Friday, January 2, 2015

Appearing in issue #1, January 5, 2015

Title:  Cleaning house

By Author:  Marianna Heusler


Tag line:     The detectives wondered if the cleaning lady had been up to her dirty tricks again…

Police characters:   Detective Kevin McCarthy and Detective Lola Wheeler

The gist:    A friendly and hardworking cleaning lady, Penny Bartell, was found shot to death in her home.   he had a number of clients in the building close by.  When the police checked her out, they found she had a long criminal record that included larceny and check fraud.  She also had a habit of romancing older men and swindling them out of their money. Her real name was Doris Dupree.

The two detectives began to interview Penny’s clients. Eleanor Stafford said Penny was nosy and she talked a lot. Eleanor had a photo of her deceased father on the piano.  She said he died six years after his wife had passed and that he never got over her death.  She had hired Penny from a notice on the bulletin board.

The next client’s name was Amelia Gordon.  She said that Doris asked a lot of questions of her and seemed interested in her family.  Amelia confided that she had told the cleaning lady about how she had just moved her uncle into a nursing home and they commiserated over the cost.  She had hired the cleaning woman because Mrs. Mason recommended her.

Next the detectives spoke with Mrs. Mason.  She said Penny was an odd duck and she always felt she was prying as she was cleaning.   She said she overheard Penny talking to her boyfriend on the phone one time. She hired her from an ad posted in the laundry room.

Detective McCarthy said to his partner, “Time to question the boyfriend.”

Detective Wheeler replied, “I don’t think so, I think the cleaning lady’s past finally caught up to her.”

Crime scene:    The cleaning lady’s home.

Clues:    Penny’s past.

Suspects:  Her clients, Eleanor, Amelia, and Mrs. Mason.

Red herrings:    Eleanor's father's photo.   It was just thrown in there to get us off the trail.  And it did.

Solution:  Amelia.  She knew Penny’s real name was Doris.  She recognized her as the woman who had swindled her uncle and she decided to take revenge.

My two cents:    Now, is this the same uncle who is in the nursing home?  Or a different uncle?  There was no mention of how much this nursing home uncle was worth and, in fact, the niece was complaining about the cost.  It seemed to contradict the whole gist of the story of this money-grubbing woman going after rich old men.  I realize that people who have money often complain about the cost of things, but it didn’t serve this tale well.

I know there were a lot of names to confuse the reader, and it did the trick.  I got a little lost on this story and after a few paragraphs of trying to keep everybody straight, I didn’t really care who did it anymore.

 There didn’t seem to be a clear motive.  A mysterious boyfriend on the phone?  Could have been anybody.
The clue is the same tired clue we always get.  Only the murderer knows a detail that they blab about.

This story is too loosey-goosey for my taste.  But it was well written and  had good pacing.  There was a general motive in that the cleaning lady swindled old men and had been jailed for it in the past.  It had a female detective who solved the crime and it had three suspects – both favorites of WW.  And there were no police procedure problems.  So it gets five stars.  But I'm not happy.


Chris said...

Five stars is your top whack, right Jody? So giving a story five twinklers must mean it's perfect for you? Yet you've raised a number of points that I too found confusing. Mention of Penny/Doris talking to a boyfriend on the cellphone, for instance, and the picture of a suspect's father on the piano. Neither of these seemed to go anywhere and as red herrings they just didn't work for me. I couldn't see what assumption I was supposed to make about them. The uncle being in the nursing home, and the commiseration about the cost, might have been meant as a clue to Doris having swindled him out of his money, but we weren't told that he'd lost it all in unfortunate circumstances, so there was no conclusion to be drawn from that. I thought it was a good idea for a story, but not clear enough in its execution. Again, I wonder whether the editing has denied us of some info the author meant us to see.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. Yeah, I'm not happy. I give the stars in five different areas: The writing, the pacing, motive, clues, and police work. This story had everything... I just didn't like them very much. The clue was there, but it was trite. The red herring was there but it was a bit wishy-washy. The mention of a boyfriend meant nothing to me. So I began to ponder... should I give it less stars because it's not MY personal style? I try to be critical but fair. I liked the story idea but there were too many sloppy spots. As you say the execution was off. So maybe I should have knocked off a star for that. Must be a new year... I was feeling generous. The author got a break. Won't happen again. :)

Mary Jo said...

Maybe so, but I actually liked this story, mainly because it did not read like almost every other mystery they publish in WW. Vive la difference.

Julia said...

I know what Mary Jo means; the story had a more leisurely tone somehow than many WW publshes, and I liked the way it flowed along. It was pleasant to read. I admire the writer's style and voice. She is a good narrator, but I think her plots tend to be a bit "loose." She had a very well-written story a while back about a bunch of girls on a field trip, and the clue was writ too large and in neon! However, like this one, that too was pleasant to read. I am looking forward to reading more by her.

Joyce Ackley said...

I didn't know you had a "system" for awarding stars, Jody. It's like a grading rubric, and those I'm familiar with! I've created many of those back in my teaching days. You should do a blog post on your Stars rating system, and how you arrive at the end result.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. I also liked the premise. I don't think we've had a cleaning woman get killed before. We get a lot of the rich or famous victims. You have to wonder how much of the story got mucked up by editing because there were loose ends here.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Julia I'm sure you'll be seeing more of Ms. Heusler. She's had several stories in WW this year alone.

Hmmm... I wonder if I should keep track of authors too? John Floyd has one next week...he's a WW fave.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Joyce. RE: blogging about my star system. It's not all that grand or complicated. I look at the five areas of a story that I consider important. I also look for good characters and the believability of their actions. I lump that loosely under writing. So my system is not set in stone. And I go by my gut sometimes. I flip-flopped on this week's story. It had problems but it also had all the five areas covered. Looking back, if I had to do it again, I might give it 4 stars for the loose ends. LIke I told Chris, I must have been in a good mood after New Years. :)

Bettye Griffin said...

I read the John Floyd storyin the January 12th issue (I missed this one) and found it to be excellent. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on it.

Mary Ann said...

I actually liked this story. I thought it flowed well, and I usually can guess the solution, but with all of the names thrown around, I didn't pick up on this one.

Julia said...

Jody-Having read Bettye's comments on the 12 Jan. issue's John Floyd story, I was most eager to read it . . . now I am almost painfully eager to find out what YOU think of it. Myself, I was extremely angry at what I thought was a silly story: silly set-up, silly clue, silly characters. Only thing I lilked was that "Chunky" finally was given the dignity of his proper name. Evidently it is Charles. Also, from the story we now know he does not like to go to the dentist . . . is there anyone out there who does enjoy going to the dentist? And what did that little "aside" about dreading a dentist appt. have to do with the story line anyway? At 700 words, isn't Floyd one of those telling the rest of us how "every word has to advance the story; every word must count!"? I don't think Floyd followed his own advice here. In case you can't tell, I am steaming over this story. Floyd is capable of much, much better writing. He must have a low opinion of the intelligence of WW readers. Or perhaps he has some sort of contratual agreement with WW that requires him to produce a certain # of mss within a certain # of days and he tossed this off carelessly because he was working on something that he really cared about? I keep checking your blog to get your reaction, want to know if I'm out in la-la land here. But I have read work by Floyd (though not usually in WW) that is first-rate. This one, not so much . . .