet were always so close.  But now Violet was alive…and Lily was not!

Police characters:  Detectives Kevin McCarthy and Lola Wells

The gist: Two well-off sisters live together in a mansion on Park Avenue.  The police were called to the home by the maid, who had worked for the two women for over 20 years.  She had been told to call the funeral home by sister Violet, as sister Lily was found dead in her bed from an apparent suicide, but the maid summoned the police.  Violet is a doctor.  She tended to Lily who was a diabetic, giving Lily daily doses of insulin.  The story goes that Lily was so depressed about her poor health that she took an overdose of pain medicine the dentist had prescribed for an abscess.  The maid claimed she never heard Lily complain and didn’t feel she was depressed. A check of the scene of the death revealed Lily still lying in her canopy bed, and a bedside table containing a Tiffany lamp, a crystal pitcher filled with water, an old fashioned alarm clock, a romance novel and an empty orange plastic pill bottle.  When police spoke to Violet, she demanded they address her as Doctor as she is not yet retired.  She claims she had been so concentrating on treating her sister’s diabetes that she missed the signs of depression. Violet found the body and told the maid to call the funeral home.  When questioned why she didn’t call the police, Doctor Violet retorted that it was perfectly clear what happened and that she could sign the death certificate.  The sisters’ nephew showed up claiming that the two ladies did not get along well.  Violet wanted to sell the house and all the belongings and travel, but Lily would not sell. Detective Wells studied her notepad and decided to take another look at the bedroom.  She said she realized they had overlooked something important.

Crime scene:   Lily’s bedroom.

Clues:  The clue in the story is the pitcher of water and the items (or lack of them) on the bedside table.   See more on that below. 

Suspects:  Violet. 

Red herrings:  None.

Solution:  Detective Wells recalled seeing a pitcher full of water but no water glass.  If Lily had swallowed the pills herself there would be a glass on the table and the pitcher would not be filled to the brim.  Instead of injecting her sister with insulin, Violet administered an overdose of the painkiller.  

My two cents:  Okay, let’s analyze this a bit. 

 Violet is a doctor.  She demands the police address her as doctor as she has not yet retired.  This is puzzling to me.  A doctor is addressed as such until the day he/she dies…and even then it might still be on the tombstone.  What is she talking about?  

And as a doctor, she knows very well that best practices frown on doctors signing death certificates of close relatives.  Just like they don’t perform surgery on relatives unless it was an emergency situation.  But she was ready to just sign on the dotted line and be done with it which would raise eyebrows and cause people to ask questions.   Not too smart for a killer who doesn’t want to go to prison.

Next thing, a doctor, of all people, knows that a death that is not a natural death MUST be reported.  She can’t be that stupid.  Even if the maid did call the funeral home, THEY would have reported the death.  You just can’t go shipping bodies off to be buried.

The story said the crystal pitcher was filled with water.  It didn’t say it was filled to the brim.  To make the solution read: and the pitcher would not be filled to the brim is just unfair. The reader counts on the author being straight with the facts.
If Lily wanted to take those pills herself, she could have very well gone to the bathroom, downed the pills in there, come out and made herself comfortable in her bed to await her final sleep.  In fact as there was no glass on the nightstand she would have had to go in the bathroom to take the pills.  So to say that because there is no glass on the table it must be murder is pretty thin. 

Dr. Violet gave herself away by foolishly trying to get rid of the body.  That’s the real clue.