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  • Critical Collective: The Case Of The Murder At The Falls

    Rachel Marsh Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    The Critical Collective is an ongoing feature gives writers the   chance to get brutally honest feedback on their writing. This the next Critical Collective author is James McEwan who has asked our Shortbreaders to look in detail at his story ‘The Case of the Murder at the Falls’.

    To get involved in The Critical Collective read this month’s story on our Critical Collective Forum thread.

    If you would like your story to be featured in the next Critical   Collective please email the story to rachel@shortbreadstories.com

    THE CASE OF THE MURDER AT THE FALLS

    Russell Holmes is invited by Lady May to investigate the theft of her jewellery and the death of one her housemaids.

    The Case of the Murder at the Falls.

    Morag sat waiting. There was a rustling on the slope above the river, she stood up and stared into the darkness.  Someone was moving through the ferns and willow weeds that grew across the path.  The moon appeared above the cliff as a cloud drifted past and the small pools by the rocks glimmered. A soft whistle of an intermittent pheeing came from behind the birch scrub where the path opened out onto the gravel.

    ‘Angus?’ Morag peered towards the dark space between the trees and brambles.

    He stepped out from the shadows and she ran over the clearing, kissed his cheek then hugged him tight.

    ‘Have you got it?’ He said and pushed off her embrace.

    ‘Aye.’ She undone her coat and took out the lacquered jewellery box. He grabbed it from her, snapped the lid open and lifted out a silver chain with its pendant that dangled and glinted in the subdued light. He gave a delighted chuckle and she smiled.

    ‘You’re a wee darling.’  He pulled a woollen sock from his pocket then tipped in the contents from the box and took care to place the pedant in last. With a double swing of his arm he threw the empty box away, it landed among the brambles on the slope.

    ‘I told my mither.’ Morag grasped his coat sleeve.

    ‘Whit.’ He thrust her arm aside. ‘You shouldn’t have done that ma wee lass.’

    A button came away from his sleeve in her hand, she would have to it sew back on later. ‘But Angus, she needs to ken.’

    ‘Ken about the box?’

    ‘No, about America, I mean.’ She took hold of his hand. ‘We are going like you said?’

    ‘Aye, did I say America?’ He pulled her in against his body and removed her knitted headscarf. ‘O my sweet, sweet Morag.’ He stroked and played with her long hair forming it into a tail in his hands.

    ‘Married in the Americas,’ she said, ‘Imagine.’ She rubbed at the stubble on his face. ‘We’ll have our own ranch away from all this. Remember what you said.’

    He rolled her hair around his hand closing the strands in his fist. ‘Aye I did.’ With a strong grip on the ponytail and a violent tug he bashed her head down onto the rocks. ‘Aye I did, ma sweet lass.’

    With ease he carried her to the river and pushed her unconscious body out towards the middle of the pool. He then sat on a boulder and watched her floating on the smooth surface. In the quite he was a lonely figure, a soliloquy on stage who smirked at the moon’s smile high above the cliff top and the castle’s ruin.

    The current slipped between some rocks dragging Morag over a small fall. Gaining consciousness she gasped for air, fear and anger blazed in the space between life and death as she looked towards Angus.

    He was jolted to a sense of momentary shock from her helplessness and stood up aghast but committed to what he’d done. He blew a kiss, a solemn gesture. ‘Bye now ma sweet lass.’

    The river increased its flow through the gorge and Morag thrashed with her arms but failed to find a grip on the smooth sides.  The water jostled her against a jutting granite edge that split her head. Unconscious and swarming in blood the limp body bobbled onwards in the full flow of the current and was thrown high into the air. Her coat opened wide and underneath the white petticoat flapped as she plummeted like a sparrow hawk focused to strike on a pheasant’s chick. The one hundred feet fall of water cascading over Corra Linn on the Clyde roared and masked the sound of her body hitting the frothing pool below.

