Friday, December 03, 2004

Death at the Theatre

"Death at the Theatre" by Marianne Wilski Strong, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Jan/Feb, 2005

I've read some of Ms. Strong's Kleides stories before and have always enjoyed them. This one, however, I didn't feel was quite up to standard. One thing that put me off was the statement in the opening pages (I read this as an ebook, so I don't know what conventional page this occurred on) that said, "I didn't know then that the festival would incite murder, nor did I know whom it would strike." I hate that! Foreshadowing is a legitimate technique to increase suspense, but that is the clumsiest, most blatant kind of foreshadowing. Any author that employs it should have their knuckles rapped with a ruler. And come on! This is a short story. Why would you need to foreshadow? This is a mystery story, published in a mystery magazine. Of course there is going to be a murder.

Onward. The other issue I have problems with is the so-called investigation. The murder occurs at about the halfway mark. The murderer is revealed around the 90% mark. In between the murder and the "j'accuse" Kleides talks to only one person who could have been the murderer. I'm not saying this person was the murderer, only that he could have been, along with a number of other characters. Kleides says soon after words to the effect, "as soon as I heard this, I knew who the murderer was." The solution depends on information that is not revealed to the reader until after the murderer is unmasked.

Now I am not without sin. I have had two different editors tell me that the solution came too easily. I needed to have my character spend a little more time investigating, go down at least one more blind alley before the climax. I hope I never have another editor tell me that. I feel the story would have been much better had the murder been moved up to the 25% or 30% point in the story allowing more of the characters a chance to lie or tell the truth about their whereabouts. This story feels like Ms. Strong was writing to a length and got too far into it before she realized she was nearing the target word count had to wrap it up quickly.

Ms. Strong did some things really well. Her evocation of the time period was well done with lots of little details without becoming a treatise on "Everyday Life in Athens." I especially liked the way she went about establishing the nastiness of one of the characters. At one point early in the story Kleides describes the man as having an upper lip like a weasel. Later on Kleides as much as calls the man a weasel to his face. A small use of the setup-reveal technique, but a nice one.

All in all, not my favorite story, but I have hopes for the next one Ms. Strong publishes.