Thursday, January 7, 2016

Eek! Put some pages up for a criteeeeeek: A cozy mystery

In addition to my YA stuff, I'm working on an adult cozy mystery series starring Marty Melman, a 60-year-old curmudgeon inspired by my dad. For you mystery novices out there, a cozy mystery is usually set in a small town, where the murder and violence happen off stage. There's no swearing and no sex and nothing graphic. There's also a delightful cast of quirky characters and a slew of suspects. Cozies are more about the characters and the puzzle than the crime. It's escapist mystery for those who find Making a Murderer way too real (raises hand).

In this scene, Marty comes home from bike riding to find out a man he loathed (his daughter's ex) is dead. I'd appreciate any and all comments.

Geared Toward Murder
by Kimberly G. Giarratano

Marty put his key in the lock and opened the front door. The sun was dipping low in the sky, bathing the house in an orange light. It wasn’t late, but daylight savings time always had that way of blanketing the town in darkness before anyone was ready for it. Marty was grateful he wore his hooded sweatshirt. The mile ride home was far easier than the three miles he had ridden that morning. His rubbed his still sore rearend.
Marty tapped his sneakers against the door saddle, trying not to track in extra dirt that he would have to vacuum later. Now that Marty was on a forced retirement and home all the time, he was responsible for the housekeeping.
“Joanie? You home?” he said from the foyer.
“Marty is that you?” Joanie called from the living room.
“Who else would it be?”
“We’re in the formal living room,” she said, her voice shaky.
Marty dropped his wallet and keys into the ceramic catch-all bowl on the vestibule table before heading into the living room. They never used this room, except for company.
He halted at the sight of Jason, Miranda, and Joanie sitting on the beige Ethan Allen couches, wringing their hands. And some stranger. A man in his mid-30s with dark hair. He wore a suit and a navy tie with a pin.
Marty’s eyes flitted around. “What’s going on?”
Joanie leaped to her feet. She was still wearing her nurses uniform. “Where’ve you been? We’ve been worried. Your bike ride ended hours ago.”
Marty inwardly cringed. He thought about lying, but he was reading something in the situation that said this was serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly. “I went to see my dad.”
“I knew it!” Jason cried. “You owe me and Mom fifty bucks.”
“Not now, Jason,” Joanie barked.
“What’s going on?” Marty asked. “You’re freaking me out.”
The young man came forward and extended his hand. “I’m Detective Smalt. I came to speak with you about Dr. Gary Highhouse.”
Marty shook the young man’s hand. “What kind of name is Smalt?”
“Marty!” Joanie chastized.
“It’s fine, Mrs. Melman,” said the detective. “I get asked that a lot. My grandparents were British.”
“Oh,” said Marty. “So, not Jewish?”
The detective shook his head.
“Better luck next time,” Marty said, before taking a seat on the end of the sofa. “What’s this about High-louse?”
Miranda hissed, “Daddy.” Her eyes were red rimmed and puffy. “Gary’s dead.”
Marty’s eyes widened. “I just saw him.”
Detective Smalt withdrew a small notepad and pen from his suit jacket pocket. “When?”
Marty held his gaze on the detective who was poised to take notes. “This morning. He was at the Old Spokes ride. I don’t know, 9:50, I guess. The ride started at ten. What happened?”
“He had an accident on the trail,” Jason filled in.
“Well, it wasn’t an accident,” Det. Smalt pointed out. “Someone sabotaged his brakes. He took the curve too fast and …”
Miranda sobbed loudly. Marty put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and tried to comfort her. “It’s okay, honey.” He gave Smalt a glare. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be out there trying to figure out who killed the guy?”
Smalt softened. “Witnesses say you and Dr. Highhouse weren’t on the best of terms. You were arguing this morning.”
“The guy was a two-timing louse,” Marty quipped.
“Marty!” Joanie hissed.
“May he rest in peace,” Marty finished. “Listen, I didn’t like the man. He hurt my Miranda a couple of years ago, but I wouldn’t kill him.”
The detective nodded. “Did you see him on the bike trail?”
Marty shook his head. “He said he was going to bring up the rear. I figured he’d get ahead of me.”
“Why’s that?” Smalt asked, pen paused.
“I’m out of shape,” Marty said glumly. “I’m not fast on the bike — yet. I assumed he’d pass me in no time. But he never did.”
“Witnesses said they saw Gary’s bike on campus, braced against the lamppost. Apparently, he ran into the academics building before getting back on his ride and getting on the trail.” Smalt looked pointedly at Marty.
“Well, I got on the trail immediately, pedaled a few miles, and then veered off toward the Assisted Living place. You can check the visitor’s log.”
“I will,” the detective said. “As a matter of procedure.”
“Right,” Marty answered drily. “Well, you have your work cut out for you.”
The detective rose from the couch and made his way into the foyer. “What’s that mean?”
Marty opened the front door for Smalt. “If his bike was leaned up against he lamppost outside, anyone could’ve had access to it.”
“I realize that,” said Smalt.
“Well, you’ll also realize that Gary wasn’t a good guy. I bet a lot of people wanted him dead.”
Smalt narrowed his eyes. “Including you?”
“You think I’m capable of murder?” Marty let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m a sixty-year-old Jewish man with a heart condition who just bike rode five miles today. I’m lucky I’m not dead.”
Marty waited for Smalt to climb into his unmarked police cruiser before shutting the door.