    * * *

    Russell flung his coat and slouch hat behind the door of his study.  The sudden downpour of hailstones curtailed his morning walk in the Botanic gardens and he was out of breath from rushing back. The brisk dash across the street didn’t help the pounding pain of his damn headache and he whipped the newspaper off his chair with his walnut walking stick. He sat down in front of the open fire and rubbed his temples.

    There was a soft knock on the door and Mrs Fergus carried in a black floral tray. ‘Here ye are. I’ve made ye a hot toddy with lemon, cloves and honey for ye’r cold.’

    ‘Thank you Mrs Fergus, but it’s a headache.’

    ‘It’s all the same.’ She put the tray on the side-table. ‘There’s also a letter.’ On the way out she picked up his hat with the coat and shook them. ‘Really.’ She carried them at arm’s length out of the room.

    Russell looked at the envelope with its lilac 4d Postage and Revenue stamp. Today’s date was embossed along the top so it must be urgent. He took it to the bay windows and opened it with his silver snap knife by slipping a blade beneath the sealed edge.  Holding it up to the dim daylight he read the letter and felt the throb from his headache ease. It was an intriguing puzzle indeed.

    ‘Morning Holmes.’  Dr. Major (Retired) Wilson strode into the study. ‘What have you done to the Herald?’ He picked up the broad sheets off the carpet and shook the newspaper into order.

    ‘Ah, Major. What would you say to a weekend in the country?’

    ‘Ridiculous in this weather.’

    ‘Here read this.’ Holmes gave him the letter and then went to the door and shouted, ‘Mrs Fergus where’s my portmanteau?’

    Major Wilson read through the letter and shook his head. ‘It’s common theft. Not you’re cup of tea, Holmes.’

    ‘Ah yes, what about the maid?’

    ‘It was an accident, poor girl was probably suffering from hysteria.’ He nodded. ‘Dosed up with laudanum no doubt.’

    ‘Apparent Major, apparent, you read the words but you don’t assimilate, look how Lady May writes that she has suspicions.’

    ‘But to Lanark in this weather Holmes. Do we have to?’

    ‘Of course.’ Russell took the letter and threw it into the fire.  ‘There’s nothing like a murderous act to cure a headache.’ He smiled. ‘Don’t forget your ammunition.’

    ***

    The ten-o-clock Glasgow to London slid to a stop at Carstairs junction. Holmes and Major Wilson alighted from a first class carriage and were engulfed in a cloud of hissing steam from the Royal Scot locomotive.

    Wilson checked his pocket watch. ‘Good grief only an hour and forty minutes.’ He looked around and saw that Holmes had already dashed off and was ascending the iron staircase leading to the exit.

    ‘Ridiculous weather.’ He shouted but didn’t get Holmes’ attention. Alone on the platform, he tightened the collar of his Marlowe coat against the flutter of sleet and picked up both suitcases. ‘Uncivilised, not a single porter.’ He grunted.

    Holmes kept rubbing at his temples as he was joggled around in the carriage, its wheels bounced in and out of the potholes along the rough track. The juddering rattled through his bones and the damn headache pulsated with ever shudder. Wilson offered him a small spirit flask, which he refused.

    ‘Ah Wilson, I wouldn’t want a foul breath when I meet Lady May. Now would you?’

    ‘I’d rather have a sweet breath than a constant shiver.’ Wilson took a swig. He lifted the cover on the side of the Clarence carriage and shouted up to the driver. ‘Is it much further?’

    The driver ignored his shout and turned the horse team off the main Lanark road onto a lane lined with rows of beech trees. The sleet had drifted with the clouds and the low winter sun glared from a clear sky. The carriage slowed as the horses snorted to pull it through a mudded corner and up a gentle slope to the front of Bonnington house.

    A doorman wearing a purple waistcoat took their luggage and directed them into the front room. Lady May stood by the tall windows looking out over the woods that stretched down the valley. She turned and smiled.

    ‘Mr Holmes I knew you’d come.’ She raised her hand towards him. ‘It’s such a tragic shame that those people blame me you know. Not a word about my charity, not a word.’

