Friday, April 18, 2014

Appearing in issue #16, April 21, 2014

Title:  Reading between the lines
By Author:  Phyllis Whitfield

Tag line:  When Detective Beth Smart conducted the investigation, she went strictly by the book…  
Police characters:   Detective Beth Smart
The gist:    Carter told the police that when he drove up to his uncle’s house he noticed a blue van parked on the side street, and his Uncle Oliver reading in his chair by the window.  As he was walking up the sidewalk he was shocked to see a person in the house.  Uncle Oliver sprang up from his chair, shouted and shook his fist and then Carter heard a shot.  He claims the killer ran out the back before he was able to get inside the house. He didn’t get a good look but said he or she was tall and dressed in a dark coat and hoodie. He had heard the back door slam and the squeal of tires. Uncle Oliver was dead so he called 911.   Oliver was a ruthless businessman who had made enemies.  The victim lay sprawled on the floor in front of his chair by the window.  On the table beside the chair was a novel with  a folded-up pair of reading glasses on top, and a half empty cup of coffee.  The dead man still had his expensive watch and wallet, so robbery was ruled out as a motive.
The niece showed up, Ellie.  She and Carter routinely had lunch with their uncle every Friday.  She told the detective that Uncle Oliver confided in her last week that he was having problems with some investors and they were threatening to sue him. 
Just then the front door burst open and a large man entered, Oliver’s brother Jake.  Jake said he couldn’t reach Oliver earlier by phone so decided to stop by.  Ellie informed him that ‘Uncle Oliver’s been shot”.
All said they would benefit from Oliver’s will. 
Det. Smart arrested one of them for murder.
Crime scene:    Oliver’s home.
Clues:    Well…the tag line gives it away.  The book with the reading glasses folded on it on the table.  
Suspects:  The nephew, niece, and brother.
Red herrings:    The blue van.
Solution:  Carter argued with his uncle about a loan.  When Oliver refused to give it to him, Carter shot him.  Carter’s story about seeing his uncle reading gave him away.  If Uncle Oliver had confronted a strange man in his home, he wouldn’t have removed his reading glasses and folded them neatly on his book.
My two cents:    The clue wasn’t too obvious and except for WW feeling the need to give it away with the tag line it might have been missed.    
When Ellie ran to her Uncle Jake and cried “Uncle Oliver’s been shot” why didn’t Jake ask if his brother was all right?  Shot doesn’t mean dead.  Even if he could see his brother lying on the floor, which I’m not certain he could with three people standing between him and the victim on the floor, wouldn’t he at least run over there to him, or ask if he was dead?  Is that an intentional red herring or an author brain fart? 
I think the solution is muddy and poorly written.
A portion of it read: “Carter admitted that he went to his uncle’s house to request a loan and found him reading.  As their discussion heated up Oliver put down his book and removed his glasses and set them on the book.”
If you were reading and a guest arrived I’m quite sure you would put the book down and take your reading glasses off, especially if you expected that person. Ellie said she and Carter had lunch with Uncle Oliver every Friday, so Carter didn’t go to the house to request a loan as the solution suggests.  Perhaps he went a bit early to speak to Oliver about it, but that wasn’t very clear.
Oh boy, there’s a police procedural problem here for me to carry on about.  J At a murder scene in a home uniformed officers are stationed at the entrances to the house because the police don’t let people just walk around a crime scene contaminating it.  So it would be impossible for Jake to ‘burst in the front door”.  Such a quick forceful action might even get him shot if he surprised the police inside. 

The police don't arrest people on a hunch.  The detective might have been suspicious of his story and decide to investigate but no arrest would have been made on the spot.  The story should have said that the "detective knew who did it".

By the way, a dark coat and a hoodie are two different animals.  
Because of all these little niggling things, I have to give this story 3 stars.


joyce said...

I noticed the same niggling things you did. When I wrote my first mini-mystery,(which I haven't heard from)I consulted a friend of mine who is a policewoman. She answered a lot of questions and helped clear up some confusing issues. A friend loaned me a book entitled Police Procedure and Investigation by Lee Lofland. I found it to be an excellent resource with detailed information and photos.
I don't understand why these flawed accounts get by the editors at WW. If seems he or she would be well-versed in police and crime scene procedures and could catch any misrepresentations written by the novice crime reporter.
Even though I did careful research for my story, I'd be willing to bet something about it is not accurate. There is a lot of information to process and depict when writing crime stories.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Joyce. I wouldn't worry if all of your details are perfect police-wise or not. WW might change something anyway. And it won't stop the story from being sold. I just notice those things right off because of my day job. If you were a nurse and the story took place in the OR and they were doing things you KNOW would never happen, you'd be itching to mention it somewhere. But most people don't pay attention to that kind of stuff, and it doesn't ruin the story generally. I sold the first romance that I wrote and subbed to WW. Maybe you'll sell your first mystery. Crossing fingers for you.

Tamara said...

Have my fingers crossed for you, Joyce.

Chris said...

I echo your thoughts on this one, Jody. It only takes a moment to fold your glasses and it's almost an involuntary action if you've done it a thousand times before, so while the set-up to the story was okay, I didn't buy the solution.

I also know now, from reading this blog, that police questioning isn't done in the room with the body lying in full view.

And why didn't the police question anyone in the room as to whether they owned a gun. There was just no mention of it, despite one being the murder weapon. I think your rating is spot on.

Fingers crossed for you Joyce. After all that research, you deserve a yes.

joyce said...

Thanks, Tamara and Chris. I'm hoping for good news, but I think there are some flaws in the story. I also have a romance out and one I'm tweaking.

Tamara said...

Most of my mysteries have flaws, Joyce, but I got a contract for the most recent one. Sharpen those pens, ladies (and Michael).

Chris said...

Well done, Tamara, another success. Look forward to reading it.

M D'Angona said...

Congrats, looking forward to reading it. I prefer a sharpie fine point red marker, over ink.

Tamara said...

Well, not too sharp.