A couple of status reports. First, two more writers have joined the YA Novel Challenge and blogged about their goals. Take a look at these posts:
Second, I’m still sick. I can’t seem to get rid of the cough, and the cough won’t let me sleep, so I’ve been staying up late working. Last night I stayed up, writing the scene in 221B Baker Street. Despite being sick, staying up late imagining dialog, imagining what the inside of 221B Baker Street looks like, is a deep, deep pleasure. (There’s a stuffed alligator on the sofa. And a lot of cigarette ash. Mary is not amused.)
That’s is, there’s no third. That’s all the status reports I have for you today.
But a long time ago, I promised that I would tell you who killed Amelia Price. (If you still even remember that post. If not, look here.) And we’ll pay attention to the reading protocols.
(Last night, I sat in front of the television, coughing and watching one of the police procedurals. For about ten minutes, until The Actor Who Always Plays the Killer showed up. At that point, the show was over for me. I knew the show wouldn’t do anything as interesting as NOT make him the killer, so the rest of the hour would involve elaborate ways for the other characters to not realize that he was the killer. If the show wasn’t going to treat me like a knowledgeable viewer, what was the point of watching?)
On to the murder mystery. Let me summarize.
1. Amelia Price lives with her aunt, Emmaline Price. Amelia has just finished her third year at Harvard before coming home from summer vacation. One June night, she is shot. Her body is found the next morning in one of the fields close to the Frobishers’ house. She was shot at relatively close range, from the front so she probably saw her killer. Emmaline is the housekeeper for the wealthy Frobishers. There are three of them: Elaine Frobisher, who is a widow, and her two sons, Lance and Galahad Frobisher. Lance works at the law firm his father founded. He was Amelia’s boyfriend until they broke up over Thanksgiving break. Galahad is in college at Princeton. He has always had a crush on Amelia, but she has always rejected him.
2. On the night of the murder, there was a break-in at the Frobishers’ house. The Frobisher were at a local charity ball, but Lance says he took a telephone call from a client for an hour and Galahad says he wandered around outside for a while because he hates to dance. When he came back, he couldn’t find his mother, although she swears she was in the ballroom the entire time. The butler, James, had the night off. He was at the local bar, and two of his buddies swear that he was with them until they took him home, drunk. The maid, Maire Ross, was there, but she says that she slept through the whole thing. Maire, who is from Ireland and has overstayed her visa, is pregnant with Lance’s child.
3. Amelia’s father, Martin Ames, came from a wealthy family. His mother, Hillary Ames, left Amelia a lot of money in a trust fund. Elaine Frobisher, who was a friend of Hillary, is the trustee. Amelia’s father is in jail for shooting Amelia’s mother. He was an alcoholic and shot her one night while he was drunk. He claimed it was an accident, but the jury convicted him of manslaughter. Amelia was really Amelia Ames, but when she went to live with her aunt Emmaline, she took her mother’s name. She was only seven. Martin Ames was released from jail a week ago. He’s supposedly clean and sober. He’s been sleeping in the woods around the Frobishers’ house.
4. There are a couple of other things you should know. James is not the butler’s real name and he has a rap sheet. Lance has been accused of being physically abusive by a former girlfriend. Galahad has pictures of Amelia, a lot of them. He keeps them in a dresser drawer. In her safe, Emmaline has pictures of Elaine Frobisher from when she worked in a gentlemen’s club. (Yes, she was a stripper. And probably a prostitute.) And Amelia was shot with the same gun that her father used to kill her mother.
I received a number of ingenious answers when I first posted this scenario. Let me take you through how I thought about it myself.
One important murder mystery protocol is that under the right circumstances, anyone can commit murder. So everyone is a suspect. Here are possible reasons and ways in which any of these characters could have murdered Amelia.
Lance: could have snuck out of the charity ball and killed her because he’s still angry over their breakup. He wants her back and she won’t agree to it.
Galahad: could have snuck out of the charity ball and killed her because he’s obsessed with her and she won’t pay attention to him.
Maire: could have lied about sleeping through the burglary and gone out to kill Amelia because she and Lance were planning on getting back together, and Maire would be alone with an illigitimate child.
Martin Ames could have killed Amelia because he’s mentally unstable. In fact, he’s probably going to be the first suspect. But Darcy Chase, my detective, will know at once that it couldn’t be him. She will suspect that the killing of his first wife was accidental. He’s a broken man who just wanted to see his daughter again. He’s unlikely to have shot her. And he’s not the most likely person to have his gun, not after all these years.
