Monday, December 13, 2004

A Good Shooting

"A Good Shooting" by O'Neil De Noux, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Jan/Feb 2005

A cop investigates an officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of a criminal who had been caught coming out of an armed robbery. It looks like a good shooting, but why didn't the criminal shoot at the cop?

This story was a bit of a disappointment. As a general rule I enjoy Mr. De Noux's writing. He has a nice rhythm to most of his stories that makes them easy to read.

This one, however, seems a bit choppy and had several things that threw me out of the story. The first thing that hit me in the eye was the identification of the main character: ". . . John Raven Beau, the half-Sioux, half-Cajun cop . . ." Why does this matter? I may be picking a really tiny nit here, but why do series characters have to have some "unique" characteristic like hyphenated ethnicity or an "encyclopedic knowledge" of something like rock music or jazz or Sherlockiana? Why can't the character just be some common schlub with a consuming curiosity?

OK. Deep breath. In. Out. Good. Rant over. Or at least suspended.

The next speed bump occurred after our hero, Detective Beau, had been talking to the wife of the dead criminal, a nice, respectable lady, while taking her home. All of a sudden Mr. De Noux says, "It was then Beau identified her accent. He knew she wasn't from New Orleans the first time she spoke. She sounded Midwestern." The way he says it makes the fact that she has an accent sound important.

He's been talking to her for quite some time, and he has never, until this moment, mentioned an accent. Why is this important? Besides, saying that she sounds Midwestern is a long way from identifying her accent, if indeed she has one, and if indeed it is important. Which it isn't. Again, maybe a nit, but it did throw me out of the story.

When Detective Beau finds out why the criminal's gun didn't fire (pretty clever, BTW), he immediately knows who fixed it and how. He confronts this person with what he knows. Then Mr. De Noux steps in with "Beau felt the Plains warrior rising inside . . ." Seems inappropriate - and melodramatic. The prevailing opinion around the station house is that whoever fixed the gun deserves a medal. Why is Beau getting pissed? At least I think that's what the phrase was intended to convey. And why say it that way? Was he afraid that we had forgotten that the guy was half Indian? In the third paragraph after that one, Mr. De Noux says, "The war drums echoed in some racial memory in the back of Beau's mind . . ." Again, why is Beau angry? And why put it this way? I felt like I was reading a Penny Dreadful. There hasn't been any kind of elucidation of Beau's character that would make this reaction believable.

As for the Cajun side of Beau's ancestry, that was handled much more smoothly with a couple of quotes from Papa Beau. Much less chewing of the scenery.

I don't know if this is the first time Mr. De Noux has used Detective Beau. I hope so. It'll give him some time to smooth out the rough spots. All in all, it's a good, clever story with a few faults that just happened to push my buttons.