Friday, January 17, 2014

Appearing in issue #3, January 20, 2014

Title: A bad deed

By Author: Emma Courtice

Tag line:   Old Mr. Mathers’ had been sitting on a fortune in real estate.  Until someone decided to evict him, once and for all!  (I don’t understand the apostrophe after Mathers.)

Police characters:  Detective Marie DeLuca

The gist:  Old man Mathers was found dead in his bed apparently smothered by his pillow.  He lived on a ramshackle farm that was surrounded by property that was owned by builders who were putting in modern housing units.   His property was worth a lot of money if only he would sell out to the investors…but he refused.  The first on- scene cop, a veteran of the force, had suspicions and called in the DB.  There were no signs of forced entry but the old man never locked his doors as he was way out in the country.  Mr. Mathers had taken to living downstairs because he couldn’t handle the stairs any longer.  The living room had been turned into a bedroom and a small bathroom had been added.

There were three people at the scene.  (The magic number for WW.)  The grandson, who was well dressed and drove a new car, told police that, yes, he had wanted gramps to sell, but there was no rush.  Grandpa was getting up in years and eventually he and his sister, the two heirs, would get the property.  He added that it just goes up in value over time anyway, so it wasn’t a problem to wait it out.  The granddaughter, who was crying, said she didn’t care about the money; she only wanted her grandfather to be comfortable and happy.  She had done all the renovations to the downstairs. The third person was the nearest neighbor lady, who had come over when she saw the lights and heard the sirens.  The neighbor said Mathers was a cantankerous old coot, stubborn, and kept to himself.  She didn’t see anyone visit him besides the two grandkids in years. She thought it was sad, him living all alone here, living out his years in a tiny corner of such a big old house.

Det. DeLuca had all she needed to point a finger.   Can you figure it out?

Crime scene:   The farmhouse.

Clues:   IMO there weren’t any.

Suspects:  The two grandkids and the neighbor lady.

Red herrings:  I didn’t see any.

Solution:  The neighbor did it.  The solution read “She (the neighbor) claimed not to have visited the farmhouse or spoken to Mathers in years, but she knew the old man was confined to the ground floor.”  She did it because her property was up for sale and she was getting a great price, but the deal stipulated that the Mathers’s property had to be included in the package.  He wouldn’t sell so she took care of business.

My two cents:    First of all, let’s talk about the first on-scene cop.  He had suspicions.  No kidding?  Mathers was smothered with a pillow.  Did the VETERAN cop think the old guy did it himself? Good thing there wasn’t a dog, or he would have pointed a finger at the mutt.  

Next, do you feel cheated?  I do.  Nowhere in the story did it state that the neighbor hadn’t visited or spoken to Mr. Mathers in years.  She certainly was right on the spot when she saw there was trouble and the police were there, which would lead one to believe she knew this neighbor, cared about him, and had been there before.  

Lastly, why would you kill someone in a remote place, then show up when the police come?  Wouldn’t you be trying to establish some kind of alibi for yourself and not chit-chatting with the cops?  

I liked the title.


Chris said...

I thought this story was nicely told but it did fall short for me in a couple of areas. I couldn't see the relevance of the part about the policewoman's jurisdiction, which seemed a waste of words to me. Either she was allowed to investigate or she wasn't, in which case she wouldn't have been called out in the first place. I didn't have the first idea what was meant by cookie-cutter subdivisions, so had to ask Betsi about that, but it seems like a good description now I know.

The veteran beat cop being suspicious of the scene wasn't a problem for me; a pillow is a commonplace thing to see in a bedroom, so unless it was still over the victim's face (and I'm assuming any murderer worth her salt would know better), then he would have to make a judgement based on other factors. This wasn't one with a bloodied statue lying by the corpse, or a knotted cord around the old man's throat. There was apparently nothing to show that this was anything other than a natural death. The veteran cop, of course, knew better.

My biggest gripe is the solution telling us that 'the neighbor claimed not to have visited the farmhouse or spoken to Mathers in years'. The neighbour says no such thing. Actually, she describes him as stubborn and cantankerous, meaning she made no secret of the fact that she HAD spoken to him. That contradiction annoyed me and I wonder, yet again, whether the author's original story has been affected by the edit.

