Friday, November 21, 2014

Appearing in issue #47, November 24, 2014

Title:  Death takes a tumble

By Author:  Aimee Deschaine


Tag line:     One thing was certain, Della’s descent had not happened by accident!

Police characters:   Officer John Francisco and newspaper reporter, Cora.

The gist:    Ms. Della Reed, the town’s wealthiest woman, had been found dead in her home by two of her school chums who had come back to town for a class reunion.  Cora, a newspaper reporter, showed up at the home when she heard the news.  When Officer Francisco, who was speaking to the two chums, saw Cora Reporter arrive, he walked over to her to fill her in.

Della had not shown up for the reunion event, and the next day her two chums came to the house, saw her through a glass door lying at the bottom on the staircase, and called the police.  Officer Francisco at first thought the death was an accidental fall down the stairs, but became suspicious when he saw a large lump on the back of her head.  

The three women had met for lunch the day before the reunion.  Della’s brother, Carl, who also lived in the house, had been there during the lunch.  Della liked to take Polaroid photos and Cora Reporter found three photos sitting beside the plate of cookies Della had planned to take to the reunion. Cora Reporter picked them up and examined them. The first photo showed the two chums standing in front of a coat rack that held umbrellas, hats, a couple of rain slickers and a man’s raincoat.  Photo number two, taken by Carl, showed the three women on the couch drinking tea.  The last photo showed the two chums leaning on a Mercedes in the driveway, while Carl in a plaid jacket and holding a briefcase waved from the driver’s side door.  Carl was leaving for a business trip.

One of the chums said that a contractor’s truck showed up as they were leaving and that Della did not seem pleased to see it.   Della and her brother had been warding off developers who wanted their property to turn it into a high-priced condo community.

Cora Reporter had heard that Della and one of the chums had been rivals all through school and wondered if that had played a part in Della’s death.

Carl, having been called when his sister had been found, came rushing in, dropped his raincoat and briefcase, and broke down when he saw his sister’s body.

Cora Reporter told the officer she knew who the killer was.

Crime scene:    Rich woman’s home.

Clues:    The photographs.

Suspects:  Two female friends, her brother, a strange contractor.   

Red herrings:    The high school rival.  And then Just a lot of stupidity to throw you off.

Solution:   The brother, Carl, killed his sister after an argument over selling the house.  The first photograph showed a raincoat hanging on the rack.  Carl was not wearing a raincoat in the second photo where he was in the car leaving, but Cora Reporter saw him throw one down  when he rushed in today.  He must have come back, argued with his sister, killed her, and grabbed his coat on the way out.

My two cents:    Okay, let’s start with the police.  Officer Francisco is suspicious of a lump on the back of a woman’s head, a woman who fell down a flight of stairs?  Really?  Did he think she would fall to her death and not get a mark on her somewhere?  Did you ever see the scene in Death Becomes Her where Meryl Streep falls down the stairs?  It’s pretty horrific. She’s all twisted up and broken when it’s over.  There’s even a bone sticking out of her neck.  Anyway, my point is that a lump on her head is not suspicious in this circumstance.

Next, let’s talk about the photographs.  So there’s a raincoat on the rack in one, and Carl is not wearing a raincoat while pictured seated in the driver’s seat.  Um – maybe it’s in the back seat?  Maybe after the photo was taken, Carl said, oops, I forgot my raincoat and he went back in and got it.  This was a terrible and unbelievable clue.

 “When Officer Francisco, who was speaking to the two chums, saw Cora Reporter, he walked over to her to fill her in.”  And then he turned in his badge before the department had a chance to fire his butt. Any police officer that gives info to the press will be on desk duty for months, and it’s going to be really uncomfortable for him to sit at a desk with most of his ass chewed off.    And a newspaper reporter is not going to be allowed to walk around the crime scene and talk to the witnesses for Pete’s sake. The detective bureau and crime scene haven’t even been there yet.  She handled the photographs!  She touched evidence!  She’s dropping DNA and leaving prints all over the crime scene!   Now look at that.  This author made me use exclamation points.  I must be really perturbed.

There was motive, barely.  The pacing was okay.  The writing was okay.  The characters were unbelievable and the clue that was used could easily be explained, so really it was a non-clue.

Two stars.  Reluctantly. Exclamation point.


Mary Jo said...

Wouldn't you think that after years of publishing these little mystery stories, the editors would be familiar with crime protocol? If not, they really should read your series of articles on the subject. I wonder if you intend to put all this material in a book.

Maybe they just depend on the writers to know what they are doing. There certainly is more to these stories than just who done it. I think they are very complicated.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jody. Im just thinking, when do you say that someone is a witness? How do you question a witness?

