Title: Planted evidence
By Author: Maria Gregory
Tag line: The detective wanted to learn who had permanently altered Mrs. Prescott’s morning routine!
Police characters: Detective Patty Lane.
The gist: A preliminary crime scene analysis indicated that Anne Prescott, a wealthy widow, may have been poisoned. Three suspects were identified as having motive and opportunity; her niece, her nephew, and her housekeeper. All of them were mentioned in her will. Det. Lane was investigating the murder. She knew that Ms. Prescott was a woman of habit who had an iron-clad morning routine. She rose at seven daily, showered, dressed, and drank one cup of black coffee prepared by her housekeeper before she went into her garden to pick fresh flowers for the house which she arranged in a glass vase on the table. She then did a crossword puzzle from the morning’s paper. Det. Lane viewed the crime scene, which had not been disturbed. There was a half-full mug of coffee and fresh flowers on the table.
The body was found slumped over the table by her niece who had arrived at 8:45. Det. Lane interviewed the housekeeper who said she works every weekday. She said she arrived at 7:15 (the morning Ms. Prescott was found dead) and made coffee. She claims Ms. Prescott came downstairs and gave her a grocery list and a list of errands as she does every Tuesday morning. She showed the list to Detective Lane. The housekeeper had nothing good to say about the niece and nephew. She claims they just started coming around recently because Ms. Prescott’s health has been declining.
The niece claims she and her brother were taking good care of their aunt, and it was true that they hadn’t visited her much before because her aunt was very independent. She hadn’t planned on visiting the day her aunt was found dead, but she just had a feeling so she dropped by. She said her aunt loved to tell her stories about when she was young. She pointed to the vase of flowers and said “Just this morning she was talking about how her fresh flowers reminded her of good memories of past admirers who used to bring her flowers.”
The nephew claims he didn’t see his aunt that morning she died, but he did go to the property to borrow his aunt’s lawn mower. He went to the shed behind the garage, took the equipment, and left. He lost his job three weeks ago and has been doing landscaping to make money.
Detective Lane knew who murdered the aunt.
Crime scene: Ms. Prescott’s home.
Clues: The timing of Ms. P’s routine and what was found at the crime scene.
Suspects: The housekeeper, the niece, the nephew.
Red herrings: The nephew had lost his job. The housekeeper had nothing good to say about the two relatives. They had just started visiting their aunt.
Solution: The niece did it. She knew the housekeeper did errands on Tuesdays and would be out but she didn’t know of her aunt’s unwavering routine. Ms. Prescott didn’t bring in flowers until after she finished her coffee. Trying to make the room look ‘as usual’ the niece put fresh flowers in the vase. She was impatient for her inheritance and hurried things alone with a dose of poison. The fresh flowers clued in the detective that the niece was lying.
My two cents: I was very happy to see good police work, including a crime scene preliminary cause of death, included in this story. Nothing negative to comment on there.
There were several good red herrings that made the reader think the housekeeper may be involved.
Little details that bothered me. The niece called the police at 8:45. That seems a bit late for a woman who had coffee around 7:30 every morning. Isn’t it a bit difficult to tell day old flowers from fresh flowers? Couldn’t the flowers found in the vase, the reason the detective became suspicious that the niece was lying, be yesterday’s flowers? Where was the newspaper?
I think the real clue was that the niece told the detective that ‘Just this morning my aunt said –- “ She couldn’t have been talking to her aunt that morning, if the aunt was dead when she walked in as she told the police.
I think the solution was the victim here, perhaps of disjointed editing.
The title and tag line worked for this story. It was well written, well paced with a nice inclusion of red herrings, police work was good, and there was motive, which gives this story 4 stars. The clue was a bit fuzzy. Was it the fresh flowers on the table that clued in the detective, or the fact that the niece claimed she spoke to her aunt when the aunt was supposedly dead when she walked in?