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. 


Kathye Thornton said...

Hey Jody.
You are right on. This is a great story. I laughed and stayed with it all the way. I loved the characters. Being a mother-in-law and ex-law enforcement, I can relate to both sides. Good job Herschel. Look forward to the next story.

Chris said...

Fun, well constructed story with some good banter between the two, although I found it harder than you and Kathye did to ignore the fact that the detective was discussing a case he was still investigating so freely with his ma-in-law. A voice kept saying in my head, 'shut up, you shouldn't be doing this'! I got the clue - I've had to reset too many digital clocks after power cuts for that to pass me by - but that wasn't a problem as it makes you feel vaguely clever for a few seconds to spot it. One of the more enjoyable ones, I thought.

Mary Jo said...

I am kinda late in putting in my 2 cents, but my subscription ran out before I renewed it and I had to pick the current copy of WW up on the grocery magazine stand today. Loved this guy's writing. What a smoothie! Hey, the mother in law wormed it out of the detective. I am sure it happens.

My only thought about the obvious clue was that it could have been more subtle if the kitchen wall clock had been set ten minutes slow and it was actually a battery clock that would not have been affected by a power interruption.

Jody E. Lebel said...

I'm sort of surprised the author hasn't chimed in here. He sure had a hissy fit when I 'didn't like' his story and had plenty to say then. Now he turns in a winner, everybody tells him so, and he can't be bothered to say thanks to anyone. Even if he doesn't care for me, there are other people he should have given a nod to. Story reviews can swing either way. It's part of a writer's life. Lesson: learn to deal with it gracefully.

Herschel Cozine said...

One reason I have not commented was simply that I have not accessed your blog site since our go round a few months ago. I was alerted to this and saw the comments. I am, of course, pleased that the story was well received.
For the record, although it may appear I was upset about your previous review, that was not the reason I blogged. I was commenting on the blog in general. I have no problem with my stories being critiqued, whether positive or negative. I simply felt in this case that the criticisms were not well founded. Be that as it may, I have made the decision to keep my silence whether the reviews are good or bad. Everyone has their take on it. Fair enough. And I have no personal animosity against you. None of this should be personal.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Herschel. Very nice hearing from you. I kind of thought I might have to pry you out a little bit and I'm glad you responded. When a story is a hit, people want to talk about it.

This story was a delight. And I'm not saying that because of our lengthy discussion last time. I call them as I see them. Your pacing was perfect. The dialogue was strong. The deep POV writing enriched the scene. I thought the characterization was spot on. They made me smile. These two could become the next Chunky and Mrs. Potts.

I have commented before about police not discussing open cases with civilians, but they certainly do in cozy mysteries and they also really do it in real life. Your poor detective hasn't got a chance with Gladys around poking at him.

You raised the bar for yourself with this story.

Herschel Cozine said...


I am gratified, of course, that those who have commented found this story to their liking. And I am hopeful that there will be more of them with Gladys and her nameless son-in-law. Using her as the information pipe, as you know, is a "literary" tool and the reader's indulgence must be used to make it work. I am not smart enough to find an alternate. Besides, I am sure that in real life cases are discussed within a family even though it is not approved procedure.

As for becoming the next Chunky and Mrs. Potts, I am afraid I don't have enough ideas to compete with John on that score. But thanks for the comparison. He practically owns the page.

Chris said...

You're right, of course, Herschel, there must be detectives who chat about active cases with their families, even if they shouldn't. My other half recently did jury service here in the UK and everyone on it was sworn to secrecy until the trial was over. He honoured that pledge 100%, wouldn't tell us a single thing about it until the verdict was in, but maybe if it was a job, not just a week-long stint, it might be harder to keep quiet. Anyway, it was a good way to reveal the story and I hope you come up with more plot-lines for these two, although I do sympathise with that poor man, having Gladys forever on his case.