Friday, July 24, 2015

Appearing in issue #29, June 20, 2015

Title:  Photo finish

By Author:  Wendy Hobday Haugh


Tag line:    As the sheriff examined the scene of the crime, she realized the break-in was a pretty bungled affair!

Police characters:   This story never reveals the names of the cops.  Is that a bad thing?  I don’t know.  It didn’t seem to hurt the story.  But on the other hand the reader has no one to fall in love with and want to see again.

The gist:    The victim was a 70-year-old woman who lived in a tidy cottage.  When she returned from grocery shopping she discovered her back door wide open and several items missing; TV, digital camera, CD player, and an heirloom silver teapot.  The teapot had sat atop of a chest full of antique sterling silver, yet only the pot was taken.

The sheriff noticed the jimmied back door and stoop littered with splinters.  She thought to herself that breaking a window would have been quicker.

The victim told the sheriff that she had a habit of going shopping Wednesday mornings by 10:30 the latest and she usually took about 90 minutes, being home by noon.  She said her friends, neighbors, cashiers, and relatives would know her routine.  The sheriff had her deputy call to see if any grocery store employee was out that morning.  Then she followed the victim around to see where items had been stolen from.  Everything was on the first floor.  The jewelry on the second floor was untouched.

The sheriff became suspicious by the clumsy yet perfectly timed break-in, the fact that the robber didn’t go upstairs, and the odd choice of loot (low tech stuff) yet the computer and jewelry and silver weren’t touched. Anyone who knew the victim knew she lived modestly and there wasn’t much there to steal.  The sheriff also wondered if the odd assortment of loot was designed to hide one particular stolen item. 

The victim had recently been to a family reunion. She said she was glad she had downloaded all the photos from her new camera onto her computer.  The sheriff asked to have a look.  When they looked through the photos they found a shot of the victim’s nephew in the arms of another woman… his brother’s wife.

Crime scene:   The victim’s cottage.

Clues:    There were none.  This was all spelled out for you.

Suspects:   The cheating guy.

Red herrings:    Gawd, I wish there were a few.

Solution:   The solution was a column long and went on and on about how the cheating guy was going to just take the memory card but he didn’t want the theft to be pointed at the family in the reunion, and yada-yada-yada.  He broke in and took a couple of things to hide the fact that he really wanted the camera.  He didn’t know she had downloaded it already.

My two cents:   So where’s the mystery?  This was a good story, but it was also an odd little ditty.  There’s nothing to solve in this solve-it-yourself mystery. This is more of a piece you’d find in an Alfred Hitchcock or an Ellery Queen magazine.

We never heard back from the deputy if there were any missing employees in the grocery store that morning.  Might as well just throw away the words used for that part.  They were useless.

“Anyone who knew the victim knew she lived modestly and there wasn’t much there to steal.” I’m going to disagree with that thought process.  A bag of crack is only $10.  A crackhead only wants to smash and grab and get his fix.  Doesn’t matter how modest someone lives… she had a TV and a camera for him to pawn or sell fast. 

The title and the tag line fit well and didn’t give anything away.   WW seems to LOVE silver teapots.  Anyone else notice that?

Clue:  There was none.  Can’t give a star for ‘clue’ when there is none.

Motive:  A cheating husband. 

Police Work:  No problems or errors in the police work. 

Writing:  The author had the sheriff thinking to herself.  That’s not something we see too often.  I kind of liked it. And the author didn’t make the police out to be bumbling idiots.  They came in, looked around, and asked the right questions.  Although I do differ on the definition of ‘jimmied’.  This guy forced the lock by prying it open and splintering the door frame.  When you jimmy a lock you stick something into the tumblers, like a pick, and try to manipulate it and you don’t damage the wood.  But … whatever.  The term is used loosely.  Potato/potahto.

Characters:  They seemed genuine.

I’m going to go with 3 stars but this submission doesn’t fit the mold.  I wonder if WW is breaking new ground here with this story. I’ve never heard of WW accepting a story what had no clue; that just flat-out told you who did it before the solution. I’m scratching my head this week.


Elizabeth said...

I've never seen a story in Woman's World where there were only two characters onstage & one of them is nameless. Also, the motive for the theft was unusual. It seems to me they haven't mentioned infidelity, either in romances or mysteries, before. ?

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Elizabeth I don't follow the romances like I used to but in the mysteries there's always some guy who wants to kill his wife and run off with the girlfriend. Or vice versa.

Chris said...

I'm with you on the head-scratching, Jody - I was left a little puzzled too. The story was different, with a new angle on the police investigation, and I liked being inside the sheriff's head, listening in on her (his?) thought processes, but the overlong solution irritated me. All those words explaining why Carson took the whole camera and not just the memory card could have been put to much better use. I wonder whether the author wrote it that way, or whether the main story was edited to make room for those details to be put in the solution. It felt like I'd been explained to like a child, just in case I didn't get it. Exasperating.

Tamara said...

I wonder whether any of the authors write those long solutions. I know I wouldn't dream of it.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I see a long solution, I immediately assume it was added by an editor. I have had published stories where my solution, as submitted, was all of 2 sentences long. (This is who did it. That was the clue.) By the time it hits print, the solution is turned into a veritable mini story of its own. It seems obvious that a) WW doesn't have a lot of respect for its readers, and b) WW doesn't have a lot of respect for these stories. Jody may care about these stories; the writers care; the blog readers care. But to WW, they are filler, on the order of the puzzle or the cartoon. I don't like to blame this on Johnene; all my dealings with her have been polite and professional. But it seems clear that someone in authority at WW doesn't take these stories seriously. Jody will argue that they are professionals, and they should. I agree. But they don't.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Tamara. I wouldn't write a long solution. If you have to explain ad nauseum what, why, and who... you haven't done your job as the author. I'm with Anony on this.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Anony

I hear you about the long unnecessary solution. Just tell the story right and give it a little twist or a nice red herring and then slap the reader with the solution and be done with it.

"to WW, they are filler, on the order of the puzzle or the cartoon" I'm afraid you are right. This magazine is an adult picture book. Pretty photos of cozy living rooms, nice places to visit, kittens, babies. Recipes and cute ways to make cookies. Some kind of kid craft. And ALWAYS some dumb diet where you can lose 50 pounds over the weekend. It isn't a serious fiction magazine. I don't know why they even pay as well as they do.

And the mystery story is on the kid's page. Very telling indeed.

Joan Dayton said...

Out of curiosity, I went through my binder of last year's mysteries. With few exceptions, the solutions were much shorter. In John floyd's story of 06/30, the solution was one sentence! In this year's stories, his solutions are only a few sentences. There are just a handful of other short solutions. I've had the recent experience of having the solution heavily edited, and in my opinion, overly long.

Any thoughts about the change?

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Joan. Not a clue. Maybe Johnene is retiring??

Becky Jackson said...

I just wanted to take a moment and thank Jody for her feedback on my first solve-it-yourself mystery. I purchased a critique session, and am so glad I did! She did a line by line critique and gave examples to fully explain her comments. The turn around was faster than I expected. She will critique a second draft, I just haven't taken advantage of it yet. I have so much to learn! All in all, I would have been completely satisfied if I'd paid twice the price! I cannot recommend Jody's critique service enough. Thanks, Jody! :)

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Becky. :) :) :)

You've got the hang of what WW wants... that story just needs some tweaking. There's no time limit on my taking a second look. Take your time and make it great.