Total eclipse of point-of-view

Happy Eclipse Day y’all! I will be spending the day enjoying the beautiful weather before I usher my three kids into the house to protect their eyes. It really is gorgeous in PA. Blue skies, no clouds. Perfect day to blot out the sun.

Also, I want to publicly thank Keenan for recommending Shetland on Netflix. It is an excellent mystery series based on the books by Ann Cleeves. It features Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez who solves murders on the Shetland Islands. It’s super bingeable as the first season is only two episodes, and atmospheric. The Shetland Islands are just as you imagine Scottish Isles to be — gray with rolling hills and croft houses, and the vast ocean encircling it all. Highly recommend. And the books are fantastic, too. I just took one out  of the library.

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So, I wanted to ask fellow mystery readers about point-of-view. I’m curious as to your thoughts on this as I’m brainstorming a new mystery. I’m either going to write it in first-person only or third-person with multiple POVs. I know I must select one based on the needs of story I’m writing, but it got me to thinking: do you have a preference? I know some readers who prefer third over first. Some who love multiple POVs, some who don’t.

Detective novels are almost entirely told from the perspective of the detective, so either first person or third, but usually only their POV. Raymond Chandler has Philip Marlowe narrate in first person, which gives the reader this direct insight into the mind of private ‘eye’ in seedy Los Angeles. Michael Connelly uses third person to narrate his Harry Bosch series. I read a page-turning YA mystery that employs four first-person POVs, and it worked well to see how everyone was impacted by the crime. Dan Brown uses third in his books in order to unravel the antagonist’s mindset. It really comes down to selecting a point-of-view based on the story the author wants to tell.

As I write this, I realize that I won’t know how to address my POV conundrum without writing a few scenes in various points-of-view to see how I want my mystery to unfold.

But please tell me, for science’s sake, do you have a preference when it comes to point of view? I am curious. (Also, ever read anything in second person? It is a trip.)

Villainous and delicious

It’s late Sunday night, and I’m probably one of the few people not watching Game of Thrones or Sharknado 5 right now. I wonder if I’m missing out. Anyhoo, I thought it would be fun to discuss favorite villains. And since, I’m a television junkie, I imagine my list will lean heavily toward the screen than books. But I’m sure I can dig up some literary antagonists to round out the list. On that note, let’s cackle away.

  1. Klaus from The Vampire Diaries: Oh, Klaus Mikaelson, you sexy, British-accented, although originally from a Nordic country, 1,000-year-old vampire/werewolf hybrid — how I adore you. I’ve watched you drown Tyler’s mom in a fountain, and make googly-eyes at Caroline, even stab your sister in the back (literally!), and yet I still root for you. Perhaps, it’s because your father didn’t love you like the rest of the Mikaelson children. You have real pain and show deep vulnerability, and for that, I cannot hate you. Carry on, Klaus, carry on.

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2. Frank Underwood from House of Cards: Whoa, Frank. I don’t want to spoil your story for anyone who hasn’t seen this awesome Netflix show, but you are one devious and deceitful s.o.b. I’ve watched you do heinous things in the name of political domination, and I’m so ashamed you’re a Democrat. One minute, I want you to get caught, and the next, I want you get away with steamrolling the president in order to weasel your way into the White House. This whole show is a trigger for me, but I love it anyway.

3. Sammi from Shameless: Sammi, half-sister to the Gallagher clan, mother of Chuckie, opportunist and horrible person. You single-handedly destroyed Gallavich, separating my beloved Ian and Mickey before they could go on their date. You are not forgiven. And yet, you added great conflict to the show and provided one of the best exchanges with Mickey (fans know what I’m talking about). I hate to love you, and I’m glad you’re stuck behind bars where you belong.

4. Smurf from Animal Kingdom: Smurf, you may be the matriarch to a low-time crime family, but you scare the bejeesus out of me, and you’re also who I’d call if I needed someone to help me out of a murder. Sure, you’re completely inappropriate with your grown sons, and I can never tell just how crazy you are, but you can’t get away with robbery and murder for 40 years and not be skilled at it. I promise not to double-cross you.

5. Miss Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice: You had your eyes on Mr. Darcy from the start, even as he only had fine eyes for Lizzie. You loved to take digs at the Bennet girls, and truly, who can blame you? You did your best to stand out, and take Lizzie down, but all you did was highlight an adversary. I sympathize with you, dear girl. It’s hard to watch another nab your man.

6. Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter: I could never love Voldemort — he is nonredeemable. But Draco, you are more complex than you know. Layered. Troubled. The son of an overbearing father who sought to align himself with the Dark Lord, meanwhile, you’re just trying to be a teenager in a wizarding school. You don’t have Harry’s bravery, nor his moral compass, but you might with time. With age, comes wisdom. You’ll get there. Don’t let your wicked Aunt Bellatrix drag you down.

Okay readers, please share your favorite villain, and why you love them.

The ‘Glue’ that binds us together

Last summer, I watched a British television mystery called Glue. Let’s just gloss over the fact that the way I viewed the program was not exactly Kosher in that it wasn’t available on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime. But, I digress….

Anyway, Glue is a mystery mini-series on Britain’s Ch. 4 (let’s not gloss over the fact that European television is far less stodgy in creating shows about teens who curse and have sex, unlike American network television that is still largely puritanical –unless it’s violence because apparently that’s totally fine) that ran in 2014. It centers around 14-year-old Cal, a Romani kid, who is found murdered in the English countryside, and his friends who become embroiled in the mystery. Everybody has secrets. Everyone lies. But only one committed the murder. It’s quite compelling and I binge-watched the entire series in a few days. And my always suspicious mind didn’t call out the killer until the reveal, so bravo British television. You fooled this girl.

Most recently, CW released Riverdale, an intriguing murder mystery centered around the characters of the famous Archie comics. If Twitter, and ratings, is anything to go by, Riverdale has really taken off.

Shows like this have an addictive quality. A good detective drama is great, but there is something so delicious about a large cast of characters with interconnected secrets they’re all desperate to keep. It’s the reason soap operas are so popular. But unlike soaps,  shows like Glue and Riverdale really bring young characters into the fold. They become the center story; the murder is just the mechanism in which to spill their secrets. And the narrative isn’t really about the victim as much as it is about the young people who are still around — those whose lives are irrevocably changed by the bad choices they’ve made. Because teens screw up. A lot. They don’t have life experience to guide them, and so we pity them, even when they do pretty despicable things. It truly makes for compelling television.

And more importantly, it’s an excellent lesson for writing compelling fiction. My brain is swarming with ideas on how to recreate a Glue narrative for a young adult novel. A page-turner as bingeable as the television show I had to scour the internet to watch.

An English import: friendship

I always joke about the British Invasion on my Facebook status when my friend Zoë arrives from the United Kingdom. She visits every 18 months or so, when there’s an offer on airfare (her words — I would just say “sale”) and she spends roughly two weeks hanging out with my family — including my three young children. And let me tell you, if you don’t have kids, hanging out with other people’s kids quickly loses its charm.

Anyway, Zoë always brings Britishy things with her — Swiss chocolate (not the bland stuff we have in the States, also not British I realize, but whatever) English tea, a myriad of gifts (one year I got a real Turkish pashmina, my daughter received a tartan holiday dress, my eldest son got a Paddington Bear book and poems by A.A Milne), brownies (a delicious recipe that we could not recreate in my American kitchen for some reason), and just her bright spirit.

I met Zoë in the summer of 2003 in Spain. My best friend and I decided to do a one-month intensive advanced language program in Salamanca and Zoë was our flatmate. Funny story that embarrasses her — when she found out that the apartment, which was already housing three girls, was going to receive two more females — from America no less — Zoë went to the language school office begging them to send us to another apartment. Why? She was afraid we’d be (her words now): “two American b^tches.” Turns out, my best friend and I are really rather lovely, and Zoë easily admitted she’d been wrong about us.

In 2004, Zoë and I traveled to Scotland. And the year after that, she came to visit me in Hoboken, sharing my tiny 320 square foot apartment. The year after that, she came back for my wedding. And she’s roughly returned to visit several more times over the course of our friendship. In fact, she’s likely to pop in for a visit at the end of July as she travels to my area on business.

Zoë brightens my home the moment she arrives. And my kids adore her. If we hear a British accent on television, my eldest will say, “She sounds like Zoë.” Sometimes, he’ll remember English vocabulary, say torch instead of a flashlight.

I’m very blessed to have this friendship. Many people have maintained less, and we have an ocean between us. I’m hoping to cross the Pond again one day so we can do the pop culture tour we always talk about — visiting all of Jane Austen’s places, seeing where Downton Abbey was filmed, and returning to Scotland for Harry Potter-y things. In the interim, I am eternally grateful Zoë visits me. This British Invasion, like the Beatles, brings joy to America.

