Brooding City, by Tom Shutt (7:17)

IOD-BroodingCityToday we see that leaping to conclusions is not a sign of a good detective – it’s a sign of a sloppy one.

What I gleaned about the story: Arthur Brennan is the kind of detective who brings coffee to his partner at a murder scene. Jeremy Scott can twitch magically between several different postures without any intervening motion. Presumably, the two of them eventually meet.

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WTF #1: Unbelievable character behavior

Analysis: On page one, we’re presented with a police detective arriving at a crime scene. A murder. He crosses the room and hands a coffee to his partner, who says: “…Time of death is placed at around 10 p.m. No sign of forced entry.” The detective then replies with: “So he knew the person, or someone sneaked in.”

This bothers me about much of the indie detective fiction I read. Real investigators simply do not leap that suddenly to conclusions. Especially before they’ve actually investigated the scene. And what about entirely plausible scenarios, such as someone picking the lock, or a previous tenant returning, who has a key? Would a competent detective really be unaware of such possibilities? They’re both examples of what might have happened, that have nothing to do with a person the victim knew, or of somebody “sneaking in.”

The detective in this story is being portrayed as competent and experienced, but this kind of conclusion-jumping depicts some combination of rookie, incompetent, or corrupt. Disconnects like this always pop me out of the story.

WTF #2:Unbelievable character behavior

Analysis: A page later, after hearing his partner run down a summary of what the forensics team found, (pretty much nothing) our detective confirms that the victim was 24 years old, then he looks at the presence of a stereo, a game system, and some appliances, and pronounces: “I don’t think our victim bought all of this on his own.” As he said it, he felt in his bones that he was right.

I don’t buy that 24 is automatically too young to own nice things, or that having them is a strong indicator that somebody else paid for them. And even if somebody had paid for them, isn’t the most likely answer: his parents? What would be so suspicious about that? I don’t mind cop characters who get an inkling that something is out of place. But this didn’t rink true at all. Especially citing it as suspicious and a bone-deep certainty. Once again, this character is leaping to conclusions without earning them. Or rather, the author is.

Note: Nothing of interest happens in the entire first chapter. The cop has made his unlikely jumps to certainty, but aside from that, all that actually happened for us to see was a guy cross the room and hand his partner a coffee.

WTF #3: Inconsistent visual

Analysis: At the beginning of the second chapter, Jeremy is “crouched low.” A paragraph later, we get: Kneeling, as he was… And then the next sentence tells us: He took careful strides… His physical position keeps changing, without any indication of how or when it did so. This mental image of a kneeling character taking careful strides put me instantly in mind of Monty Python silly walks, and yanked me out of the story so I could re-read it (twice) to figure out what was going on. And that meant I was no longer immersed.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

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About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.