Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Night Never Forgets

"The Night Never Forgets" by Adam McFarlane, SDO Detective, October 31, 2004

An abandoned child, now an adult with a child of her own, hires a PI to track down an absentee ex-con father. Standard fare for a PI, but one rife with possibilities that can make every story different and fresh.

When the PI, one Mr. Foster (his first name is never revealed in the story, in fact, you know his last name only indirectly) has his first meeting with his client, Cora Kilroy, at her home. He walks in the door, and she starts telling him her problem without any introductions, who-are-you, etc. The guy could have been the Fuller Brush man.

Farther on, Cora makes reference to the fact that there are no mirrors in the apartment. The stated reason: she's too ashamed to look at herself. Unfortunately there's not enough precedent to make this believable. Why bring it up in the first place? This is endemic throughout the story. This tale should be frothing with emotion, and I can see where Mr. McFarlane is trying. But it's just not coming through.

Searching for news stories about the crime that got Cora's father sent to prison, Foster finds the name of the victim, Lucia Bjornsdottir. Then he searches the victim's name and comes up with her present place of employment. OK, fair enough. Then a few paragraphs later he reveals that the victim is one of his best friends! This is a major structural error that could have been easily fixed with a little rearranging.

The conversation Foster has with Lucia simply is not believable as a conversation between people that have known each other long enough to have become good friends. It's the old exposition trap: people telling each other things they ought to already know.

There is a subplot here about Foster's own father that the author uses to try to link Foster emotionally to Cora. I think it's too heavy handed to be effective.

Mr. McFarlane indulges in a little simile-play that has no purpose other than showing off. "My cold - like a mucous octopus resting on my breastbone, groping my lungs - didn't help either." This occurs halfway through the story and is the first, and only, mention that he has a cold. A mucous octopus?? Please, if you want to do this, spend more time with Chandler: “Her eyes bounced around the room like two mice in a box.” A mucous octopus versus two mice in a box. Do you see the difference?

The author also has a fondness for autonomous inanimate objects. "My phone dialed Leslee Madarin." "Her line immediately picked up." The desire to find new ways to say the same old things is laudable, however the application of common sense should govern.

This is a potentially good story that would have profited from another couple of rounds of editing before it left the author's computer. I would suggest trying to find a critique partner that has a little more experience.

The concept here is good, but I'm afraid the execution is lacking. Though I don't think it's anything that can't be fixed by practice. Throughout the story I had the feeling of driving down a country road that had just been gouged into the dirt, full of bumps and potholes, waiting for the finishing grader.

Mr. McFarlane shows promise. I'll be interested in seeing what he comes up with next.