Saturday, September 28, 2013

Title: Station break
By Author:  Leslie Padgett

Appearing in issue #40, October 7, 2013

Tag line:  The detective had to get a new perspective on the crime scene before he could figure out who was guilty…

Police characters:  Detective Jason Holt

The gist: Someone murdered DJ Todd in his booth at the radio station.  He was found slumped over his console still wearing his headphones.  A sheet of paper with the writing 337 H was found near the body.  He was found by Hannah, the station’s secretary, who came in to work first at 6:00 a.m. and saw his car in the parking lot.  She figured he had stayed overnight to work on some promo material.  She brought him coffee and found him dead.  She had a love interest in DJ Todd, but it wasn’t returned.  Hannah had knocked over a stack of papers in her haste to back out of the booth.  She picked them up and put them back on the desk, then called the police.  She told the detective that DJ Todd’s death was going to be a disaster for the station.  The station manager, Hank Lee, arrived 20 minutes after Hannah.  The detective found Hank in his office.  Hank was on the phone ordering up an older show to fill the air time.   Hank told the detective that Todd had wanted a raise and when he was told no Todd threatened to take his show to a bigger station.  Another DJ, a competitor who resented Todd because he took over his prime time spot, told the detective that Todd was an insensitive jerk.   No one knew what 337 H meant.  Hannah suggested it was a page in Todd’s journal, a journal that Todd kept under lock and key because it contained inside info on everyone Todd has ever met.  

Everyone left the crime scene, but before they did Detective Holt took one last look and figured out who the killer was. 

Crime scene:  DJ booth at a radio station. 

Clues:   337 H

Suspects:  Besides everyone in the world in his journal?  Hank or the second DJ.

Red herrings:  The journal with dirt on everybody he had ever met in his entire life.   And Hannah, who had a crush on him that wasn’t returned. 

Solution:  After the DJ was shot he tried to ID his killer by writing down his name.  H Lee looks like 337 H upside down.  Hannah had dropped the papers and in her haste had gathered them up and put them on the desk backwards. 

My two cents:   Geez, didn’t anybody like this guy?  There are a lot of moving parts to this story.  You almost need a map.  Not only were there three people at the station who had a motive (Well, Hannah’s wasn’t really a motive.  I mean you don’t kill someone who doesn’t love you back. ) the author made sure there was a journal that had dirt on everyone the DJ had ever met.  Seems a bit over the top.  I’m not sure why Hannah surmised that the DJ had spent the night at the station because his car was in the lot before hers.  Maybe he came in early that day?  That seems more likely.  Her comment that the DJ’s death was going to be a disaster for the station seemed odd for someone who was in love with him.  She seemed to care more about the station.  If the DJ threatened to leave and take his show, which apparently was an important show for the station and it would be a disaster if he left, how would killing him solve that problem? 

I don’t recommend having the characters names as close as they are; Holt, Hannah, Hank.  It’s too confusing. 

Also if I was dying and I had a moment to scratch out the killer’s name, I would probably write Hank…not H Lee.   Just a thought.  This story was just so-so.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Title: A shot in the dark
By Author: Herschel Cozine

Appearing in issue #39, September 30, 2013

Tag line:  Was it a deadly accident or a deliberate murder?  Only time would tell…

Police characters:  Unnamed detective and his mother-in-law, Gladys, who likes to think of herself as an amateur sleuth.

Crime scene:   The victim’s home. 

The gist: Gladys and the detective are talking over the morning paper.  Gladys has recently moved in with her daughter and son-in-law, who works as a detective, and has taken an interest in his work.  She loves to ask him about his cases.  Today they are discussing what the police are calling an accidental shooting.  Gladys thinks it was murder.  The detective explained that the husband claimed his wife heard a noise downstairs at night and sent him down to investigate.  He told her to stay upstairs.  He went downstairs with his gun and proceeded into the kitchen. The lights suddenly went off.  He became a bit disoriented and waited quietly for a moment to let his eyes adjust. He was frightened.  He claims he felt a presence, heard a noise, and shot his gun in that direction.  Then he went to the fuse box and threw the switch.  When the lights came on he discovered he had shot and killed his wife.

Gladys doesn’t believe the story.  She questioned why the husband didn’t go first and turn the lights back on.  The detective said that was a consideration but the man did say he was frightened.  She questioned how a burglar would even know where the fuse box was to turn it off. The detective explained that the culprit might have been in the house before, or maybe even lived in a similar floor plan.   She questioned that the lights even went out at all.  The detective noted there was a digital clock on the table that was ten minutes off, just the amount of time the husband claimed this whole thing took.  