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. I was kind of stunned when I read that story. You don't have to be familiar with the law or have a police person in your family to know that that scenario was wrong. I even left a comment on WW's FB page asking how that stuff gets by the editors. It's like having a romance story where the couple meets at breakfast and gets married at lunch. ((sounds of WW magazines hitting walls all over the USA and Canada.)) No one is going to believe that.

Regarding putting this material in a book... I can't really. It has WW involvement and I can't use them for a project that has financial gain. Freedom of Speech allows me to blog about them and their articles and stories, but that's as far as I can go.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Anonymous. A witness is someone who witnessed something. In a criminal situation only the police question witnesses and take a formal written statement from them about what happened, a statement that can later be introduced in court at a trial and hold up as fact. The police are trained on the ways to question someone. They try to get the statement as quickly after the crime as possible in order to avoid the person going home and talking to others and watching the news about it and then maybe forgetting something or changing their minds about something... in other words their story would now be tainted. A police officer can't "suggest" something to a witness when he questions them. A police officer can't say, "The bad guy was wearing a red hoodie, wasn't he?" That puts a suggestion into the head of the person. Not only do witnesses want to say the right thing, they often want to help the police find the bad guy. So a witness might be quick to say, "Yes, I believe it was red", even though they aren't sure. The proper question would be, "What was the male(assuming we know it was a male) wearing?" Police NEVER let civilians (non police) talk to and question witnesses. The only exception to that would be if the attorneys sent out investigators to talk to the witnesses, to try to get more details, but that would be after formal statements were taken first.

Mary Jo said...

Jody, I did not mean a book of your WW reviews. I thought maybe you intended to publish your comments on the law. These are very informative articles and of benefit especially to the novice mystery writer who wants to get it right.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. Oh... duh. Maybe when I get a goodly amount I'll consider that. Thanks.

Joyce Ackley said...

When I read the story, I wondered why the reporter was allowed
in the crime scene. You brought up some valid points about this story.

Julia said...

When I came to the relatively long graph detailing the stuff on the coat rack, I knew it contained "the" clue. So I read it with great care, and was prepared for the ending. That really ruined the story for me. I like to be surprised by the ending. I even enjoy feeling a little "tricked" by the author, as I go back and, darn it all, find that she did play fair and put those clues in. So this story let me down. The lady who wrote it can write, though. Forty years ago, when I was a sweet young thing, I was a reporter myself, and, I gotta agree with you, Jody, no matter how sweet and young you are, NO COP lets you wander around a crime scene like Cora did. Oddly, though, that didn't bother me much. I see a lot of lapses like that in these stories, and I can swallow them whole if I have to - if the pace and the style are good and especially if the clues are worked in so seamlessly that the ending surprises me, I can overlook almost anything else. I look on these not so much as mysteries, but as puzzles. A mental work-out is always refreshing, but I didn't get a work-out here. Too bad.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Hi Julia, I agree with you on the clue. There were too many details about what was on the coat rack. And I also hear you about stretching the truth and letting things get by when the story is good. Monk did some odd things. So did Cagney and Lacey. Ditto for Castle. But since my background is in crime, not that I did a stint in the big house or anything, this blog is mostly about the realism of the legal/law scenes, and then about the pacing, the writing, the clues, and red herrings. It's a study really of what WW buys. Sort of, because no one really knows why WW buys what they do.

Chris said...

Have to agree with you about the cop suspecting foul play simply because of the lump on the victim's head, Jody. Unless she floated down those stairs, she's going to have a tiny bruise or two by the time she reaches the bottom - that alone wouldn't prompt a murder enquiry I wouldn't think. It's a while since I read the story but I don't think he went upstairs to see what might have been used to inflict the injury, which would at least have added weight to his theory.

The thing about the raincoat didn't work for me either, as I also just assumed it was already in the car. I don't recall any mention of the photos being numbered, so they could have been lying on the table in any order, making the time-line unclear.

We shouldn't analyse these stories too closely (I liken them to Jessica Fletcher/Miss Marple cosies), but I do like to be satisfied by the answer at the end. Like Julie, I love to be conned by good writing into missing a well-hidden clue and while this clue WAS well hidden, it didn't really work for me for those reasons.

Exclamations marks, Jody? What is the world coming to?

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. re: Exclamations marks. I know, right?? Put me right off my game.

Okay, I have a question for you and anyone else who wants to chime in. I wrote a romance for WW that has a ghost in it. Not a real ghost but mention of one. He's trying to flirt with her by being playful saying did she know about the ghost in her new house. She's picking out flowers to put in her window boxes, so it's not a winter theme. It could fit in with Spring ... but the ghost thing.... Anyway, I love it (of course we all love our own stories) and I'm dying to send it in...but I'm thinking I should wait to time it with fall and Halloween. Which means I can't submit until May. Arrrgh. Should I wait? I'm torn. WW might not like the ghost thing either way. Or... they might think it's great for Halloween. You see how I go back and forth? HELP.