Grumpy Fries & Crazy Lies – Part 11

“You’ll see Boschman,” I told Persephone as I escorted her to the Maserati. “But not romantically. Not tonight, at least.” I opened the passenger-side door and gestured for her to get in. She glowered at me, but then climbed inside the car. We sped off for her place.

She sunk low into the leather interior and crossed her arms over her chest. “I can never read you, Detective. One minute, you seem hot for me. The next, ice cold.”

I couldn’t argue with her there. My feelings for Persephone were complicated on a clear day. She was beautiful and magnetic, but she also attracted trouble. And she had a tendency to evade the truth. I expected criminals to lie, but not my girlfriends.

“What do you need with my sweatshirt anyway?” Persephone said, interrupting my thoughts.

I stopped at the traffic light on a busy intersection. “If I wait for Boschman to follow through on forensics, then I’ll be waiting a long time. I need you to bring your glittery sweatshirt with me to the lab. Let Boschman take a look. Force his hand a bit.”

“You mean, flirt with him so he’ll process your crime scene faster,” she said drily.

“And that.” I parked along the curb in front of her house. Persephone made no motion to get out of the car. Instead, she appeared indignant.

“And what if I don’t want to do that?” she huffed.

I stared ahead and drummed my fingers on the steering wheel. “Well, I can always arrest you for obstructing justice. Or better yet, I can take you in for murder seeing as how the glitter from your clothing was at the crime scene.”

She laughed, low and throaty. “I did not kill Mr. Fries.”

“Prove it.”\

She unbuckled her seatbelt. “Stay right here.” She got out of the car and hurried across her front lawn. She unlocked the door and went inside.

I smiled. I’d been at this job a long time. I might not understand women, but I could suss out a suspect. That I was sure of.

A minute later, Persephone climbed back inside the car and threw the sweatshirt at my head. “There,” she said. “Now, let’s get this over with.”

I turned the key in the ignition, and the sportscar roared to life.

“It’s not like I’m dying to go out with Fred,” she said. “But he, at least, asked me. You just like to screw with my head.”

That mollified me. I didn’t like being the bad cop, but I had trust issues. In my line of work, I saw the worst humanity had to offer. Sometimes, it was hard to find the best even if I went looking for it.

We rode the rest of the way to the forensics lab in silence.

#

Fred Boschman stood hunched over a stainless steel table, picking up tiny bits of glitter with tweezers, and placing them in a petri dish. “I told you Sterling, I’d get your results when I got to them.”

Persephone’s soft lilt cut through the tension. “Maybe, Fred, you could put a rush on it.”

Boschman bolted upright. He glanced at Persephone and adjusted his glasses. “I didn’t think I’d see you so soon, today. We’re still on for tonight?”

“Not unless you process this glitter,” I said as I handed him a plastic evidence bag with Persephone’s sweatshirt inside. “You want to go on your date? Clear your girl of murder.”

That got Boschman’s attention. “You don’t really think Persephone killed Mr. Fries?”

What I thought didn’t matter. It was what the evidence proved. And right now, Boschman was holding up my investigation. He removed the sweatshirt from the bag, and scraped off the glitter with a sharp knife. He put a few specks on a clear, acrylic slide and slipped it under the microscope.

“Hm,” he said, after picking up his head.

“What?” Persephone and I said together.

“The glitter doesn’t match.”

We both stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate.

“The glitter from the sweatshirt and the glitter from your crime scene are not the same. Persephone is not your killer.”

“Well, I could’ve told you that,” she said.

I couldn’t have.

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, Part 5

Thinking of Persephone MacGillivray and her sexy Jennifer Beals sweatshirt, I cursed under my breath. Either she was lying about killing Mr. Fries, or perhaps, she’d sneaked a peek at the body before my cops arrived. Damn, dame. She might’ve compromised my crime scene. I imagined her horrified look when I demanded she take off the sweatshirt, so I could submit it into evidence. Unfortunately, I’d need a warrant first. But all I had was a circumstantial glitter. I couldn’t see pretty Persephone murdering her amputee neighbor. But then again, as I learned often, anyone can be motivated to kill.

Officer Poundacre jerked her chin at me. “Where’s Puente?”

Iggy Puente, my partner. “In Rahway. His old man died unexpectedly.” She cocked a brow. “Heart attack,” I added. “I’m taking this solo until he comes back. Shouldn’t be more than a few days.” I cleared my throat. “Did you get a next of kin?”

She nodded. “Has a daughter, Ms. Fries, on Clifton Avenue, and a son who works on some oil rig in the Gulf.”