Clues:  The clock.

Suspects:  Is the husband guilty of killing his wife or was it an accident?

Red herrings:  None.

Solution:   When power goes off digital clocks revert to 12:00 o’clock and flash until they are reset.  The husband had manually set the clock back ten minutes to reflect a power outage that never happened. 

My two cents:  The story starts off with a joke about men.  So right there you’ve got to love it.  The interaction between mother-in-law and son-in-law is entertaining.  He tries not to roll his eyes.  She snorts at his explanations.  He tells her to let him talk and she presses her lips together and makes a zipping motion over her mouth.  When she smiles, he is reminded of the shark in Jaws.  I can almost see these two characters.  He has a logical explanation for everything and is trying to keep an open mind, but she isn’t buying any of it. 

This story was told in first person and pulled the reader into the scene.  It was presented in an interesting manner.  The reader is not taken to the usual crime scene, but instead learns the case details after the fact through dialogue between two people.  Although in the real world detectives are not supposed to discuss open cases with civilians, we know they really do.  In this scenario Gladys works details out of him and he gives in probably to keep peace in his house.  You have to feel for the guy.  

If the power really had gone off, other electronic devices would have also been blinking that the cops might have noticed.  Like the microwave maybe.  If this husband had only thought to really turn the power off for a few minutes he might have gotten away with it.  The title fits and the tag line doesn’t give too much away.  All in all this was a fun story that worked. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Title: Murder in the neighborhood
By Author:  Martha Freeman

Appearing in issue #38, September 23, 2013

Tag line:  Jenny Mason’s new neighbors definitely weren’t the friendly type, but there was no law against that …

Police characters:  None of any importance.

The gist: Okay, bear with me here.  There are a lot of details.  Jenny Mason was a woman of regular habits, one of which was to return her trash can to its proper place as soon as the trash crew was done.  This morning she walked down to get said trash can at 8:30.  On the back of the trash truck was a former student of Jenny’s, Matt.  He waved to her.  Jenny noticed that the trash truck had skipped her neighbor’s house, the Colfax house, because there was no barrel at the curb.  A few minutes later Jenny hears sirens.  When she looks through her window she sees police cars and an ambulance at the Colfax house.  Claiming that she isn’t nosy (hah!) but that maybe the police might want to ask her something, Jenny hurried outside.  Jenny had lived in this house for 25 years.  Jenny remembered that the Colfax house had been vacant for a while before the new neighbors came.  Jenny had brought over some baked bread the day they moved in but Anne Colfax was rather cold to Jenny.  Jenny had a friend, Leo, who told Jenny that Bill Colfax was in financial trouble and that the marriage was rocky.   Jenny appreciated the fact that the Colfaxes always kept up their property and they even employed a cleaning service and landscapers.  Also Bill spent hours in his garden every weekend.  Jenny noticed a red car parked in the Colfax driveway that hadn’t been there at 8:30.  Then she saw two EMTs come out of the Colfax’s front door carrying a litter that had a sheet covered body on it. A man in a business suit was trailing the EMTs. Just then a police officer appeared and started giving the man in the suit his Miranda rights.  A second police officer, Danny Whitson, also a former student of Jenny’s showed up.  Jenny was chit-chatting with him, asking about when he joined the police force.  She asked him what happened but he wouldn’t tell her. Suddenly a car screeches to the curb and Anne Colfax gets out screaming, “What have you done to my husband?  I warned Bill about you, you murderer.”  The man claimed that Bill was dead when he got there. Anne said he was a liar and that her husband was fine when she left for yoga at 8:15.  Jenny asked Anne if she and her husband were away this past week.  Anne called Jenny a busybody and said, “You know we weren’t.”  Jenny said, “Well, in that case I think you’re lying and the police have the wrong suspect.”

Okay, that’s it.  That was exhausting to get through. I think I need a nap.   

Crime scene:  The neighbor’s house.

Clues:    I have no idea.  The trash not being out, I suppose.  

Suspects:   The wife or the business partner.  (Or maybe busybody Jenny did it…heh heh.)  Or maybe the trash guys.  Or the cleaning service people.  Or some random robber.   Maybe Bill killed himself to get out of this awful story. 