Chris said...

Mention of a ghost doesn't necessarily tie it only to Halloween, surely? I say SEND IT, Jody. You know as well as I do how long they can take to come to a decision. Didn't someone recently get a yes to a Christmas story TWO YEARS after submitting it? If they like it, they'll hold onto it until the right slot comes along. Good luck.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. I LIKE your answer. :)

Bettye Griffin said...

I didn't much care for this story, either. The author lost me after that bump on the head being "suspicious."

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Bettye. Forgive me for this rant, I'm still dumbfounded. First off, and I didn't even get to this part because I was so ticked, the responding officer would have checked to see if the person was indeed dead, didn't need medical aid, and then would have backed carefully out of the scene and cordoned off the area. He then would have called the detective bureau and he would have stayed at the doorway to protect the integrity of the scene. No one in or out unless the supervising detective on the shift authorized it. He would begin to gather the names of the witnesses and take preliminary statements as to what they saw to pass on to the DB. In fact he would remain on the doorway station and record the names of all officers who went in and out and at what time. The DB would have called in the crime scene people even though it looked like an accidental death, just to be on the safe side. Even in an obvious homicide, like a gunshot wound to the back, only the medical examiner, after the autopsy, would be able to give an official opinion as to cause of death.

This moron skipped all that and pronounced the death as suspicious and called the press and they walked around doing an investigation. ((banging head on desk.))

Thank you... I feel better.

Mary Jo said...

700 words, Jody. You are going to have to put all that into a sentence or two. A paragraph at most.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. Well, that's the official protocol. You don't have to get all that in the story. Just know how it works and don't have a police officer pronouncing that the death looks suspicious and don't have him walking the press around doing an investigation. In order to save this story you'd have to change the officer to a detective. So right there, the DB is on the scene at the beginning of the story. And change the reporter to a crime scene officer who is allowed to look at and discuss the evidence. I'm thinking this author wanted a non-police person to solve the crime, a Mrs. Potts if you will. But it didn't work. Anyway by just changing the characters you can keep the same story line, stay in the 700 word limit, and have a believable story. Sort of. The clue is mucked up...some work needed there. But you get my drift.

Mary Jo said...

See, I knew you could do it. And I hope all of us can take a lesson.

Now, I hope to see your haunted house story make it to the Romance page. One of my favorite movies is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I think you should submit the story as soon as you can. Halloween already is loaded with ghosts and witches and broomsticks.

Tamara said...

About them holding stories or not -- Johnene did hold my recently published amusement park story, saying EIC did not read stories out of season, but the first editor returned my valentine story that was published last year and told me to resubmit in July. (These were both romances.) I guess there's no consistent practice. Also, Jody, I just read your response to my test answers on Wednesday's post. I missed the assault/battery question. I wasn't sure.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. Okay, that's three votes (with mine) to send now. I suppose if it gets rejected I'll have time to re-vamp and resend for Halloween. Two bites at the apple.

Okay, vamp and's a Halloween story. I kill myself sometimes.

(Stop groaning.)

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Tamara. Good to know. So they want themed stories 7 months out?

Here's a thought too. My story takes place in a little New England town where she just moved to...but I could have her moving to a warmer state, like Florida, where she could be buying flowers any month of the year to plant in her window boxes. That way I could submit for any season and give the story more opportunity instead of limiting it to just October. Hmmmm.....

Tamara said...

Yes, I guess so. I was surprised at first, but given that it has to travel from one end of the country to the other and that the magazines come out earlier than the holidays they celebrate, it makes sense. I think the Florida locale would eliminate that problem. (And we know they like "just moved" stories.)

Susan said...

Jody, New England sounds better to me for a ghost. Or maybe I watch Ghost Hunters too much. Anyway, I say send it!
Mary Jo, I love that movie. It is one of my favorites.
As for the story, it didn't really work for me, either. Falling down the stairs could have caused the bump on the head. I did like the backstory of the three ladies, though.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@Susan. RE: New England. I know, right? There's more hauntings up there than anywhere else in the country. I live in southern Florida near the Treasure Coast. They call it that because so many pirates used to bury their loot here. And ships crashed in storms on the reefs. We still have pieces of eight washing up on the shores every now and then. And pirate ghosts are reported to be roaming the dunes. But most people don't think 'ghosts' in Florida like they do in Massachusetts. I decided to turn my story into a springtime story, set in New England, and it's in the mail. :)

Joyce Ackley said...

Good for you, Jody. Best of luck with it. Keep us posted.