    Holmes took her hand. ‘My dear lady I am delighted to meet you.’

    Wilson stepped forward. ‘Dr. Major Retired Wilson, at your service.’

    She ignored his outstretched hand. ‘Major will you pour our tea, lemon for me.’ She went and sat by the fire.

    Holmes took a place on the settee opposite and resisted the urge to rub his temples.

    ‘Mrs McKay was most vicious towards me, such disrespect. As if. As ifI didn’t understand her loss.’ She took the cup and saucer from the Major. ‘There was a fire at one of the Mills you know and out of my own goodness I gave those girls a chance. You know, a chance to better themselves.’

    Holmes took the cup offered by the Major. ‘My Lady, tell me why it’s murder.’

    ‘You read my letter.’ She looked at Wilson. ‘Major pass that newspaper to Holmes, it’s over there.’

    ‘Where?’

    ‘The Hamilton Advertiser, over there on the sideboard.’

    Lady May slipped a small scrap of paper into Holmes’ hand. ‘Be careful with this.’

    He read the note, “Te nicht at wallaces leep.” He pushed it into his waistcoat pocket.

    Wilson came back with the newspaper. ‘My goodness it’s front page news.’

    ‘Major, please read the article out loud.’ Holmes smiled at Lady May and nodded. ‘It helps to digest the facts while I contemplate the details.’

    “The Sheriff Court in Lanark has concluded the inquest on the case of Miss Morag McKay of New Lanark. A verdict of accidental death has been recorded in the court of justice proceedings to the fact that Miss Morag McKay whilst walking home along the path above the Clyde Crags from her place of employment in Lady May’s Pavilion did without doubt in the dark trip and fall into the river. Miss Morag McKay sustained severe head injuries from the fall and in an unconscious state her lungs filled with water causing death by drowning. The determination was conducted by the medical investigation by Dr Iain Williamson of the Royal Infirmary.  The predication that Miss Morag McKay was the culprit in the theft of items of jewellery from Lady May of Bonnington House was not proven.”

    ‘I made it quite clear, Holmes, I would never employ a thief.’ Lady May said. ‘Disgraceful to think such a thing.’ She stood up. ‘Neither would I direct such a terrible revenge you know.’ She pulled the cord by the mantle piece. ‘Now, I’m expected at the Lanimers’ committee meeting in the town hall and must leave you’

    Both Holmes and the Major stood.

    ‘Where is that girl?’ She tugged at the cord. ‘I’ll arrange lunch in the pavilion. You’ll have a wonderful view of the falls from there.’

    A young girl in a black skirt, white pinny and scullery bonnet entered the room and curtsied.

    ‘There you are Shona. These gentlemen are to have lunch in the pavilion.’

    The girl nodded and left.

    ‘Well Holmes.’ Lady May said. ‘Dinner is at seven, that should give you enough time to snoop around.’ She went to the door and looked back. ‘Major we are decent folk in Lanark, you are to dress for dinner.’ She left leaving the door open.

    ‘She’s irritating me Holmes.’ Wilson went to the window.

    ‘Perhaps it’s your sweet breath that’s offensive.’ Holmes joined him at the window. ‘What glorious countryside, don’t you think?’

    A moment later the doorman entered. ‘Gentlemen I am to direct you to the pavilion. Here are your coats.’

    Three hundred yards from the house the pavilion stood on the crags with a view of the Corra Linn falls to the left. On top of the opposite cliff face above the falls stood the remains of a castle. A series of mirrors on the pavilion ceiling gave the illusion of being immersed within the river by looking up into the falling water. Holmes smiled, a folly of ridiculous indulgence indeed.

    Shona was already prepared for them. ‘Tea Sirs’. She poured without waiting for a reply.

    Major Wilson helped himself to a slice of rough bread, cold sliced lamb and cheese.

    ‘You were Morag’s friend?’ Holmes nodded towards her.

    ‘Like sisters, Sir.’ She passed him the tea in a delicate china cup.

