Friday, July 3, 2015

Appearing in issue #26, June 29, 2015

Title:  Murder in the mansion

By Author:  Joan Dayton

Tag line:  Jennifer Carter’s locked front door wasn’t sturdy enough to keep out a killer…

Police characters:   Detective Marsh. Officer Toomey

The gist:  A 911 call brought the police to the old mansion, a place that needed work and was crumbling away.  That call was made by David, the victim’s brother, who reported finding his sister (Jennifer) dead on the living room floor, the apparent victim of a gunshot.  There were no signs of forced entry. The front door was thick oak, fitted with a sturdy lock and inner dead bolt. It also had a peephole.   David told police that his sister was security conscious and always kept the doors locked.  He told the police he had brought over a window AC unit earlier that morning.  He had planned to install it the next day when he had more time.  According to him he left the mansion at that point. When he got to work his appointment had cancelled so he decided to install the air conditioner today and came back.   When Jennifer didn’t answer, but he heard the television blaring, he used his key to enter.  At that point he found the body and called police. 

He said that both he and his other sister, Karen, had keys.  He said that Jennifer was frugal and wouldn’t spend the money to fix the place up.   He also said Karen was supposed to be coming over that morning and that Jennifer and Karen don’t get along.  When asked who inherited the old mansion, he said that Karen and he would inherit equally. Had Jennifer sold the place, something she was unlikely to do yet she wouldn’t spend any money on repairs and upkeep, they would have all split the profits. When asked where Karen was, David said she was in Jennifer’s room double checking that no jewelry had been stolen.  Karen appeared unruffled that her sister lay dead in the living room.  The police questioned Karen out of earshot of her brother.  Karen told them that she never did come for the visit to her spoiled brat sister’s.  She said she went to the mall instead.  She said mall employees could verify that she had been there.

Detective Marsh knew who the killer was.

Crime scene:    Jennifer’s old mansion.

Clues:    The sturdy door.  Jennifer was security conscious.  Nothing appeared to be missing.

Suspects:   Karen, David, or some unknown party that Jennifer let in.  

Red herrings:   Karen didn’t like Jennifer.  Called her names.  Appeared unruffled that she was dead.

Solution:  David was angry that Jennifer wouldn’t sell the old house.  He shot her on his first visit.  He figured that Karen would be the prime suspect but her mall alibi checked out.  Det. Marsh knew that security conscious Jennifer would have thrown the dead bolt after David left that morning if she had still been alive.  David wouldn’t have been able to enter using his key.

My two cents:   Wait, Karen said she didn’t go to her sister’s house, but went to the mall.  Now she’s in the woman’s jewelry box?  I guess David must have called her when he “found” the body.  Perhaps that part got left on the cutting room floor when Johnene took her blade to this story.   Not a major problem for the story line though.

The tag line worked, although I know that’s not within the author’s control.  At least it didn’t give the story away.  I just hate that.

Clue:   Good clue.  I missed it.  And you know I was looking.

Motive:   Sound motive.  Jennifer wouldn’t spend money to keep the old house up, and she wouldn’t sell it either.  David must have been frustrated to see his inheritance rotting away.

Police Work:  No problems with the police work.   In real life they would have done gunshot residue tests on everyone, but that would have come later anyway.

Writing : The story flowed well enough, but I did think the solution was a bit long -- almost one column – and it didn’t need to be.  This is just a pet peeve of mine, and a personal  choice.  I can't withhold a star for it.  IMO that space could have been spent creating deeper POV on the cops.  See below.

Characters: My only criticism is that the two cops are mostly forgettable.  If Joan wants to continue using them for her stories, she has to make us love them, or at least find them fun or interesting, and want to read their cases. We should be saying, oooh boy, it’s Det. Marsh and Officer Toomey … this will be good.  This can be done very easily and with a few choice words thrown in here and there. 

The other characters were good.  There was no love lost between any of them.


Mary Jo said...

