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.


Mary Jo said...

What can you say, Jody? The editor liked it. Why,I am not sure. I have to admit, I found it rather a morass, myself. Maybe Johnene was stunned by the amount of information, and lack thereof, the author managed to get into 700 words. Kind of a mystery, huh?

Jody E. Lebel said...

I'm starting to wonder if they like to publish all over the map when it comes to style. That way somewhere, somehow, at some point, sooner or later they will have a hit with every single reader.

Mary Jo said...

Don't hold your breath.

Jody E. Lebel said...

I think this story was a test to see if we're paying attention. How can you go from last week's great little story (so entertaining and quick moving) to this messy, complicated, overly worked piece? WW sure keeps us on our toes.

Chris said...

Thanks to Mary Jo, I've read this one and it hadn't struck me as being as awful as it comes across here, so I went back and looked at it again.

It trips along nicely enough at the start but it feels like an early draft of a story, rather than the finished product. Unnecessary characters are named, yet the arrested suspect isn't, and the wife's reaction when she arrives home is totally OTT. She knows the body under the sheet is her husband without seeing it, which points the finger straight at her.

I would have liked more suspects - one of those cleaners or landscapers maybe, following some dispute over pay, or the quality of their services. There was also no reason given as to why Anne murdered Bill. The only motive was that their marriage 'was rocky' - so get counselling or a divorce, don't kill the poor bloke. We weren't even told the method of the killing - blunt instrument, shooting, stabbing, strangling, poisoning, what? Nor did we find out the reason for the poor, unnamed business partner being read his rights. Since when did finding a body and phoning it in become a punishable offence? Even the cop who could have sneaked us some inside info refused to do so, which made the conversation with him valueless.

We always wonder what little nuggets have hit the cutting room floor with these stories, but there are just too many omissions here for it to be all down to the editing. The story could have been so much better if set aside for a couple of weeks before sending off, when all these issues would have been easier to spot. Well done to the author on their acceptance but, for me, it just wasn't the polished gem it could have been.

Jody E. Lebel said...


Nicely put.

Mary Jo said...

Yes, Chris, I think you are right. This story is a first draft. It would be interesting to hear from the author to see if she just zipped it off one day and decided to submit it. If she truly labored over it, then that is a different thing altogether.

There have been times when I have written a hurried draft and been so in love with the story, I would have stuck it in an envelope and sent it on its way. Only a second look a day or two later might reveal some obvious flaws.

Writing can be so much fun--passion or compulsion?