Jonathan Schramm said...

Great, Eek! Kimberly. I've never read a cozy mystery before, but I like the set-up. You put all the interesting stuff right up front. I was hooked from the start. I really liked Marty's attitude and the banter between him and Joanie and the detective. I think you've got a great start here, with a clear story question. Who cut the break line and why? I also look forward to hearing more about what pushed Marty to get into biking at such a late age. I liked hearing him talk about how he wants to get faster on the bike.

As far as critiques go, I don't have much for you. I suppose one nit would be Joanie's reaction to Marty coming in the door. I feel that if she was really worried about him being missing or hurt she would've come right to the door or at least already been standing/pacing. But when Marty comes home she calls out to him, tells him to come into the living room, then jumps up from the couch to ask him where he's been. Then again, maybe she's more worried that he's a suspect in Dr. Highouse's murder and she's just projecting mock concern... If that's the case then I'd keep it. Just a tiny little something I wondered about.

Hope that helps and good luck with the story!

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Lookin' good for a first draft. Aside from some of the line-editing stuff, I'd just say you Marty could use a little more characterization. Maybe some more physicality in the scene. For a while I was confused going, "This guy is sixty?" So maybe you have him huffing and puffing and cursing his shoes and that sort of thing. I guess he didn't feel as curmudgeonly as you suggested in the opening. The dialogue brought some of it across - bickering at his wife and insulting people who weren't there - but the background could use a little fleshing out. IMHO.

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Thanks for your comments, Jonathan. I appreciate them. Truly. I'll note your suggestions in my Scrivener file.

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Great points. Copying them down now. I'll make him more aged.

Mary Fan said...

Good stuff! Who doesn't love a good cozy mystery? :-D

I love that Marty's such a curmudgeon! I think it comes across well in the dialogue. The narrative could use a little more Marty-ness in it. More of his curmudgeonly internal grumblings and whatnot. Maybe a few more visceral descriptions and internal reactions to make the scene really come to life - colors, smells, tension, whether any joints are aching, and whatnot.

Carrie Beckort said...

I love the start of this! I agree with the other comments. I love the banter between the family. There are some rough edges with the flow, but it's an early draft and I know you'll fix those for the end product!

The only other I'd add is that Marty seemed to get defensive really quick. The detective had only asked him when he last saw Gary. I think either Marty would be in a bit of a shock at having just learned he was killed (even if he didn't like him) or would have expected a good detective to ask questions from those who knew him in order to find the killer. Unless you want Marty to appear guilty...

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Good suggestions! Duly noted.

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Excellent point. Will fix.

Jill said...

Hmm. My comments are mostly line edit-y...

1. I love how your opening lines are always so sensory, especially visual.

2. What's a door saddle?

3. Ethan Allen descriptive, and adds tone and socio-economic information, but feels name-droppy.

4. How does she know his bike ride ended hours ago? Maybe change to something like "if you were only going three miles you should have been home hours ago." Along the same lines, later - it makes sense that he's ridden 5 miles if he took a detour, but since the last number you said was 3, you should clear this up.

5. Better luck next time. Hahahaha.

6. What is the Old Spokes ride? At first it sounded like a carnival attraction. Then I thought, wait, is the name of the bike trail? Along the same lines, I assume that "campus" is a known place referred to earlier.

I agree with the others that this conversation is a great place to bring out characterization (and tone, mood, etc) while also communicating plot information. I'm thinking of that first scene in Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, where we get all of these things (plot, character, tone, etc) packed into one short scene. This could be that sort of scene!

Jill said...

Also, as a linguistics person, I'm fascinated by words/phrases like "leaped," "leaned up," and "bike rode." This isn't the level you're focusing on now - which makes sense at this point in your process - but they're just so interesting. :) "Leaped" and "lept" seem to exist in free variation in contemporary English (i.e. they're both right); "leaned up" sounds slightly odd to me but I can't think of anything better; and "bike-rode" is cool compounding (if a little unusual). You could even make it into an argot specific to Marty - maybe he compounds words like this all the time?

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Thanks all for your help. FYI, this isn't the first scene in the book. The first scene clocks in at nearly 2,000 words so I decided to use this scene as it's only 800 words. But I love all these comments!

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I love how your brain works.

Jill said...

Btw, This is Where It Ends by Marieke Njkamp, which I read yesterday, also uses "leaped"...and its sister overregularization "sneaked." Language change is neat!

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