I sucked on my teeth and glanced at a busybody neighbor peeking through the hole in the fence. “Make sure you secure the area. I don’t want any onlookers leaking info to the press.”

“You got it, Detective.” She motioned for her belt, but I stopped her.

“Who’s processing today?”

“I think it’s Boschman,” she said, before unclipping her radio and mumbling directives.

I smiled. Fred Boschman owed me a favor, which meant I could pressure him for a rush job on forensics. I knew I couldn’t get far without the toxicology report.

I crouched down near the body and examined the man’s swollen lips, now a ghastly shade of purple. His tongue, fat with white dots, lolled to one side. A line of creamy, white applesauce had dried on his chin and neck. Mr. Fries’s eyes were wide open with cataracts coating the light blue irises. My guess was Mr. Fries was shocked in his final moments, which only pointed to one thing — he knew his attacker.

I rose from my crouch. I’d have to interview Persephone again, no question. But first, I needed to meet Mr. Fries’s daughter and deliver the bad news.

“Tell Boschman, I’ll meet him in the morgue later for his prelim observations,” I told Poundacre before leaving the yard through the gate and jumping into my Maserati.

***

Clifton Avenue was only a seven minute drive from the victim’s house, but my car could make it in four. I parked in front of a blue Cape Cod style house with an overgrown lawn. A child’s bicycle leaned against the bark of a leafy fruit tree in the side yard.

I always hated this part. The department used to have a squad who were trained in comforting the victims, but budget cuts relegated them to volunteer work. And very few people wanted to donate their free time by telling family members their loved ones were murdered. Best left to the detectives anyway.

I knocked on the door, my fist deliberate and forceful. Time was a commodity I couldn’t afford to waste. I heard steps approach and a woman opened the storm door, but stood behind a dusty screen. She appeared to be in her early to mid 40s. She had dark hair with thick blonde highlights, reminding me of zebra stripes. Her face was lined and tired, which made sense seeing the toddler on her hip.

She eyed me suspiciously. “Can I help you?”

I held up my badge. “I’m Detective Spreadbury. May I come in?”

She nodded and wordlessly opened the screen door. I followed her through the foyer and into a small living room. She set her toddler down onto the stained carpet and handed him an electronic tablet. Then she plucked toys from a worn, floral couch and gestured for me to sit. I did so, whipping out a small notebook and pen. I breathed in a sweet, heady smell, like the pipe odor from Mr. Fries’s place.

“Ms. Fries,” I began.

“Claudia,” she corrected. “Please tell me what’s going on. You’re making me nervous.”

I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry to tell you this but your father was murdered in his backyard today.”

She gasped, covered her mouth with her hand, and wept. I gave her a few moments to register the shock, to mourn, to grieve. I never wanted to rush a witness into speaking before they were ready.

Claudia wiped the tears from her cheeks, smearing her dark makeup. “I know who did this,” she said. She then stared at me with cold, blue eyes — clearly inherited from her father, “My rotten ex-husband. Duncan Meadows.”

Detecting good fiction

You want to talk about seeds? Detective fiction is planting some really good ideas in me. Most recently, I read The Black Echo, the first in the Harry Bosch series, by Michael Connelly. [I know I’m way late to the game.] My husband started watching Bosch on Amazon and I caught the first season, but dropped off somewhere (I might’ve been in an editing cave). Now, I have to go back and watch Season 2 and 3 because I am fascinated by police procedurals.

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My next manuscript is going to be a teenage riff on detective fiction. Like a quirky, Poconos version of Veronica Mars. And while, I think I have a handle on the process of sleuthing, there are characteristics of a good detective I need to remember. For example, Harry Bosch misses nothing. He understands the business of crime. He knows when a witness is lying, even if he can’t ascertain why at that moment. He subverts the rules when it justifies the outcome. He questions motives. He sees what others don’t. He’s not just a good cop, he’s an astute one.

The most liberating thing about writing teenage detectives is that I don’t need to know the nitty gritty about law and police work. Michael Connelly was a crime beat reporter for the LA Times. When you follow Bosch on an investigation, you feel like a cop. The details are spot on. I like that, but I don’t have the skillset right now to do it. For my teenage sleuth though, she needs to be smart like a detective. She needs to be methodical, and she needs to ask questions. She needs to lay out various scenarios based on the evidence she collects. And that, I feel, I can do (after edits and revisions, of course). If this project comes out as good as it seems in my head, I’ll have a real winner.

Who is your favorite detective? I’d like some recommendations.