Wouldn't it be good if a few more of the writers whose work makes it into the mag actually dropped by and gave us their fifty cents now and then. I'd love to know how much of their stuff gets changed before it goes in.

Tamara said...

Yes, like me, who screams from the rooftops. And, not that I am one to talk about discrepancies in mystery stories, it did occur to me that if the neighbor knew that no one other than the kids visited him in years, it didn't make sense that she hadn't seen or spoken to the old man for years. She sounds closer than that.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Mary Jo, I saw your comment in my e-mail box, but it didn't get posted on here. Maybe it will catch up with us. Anyway, you said something about the word 'can' and I don't see it? can-can-can.

Your other question was about how long does it take to make detective. That varies from state to state and department to department. Most police forces require at least 3 years on the force to be able to sit for the detective test. Then you have to wait for an opening and that might go to a more experienced officer who also passed the test. But it is possible to be quite young and be a detective. Some folks don't want that job. It's hours of investigative work, paperwork, interviewing witnesses that don't get the case anywhere. You can be called anytime day or night, holiday or not, if a crime happens for the unit that you're in. Det. Pioggia from my area was just putting the burgers on the grill on the 4th of July when he got called to a shooting in the city. His wife told me that...she's my Curves instructor.'s not everyone's cut of tea. A lot of detectives burn out and change units. There's a lot of that going on. Det. Cass worked narcotics for years... years... until he couldn't take it anymore. Now he's in auto thefts. I'm meandering...I'll stop.

Tamara said...

Interesting meandering, though, Jody. My son is a cop, and I think he took the detective test and said not too many cops passed. Some people think it's easy to become a cop, but it's quite a lengthy, challenging process and becoming a detective is likewise.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness it IS such a lengthy and challenging process, given the responsibility these people are taking on. Who'd want someone with only five minutes' training investigating their crime?

Chris said...

That should have read Chris, not anon. I pressed too quick %¬}

Anonymous said...

I havent read the story but the comment "I liked the title " damns it with faint praise! Dont know why some murders get accepted for publication when they arent all that clever and have big holes in the plot. Ginny

Jody E. Lebel said...

Amen, sister.
I just got a rejection on a crossword puzzle one that I was SURE would be accepted. Darn it. There was nothing wrong with the story (I don't think at least...and I did run it by another writer before I sent it out) but it just didn't grab Ms. Granger.

joyce said...

I didn't read this story, but from the review, it does sound like there are some problem areas. I didn't know the author was allowed to "withhold" information that might explain important facts in the story. For example, if the story didn't hint at the neighbor not having visited or spoken to Mr. Mathers in years, how would we even begin to know that?
I am currently writing a mystery. It's hard to provide all the pertinent facts within the short word count content, and give a subtle clue or two. I wonder why some of these that we feel don't quite fit the bill are selected for publication.

Tamara said...

Jody, that crossword puzzle story sounds intriguing. Maybe you can allow us to see it, and you will at least have a mini-audience.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Tamara, I'll post it next week.

Joyce, I think sometimes when Johnene edits, she makes cuts that screw up the flow without realizing it. It's not fair to withhold information so that the reader can't possibly solve the story. That's the whole point of the column.

Tamara said...

I think it is a common error editors make -- cutting something without checking to make sure what's left flows smoothly. Or changing a word, when the replacement word is one that has just been used in a previous sentence.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Tamara

But isn't that their job? I don't get it. That's the only thing they have to do; pick a great story and tweak it so it's fabulous and fits the magazine's vision...not screw it up. Sometimes I think they're so busy putting their stamp on 'one tree', they lose the forest.

Tamara said...

Yes, Jody, as far as I'm concerned, their job is to tweak a story to fit their space and make corrections -- where needed. I know I've groaned about this before, but I believe they make a lot of unnecessary changes, which creates more opportunities for errors. Making changes just for the sake of making them is, in my opinion, not fair to the writer. It must take a lot of time, too, and they all claim to be so busy....

Mary Jo said...

That's what they get paid for. Have to justify that pay check. I'm sorry, but the writer is waaaayyy down on the Totem Pole. Haven't you noticed?

Tamara said...

Right, "I'm an editor, so what can I change here" (whether it needs it or not)?

Tamara said...

Quote marks should be at the end, speaking of editing:).