I guess this was a dead bolt that was set by turning a little knob and could only be opened from the inside? My deadbolts all turn with knobs, but they are opened from the outside with a key and locked that way, too. So that was a stumbling block in the story for me. 700 words does not leave much room for passing along information, though.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo,
The story said it was an inner dead bolt, the kind you throw yourself with a latch or a knob from the inside. That's different from the deadbolts that are manipulated by a key. Inner deadbolts cannot be opened from the outside. In case of a fire or emergency, and the occupant is passed out, they'd have to break the door or come in through a window.

Mary Jo said...

You're right, an "indoor dead bolt". I haven't seen one of those in a long time.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. Well... it WAS an old mansion. Probably had skeleton keys in the bedroom doors too.

Joan said...

Thanks for the stars,Jody! Interesting how the story gets changed in the editing process. My solution was much shorter and didn't spell out the motive. David returned to his office to change clothes and wash off residue. There was no cancellation phone call. Presumably, a time lapse allowed Karen to be called in by police to check jewelry while accompanied by an officer.She had to be on the premises for questioning by the detective.

Never thought about making the detective and officer more memorable for the future. Good point, jody! Just proves to me the value of having a story edited or at least pre-read before submitting.

Joan said...

Shame on me for the typo. Good point, Jody!

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Joan. Wow, they sure did change your story. Good for you that you had the guy thinking about and washing off gunshot residue. Not that it mattered to Johnene, but it was realistic. I like your original story better. So in your version who found the body and who called 911?

Joan said...

As the story unfolded in my mind, but probably not made clear to the reader:
David, seething because dear old dad considered The Kid smarter and therefore more deserving, resented being used for such a menial task. When Jennifer told him she expected Karen within the hour, he saw his opportunity. He turned up the TV volume, turned around and shot the startled Jennifer. Sure that he had given Karen enough time, he returned later, "found" Jennifer, and called 911. After his statement, Karen was called in to give her statement and to inventory the jewelry while accompanied by an officer in case there had been a third visitor. As she is doing the inventory, her alibi is being checked. For benefit of the reader, she repeats her story to the detective, confident that she is in the clear. David is then questioned a second time. The whole thing hinges on his belief that Karen visited Jennifer.In my solution, his office is checked because he mentioned returning there after the first visit. His blood-spattered clothes are found.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Joan. All tied up in a nice bow. Everything makes sense, and it is in order. Why, oh why, does WW have to mess with it? Dunno.

Chris said...

Isn't that strange. Joan's version of the story is so much more solid, yet all those changes were made to make it 'fit' the magazine. Thanks for telling us, Joan. Just makes me all the more wary of tearing into those snags that we see as 'faults'.
Chances are, they were done post-submission.

Mary Jo said...

Jody, I think it is called justifying the paycheck. If stories were run as written, why have an editor? Changing some things in a Romance probably does not disrupt the story, but making even small changes in a very short mystery can bring the whole thing down like a house of cards.

Jody E. Lebel said...

According to Prospects website the typical work activities of a magazine editor typically include:

•overseeing the layout, appearance and content of feature articles;
•generating ideas for features with writing staff;
•commissioning articles from freelance and in-house writers;
•managing writing staff and freelance feature writers;
•editing and re-writing articles, some of which may be rejected or returned to the writer for revision;
•overseeing artwork, design and photography for the features section of the magazine;
•attending photo shoots;
•organising meetings with writers and artists to discuss ideas for artwork, layout and features;
•negotiating payments with freelance writers;
•understanding and complying with media law and industry ethical guidelines;
•selecting feature articles for each issue;
•sending out briefs to writers, which can include word count, deadline, fee and writing style;
•proofreading all pages before going to press;
•raising the profile of the magazine;
•networking with others at industry events;
•assisting other staff to meet their deadlines.

So she has a lot more to do than just fiddle with our stories. Obviously she feels she's making them better and more in tune with WW's vision.

Tamara said...

Gee, Jody, how do they even have time to mess up our stories?

Mary Jo said...

Jody, there are a lot of editors at WW and other magazines. The fiction editor is not a lone wolf. I think Johnene lives at peace in the north woods of Washington state. It is gorgeous up there.