Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Appearing in issue #43, October 28, 2013

Title: Dressed to kill
By Author:  Laird Long

Tag line: All the Halloween party guests were in costume, but Maggie saw through the murderer’s disguise!

Police characters:  Random police officers.

The gist:  Millionaire Wayne Morton’s wife is throwing a Halloween party and has asked guests to come in full costume with masks to disguise their identities.   Her husband’s reputation as a ruthless businessman and all-around unpleasant human being ensured that the guest list was short.  The hired caterer was still not there at 6:45 (party starts at 7:00) so Maggie, who was hired to serve drinks and food, was asked to man the door and direct guests to the living room.  She stood in a dimly lit hallway and greeted two pirates, a robot, a 1920’s gangster couple, a fairy princess, and two super heroes.  Next a ghost entered and went down the hallway.  She noticed that his shoes were beat-up.  Mrs. Morton directed Maggie to go upstairs and summon Mr. Morton as all the guests had arrived, and so did the caterers…at 6:58 PM.  Maggie found Mr. Morton dead on the floor of his study, the victim of a messy stabbing. Blood everywhere. The knife was still protruding from his chest.  The police were called.  Mrs. Morton said the knife was one of the ones she had had in the carving set on her counter. There was indeed a knife block with one empty slot.  The police ordered everyone into the living room announcing that before they called in Crime Scene they have some questions.  Maggie overheard one officer say to the other, “Look for bloodstains on the guests’ costumes.  The murderer must have been spattered.” Maggie studied the guests.  She saw the robot, two pirates, the fairy princess, two gangsters, a tramp, and two super heroes.  No one had any blood on them.  Before the police could begin their questioning, Maggie blurted out that she knew who the killer was.

Crime scene:  Halloween party at industrialist Wayne Morton’s mansion.

Clues:  The costumes.   Beat-up shoes. 

Suspects:  All the party guests, seeing as how no one liked the host. 

Red herrings:  None, unless you consider a late catering company as being possible suspects but it’s hard to kill someone and also make warm puff pastries at the same time though. 

Solution:  The tramp.  He originally appeared at the house dressed as a ghost.  Knowing his costume would most likely have to be disposed of, he wore a tramp’s costume underneath.  Maggie remembered the beat-up shoes and realized she hadn’t seen a tramp among the costumed arrivals. 

My two cents:  Anyone who has ever read my blog knows how I feel about stories that are factually inaccurate.  I’m so busy saying to myself, “Oh, for Pete’s sake, that would never happen” that I drift out of the story.  

Have you ever hired a caterer for an event?  They show up 4-6 hours before the event to prepare the food.  This story has the caterers being late… 15 minutes before the party is due to start and they still have not arrived. That's a little more than late.  That's a no-show.   Maggie was hired to serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres.  Where did the hostess think the food was going to come from if the catering company hadn’t been there yet?  Any why didn’t Maggie just go and serve the drinks?  That was her job.  But no, the hostess, a wealthy woman who lived in a mansion and had staff, had Maggie, a stranger, greet her guests at the door.   I guess the guests just helped themselves as there was no mention of any other hired help in this story.   The caterer arrives at 6:58…perhaps with a big bag of McDonalds chicken nuggets? 

Okay, cut all that nonsense.  What a waste of words, not to mention it’s just not germane to the story.   Just have Maggie be the person who greets guests at the door from the first sentence and get on with the story.  If the author intended to have the late caterers be a red herring, it just didn't work.  Not only that, with all the masked guests, we don't need more suspects in this story.

A note of technical accuracy:  Responding uniformed police officers don’t question people at a murder scene.  They secure the scene and call the detective bureau, who then calls in the crime scene unit.   This author has two lowly cops doing everything.  Also no police official would question guests together, or even let them gather together (they could taint each other’s memory and view of what they saw), and certainly not before Mirandizing them.  Very loosey-goosey police work here.  You know how much I hate that.

Another note:  mansions do have living rooms, but are ritzy parties held there?  More likely the affair would have been in the ball room, the conservatory, the library, the den…anywhere but the living room.  Also the story opens with Maggie standing in a dimly lit hallway.  Sounds like my house.  For a mansion I picture a large, airy, well lit foyer with an over-the-top chandelier, spooky decorations dripping down the walls,  tons of black and orange candles reflected on the shiny clean marble floors, and a center table holding an ornate pumpkin and flower arrangement.   It’s either a mansion…or they’re having the party at my place. Make your details fit the story.

The bottom line: The solution was too easy. You didn't even need the beat-up shoes.


Mary Jo said...

Gee, Jody, I just read this story a few minutes ago and I really liked it. Then I read your review and I can see I was totally wrong. Honestly, I was intrigued with the dark hallway and the parade of costumes. I thought the wife did it because she was covered with blood in her surgeon's costume, and she changed before the first police arrived. You know, hiding in plain sight.

Maybe it is the same with any specialized field. You cannot really enjoy something when you know better.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. I should probably change the red herring section to reflect the wife. It was a good move on the author's part to have her in a bloody surgical gown.

Chris said...

So Maggie Simmons is standing in the hallway from 6.50pm greeting guests. NINE people go past her and turn left into the living room. Not one of them heads upstairs for the bathroom or to leave coats on the bed (do you do that over there?). Just eight minutes later Mrs Morton sends Maggie up to get misery-guts, who hasn't bothered to put in an appearance all the time his guests have been arriving. Now we find out why - he's been stabbed with a knife from a block in the kitchen, the same kitchen that no one has entered the whole time, including any caterers (and someone's goose is surely cooked in THAT company).

This is what I can't get my head around; it's not so much a WHO dunnit as a HOW dunnit. The ghost's supposed to be the murderer, but he's not a REAL spectre, he can't float through walls. He's got to walk from the living room along the hallway to the kitchen to get the knife, then walk back up the hall to go upstairs and do the deed, then come back down wearing an entirely different costume (and where's the bloodstained one gone, by the way?) all in the space of a few minutes and with Maggie standing there the whole time. Yet there's no mention of ANYONE going up there.

The words used to explain about the missing caterers added nothing. Instead we could've had real suspects to mull over, and a proper motive beyond 'ruthless, unpleasant businessman'. Who was it behind the ghostly garb - an ex-employee, a disgruntled neighbor, the wife's lover? We never found out. And why did he stab the man? Even in the solution we weren't told. The setting of a Halloween party for a murder mystery was great, just a shame it wasn't thought through properly. (Unless those details got chopped in the editing? If that's the case, I'd love to know.)

Mary Jo said...

Chris, I keep telling you, the wife did it before anyone arrived at the party. The author just did not solve the mystery correctly.

With that long parade of guests, there were not enough words available to tell you it was a hot California or West Texas night and no one needed a coat. And the caterers brought all the food with them. I guess the house was hard to locate. Well, it happens.

P.S. I contacted Darlene Poier and she is sending the Summer 2013 issue so I can see what they are printing. Thank you for the heads up (information).

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