Red herrings:  Good grief.   It was all such a mess…

Solution:  Jenny noticed the Colfaxes hadn’t left their trash out for pickup.  Unless they were on vacation, house proud Bill would never have failed to do so.  Anne killed her husband before she left for yoga.  Knowing that her husband and his partner had an appointment to meet that morning and that there were financial troubles, Anne planned to frame him.

My two cents:  There were WAY too many people in this story.  Why did we have to have the trash man wave at Jenny?  Why did Jenny have to know one of the cops?  I think the wife screaming at the business partner that he was a murderer was over the top. I think the wife would not have stated that “Bill was fine when I left for yoga at 8:15.”  Who says things like that when your husband was just killed?   Why did she come screeching up?  How did she know there was a problem?  Did she even know her husband was dead?  Or maybe I should ask, How did she know her husband was dead?  This wasn’t a clean, well-staged story.   It just went on and on and on with details that we didn’t need to know, like the fact that the house had been vacant for a while before the Colfaxes moved in.  Or that Jenny has lived in her house 25 years.  Or that the trash guy used to be a student of hers.  Or that Bill liked to garden.  Who cares? What does all that have to do with the price of bananas?   Yet we don’t get the important clues.  Clues like Bill was as fussy with his trash as Jenny was and would never not take it to the curb on trash day. That was pretty important.  Or how about telling us that Bill had a meeting with his business partner that morning?  That little tidbit was just thrown in the solution to tidy up a loose end.  Why was the cop giving the business partner his Miranda rights?  That guy was the 911 caller.  By the way, we know the names of a lot of people, even the guy on the trash truck, but we don’t know the name of the business partner who is the accused in this story.  How odd. 

This week's trash story is a stinker.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Title: Put it down!
By Author: Martha Martin 

Appearing in issue #37, September 16, 2013

Tag line:  When Sam retired to his basement hideout, he was absolutely positively certain he’d left no clues to his whereabouts!

Police characters:  None.

The gist: A man escapes from the county jail and decides to hide out at his aunt’s house, which was only a mile from the jail.  His plan was to evade the police for one day, and then when the police thought he was long gone, he would steal his aunt’s jewelry and keep running.  Aunt Clara was elderly, lived alone, went out every day to the senior center, he knew where she hid her key, and she had a great dark cellar that she never went down to because the stairs where too steep for her.  So Sam, our escapee, made it to Clara’s house even though he was wearing a bright orange jail jumpsuit.  He had been lucky that no one saw him sprinting through the woods.  When he got to Clara’s house her car was gone, so before he went to the cellar he used the bathroom, making sure to dry out the sink with a paper towel after he washed his hands.  Then he made himself a sandwich of just one slice of ham and one slice of cheese, using two slices of bread from a full loaf, thinking Clara would never miss any of them.  He also took one bottle of water from a carelessly stocked but full shelf.  He went upstairs to the bedroom closet and found old clothes from his late uncle that he felt Clara would never notice were gone so he could change tomorrow when he left.  Then he went down to the basement to make himself comfortable and eat.  He heard Clara come home and turn the television on.  Sam fell asleep.  He woke to the cellar light being turned on and two cops looking at him with guns drawn.  What had been his mistake?

Crime scene:  None really.  

Clues:  He was very careful not to leave any clues…but he forgot one thing.

Suspects:  None. 

Red herrings:   None. 

Solution:  He used the bathroom and made the typical mistake of forgetting to put the seat back down.  When his aunt heard on the local news that her nephew had escaped and then came home to a toilet seat in the upright position, she called the police.

My two cents:  This was delightful.  It moved along quickly.  I never figured out the clue.  At first I thought maybe he had been snoring.  Or that he didn’t throw away the paper towels.  When I read what the clue really was, I laughed out loud. 

 There were no technical problems with this story.  Where I live and work, orange jumpsuits are only given to high risk prisoners so that if they escape they are more easily seen.  Also orange is only used for state prison inmates here.  This guy was in county jail.  But colors and their uses vary from state to state so Sam could very well be in orange at the county jail. I know that some states use orange for ‘reception’ which is where incoming inmates are processed.  Another fact in police work is that the police immediately make contact with the families and girlfriends of these escapees and search their houses and run checks on the phones, but our runner in the above story might not have known that.    So it made sense for him to think he could hide at Aunt Clara’s.  

The title that WW chose to use is pretty much a clue, but it went right over my head as I don't have any men in my house and I didn't even think of the toilet.  Nice job, Ms. Martin.