By the way, halfway through the investigation the gun is found in the forest, as though Martin had simply left it there. Darcy will correctly deduce that someone is trying to frame him.
Another important reading protocol is that when there are two crimes, you need to untangle them. Here, there was a burglary on the same night. There is initially suspicion that Amelia saw the thieves and they shot her, but if she had seen strange men in the woods at night, she would have run, whereas the evidence shows that she was not afraid. She was killed by someone who was able to approach her, get close to her. That rules out Martin as well, because she would never have trusted him that much, not after all the stories she’s been told.
Hercules Poirot says that we must allow for one coincidence and no more. The burglary happening that night was a coincidence. It’s suspicious that Maire slept right through it, but not if she was given sleeping pills. The person who could most easily have given them to her is James, the butler. She would never suspect him bringing her a glass of milk, whereas she would be astonished if one of the Frobishers did so (even Lance).
James and his friends, the ones who provided the alibi, are the burglars, which lets them out of the murder. The two crimes are almost never linked in that way.
So, we’ve gotten rid of Martin, James, and Maire. Who’s left? Lance and Galahad had motive and opportunity. Elaine had opportunity but no motive. Emmaline had opportunity, but why in the world would she want to kill her own niece? In fact, she loses a small income she earned while her niece was alive, for serving as her guardian. We have to ask about money, but when Amelia dies, the fortune in her trust fund goes to a hospital. So no one gets it.
Now what? We can trace the gun. Hillary Ames had it for a while, but no one knows what became of it when she died. If I were writing an actual murder mystery, at this point I would probably muck around a bit with Lance’s alibi, show that it was valid, then that it wasn’t, all based on different time zones.
Here’s how Darcy solves the mystery. There’s one person who has never seriously been suspected. Emmaline Price actually loses money when her niece dies. But for several years now, Emmaline has been blackmailing Elaine Frobisher with those pictures. Elaine isn’t actually as wealthy as she seems. Her husband’s death left her in a difficult financial situation. (Lance is trying to save the firm.) So she’s been taking money from Amelia’s trust fund. She tells Emmaline that she’s been taking the money, and that as soon as Amelia turns twenty-one, which will be in three weeks, the entire game will be up. Elaine will be exposed as a former stripper and a current thief. But worse, Emmaline will be exposed as a blackmailer. Emmaline has been respectable her entire life. She is not about to let that happen.
She tells Elaine to give her Martin’s gun. (Elaine is the one who has it, and the only one who could, logically. After the trial, it was returned to Hillary. It’s an antique gun and has significant value. Elaine was Hillary’s friend and Amelia’s trustee. Hillary passed it on to her in case Amelia should ever ask about it. She wanted Amelia to be the one to decide whether it should be kept in the family, put in a museum, or destroyed.)
Emmaline chooses that night because the Frobishers will be away, but also because she’s seen Martin in the woods. As far as she’s concerned, he killed her sister and deserves to be framed for Ameila’s murder. Emmaline has no compunctions in killing Amelia, whom she thinks of as an Ames rather than a Price. She meets Amelia in the woods, and when Amelia gets close enough, she shoots her.
Elaine was absent from the charity ball for a while because she was giving the gun to Emmaline. Galahad really did wander around outside for a while.
If Emmaline had succeeded in casting the blame on Martin, the trust funds would have passed to the hospital, where Elaine is on the board. She would have ensured that the trust was never investigated thoroughly. So both she and Emmaline would have been safe.
I’ve fudged a bit over why they needed to kill Amelia that night, with such urgency. I think I’ll have to invent an impending visit from a lawyer. But I hope this all makes sense? And it’s clear how I’m thinking about and responding to the protocols?
I’ve been sitting up for a while writing this draft, and I need to go lie down again. I’ve noticed that with the constant diet of cough drops, I’m simply not hungry for ordinary food. But I’m tired all the time, so I’d better get some rest.
I hope my solution to the mystery makes sense. Emmaline is the logical killer in terms of the protocols. She seems so sweet throughout, until you realize what she’s done. There are all sorts of things I haven’t done here, all sorts of ways I haven’t played with the protocols. But perhaps I have shown a bit about how they work. Emmaline is exactly the sort of person who is the murderer in murder mysteries. Real life doesn’t work quite that way, does it?
Seriously, I’m going to pass out. So more later. But this exercise has been very interesting. Could I write a murder mystery? You know, I just might pull it off . . .