    ‘Is this the way you’d both go home to New Lanark.’ He pointed to the path that lead away from the falls.

    ‘From here it’s a shortcut Sir.’

    ‘Where would Morag have fallen?’

    ‘Nowhere along the path Sir, it’s not too near the water.’ She offered him some bread and cheese. ‘I mean. I don’t know Sir. It was getting dark. She wanted home early and I said I’d finish up.’

    ‘No wonder.’ Wilson gasped. He stood in front of a small mirror. ‘I forgot to shave this morning.’ He took the tea offered by Shona.

    ‘Yes Wilson and what a sight for Lady May.’ Holmes chuckled. ‘Now Shona, did you see anyone on the path on your way home that night?’

    ‘I was too scared Sir. I went by the road.’

    ‘Scared you’d trip and fall?’

    ‘No Sir, the ghost.’

    ‘No such thing.’ Wilson helped himself to some strawberries.

    ‘It was sir, sitting in the moonlight. It was William Wallace Sir, we all know he mourns by the river for his murdered wife.’

    ‘It was just a shadow, a trick of the mirrors.’ Wilson chuckled. ‘Your imagination my girl.’

    ‘It wasn’t that that scared me sir. It was the angel flying above the falls. I really wet myself. Sorry sir, I didn’t mean to say that.’ Shona lowered her head. ‘My mither said it was just a hobgoblin owl.’

    ‘Yes probably.’ Holmes nodded. ‘Come Shona can you point out where William Wallace was?’

    ‘Dear me Holmes you don’t believe such nonsense.’ Wilson picked up a small jug and poured the thick cream into his bowl. ‘This is splendid, where do you get strawberries at this time of year?’

    ‘Lady May gets them from abroad sir. My mither says it’s a sin.’

    ‘Thank you Shona.’ Holmes smiled. ‘When you’re quite finished Wilson we’ll investigate the path to New Lanark.’

    Holmes and Major Wilson walked down the path that followed the river to a weir, there the water passed into a tunnel through the jutting embankment. They walked further to pass under the archway in the boundary wall where they stopped and stood looking down on the village of New Lanark. The water flowed out from underneath the hillside and was directed into channels towards the wheels of the mills. There were muffled noises that came from the sandstone buildings, sounds of machinery clattering. Teams of Shire horses with their tails flaying about stood shackled to carts, they snorted and shook their heads to ward off the flies. Bales of cotton and wool were being hoisted into the mills with shouts of “all clear” and the sound of rattling chains that were pulled by men with their sleeves rolled up.

    ‘Well, even in the dark I don’t see how you could fall in the river.’ Major Wilson said. ‘She must have been chased, by one of those rouges down there no doubt.’

    ‘Well observed Wilson, she couldn’t have fallen even on a moonlit night.’ Holmes rubbed his temples. ‘Do you have any particular rogue in mind?’

    They saw a group of women come out of the village post office.

    ‘Come on Wilson keep up.’ Holmes strode down the cobbled street towards them.

    A woman with a black shawl turned and shouted. ‘Nae tourists here, away to hell.’

    ‘I’m looking for Mrs McKay.’ Holmes docked his hat. ‘I’m investigating her daughter’s misfortune.’

    ‘Misfortune my arse, them gentry murdered the poor wee lass.’ She pulled her scarf across her face. ‘Are you sheriff’s men?’

    ‘Where would I find Mrs McKay?’

    ‘Away to hell.’ The woman turned her back and walked away.

    ‘Now look here you foul mouth hag.’ Major Wilson shook his stick. ‘I’ll bash some manners into you. If you don’t mind your tongue.’

    ‘Ah Wilson, let her be.’ Holmes said.

    ‘She’s at the grave, mister.’ A boy in a cotton jacket shouted from the post office doorway.

    ‘Surely not, what a double tragedy.’ Wilson took off his cap.

    ‘She’s took some flowers to the grave.’ The boy laughed. He pointed the way up the hillside.

    The footpath started with granite steps and then changed to a gravel track through a small gully that led to a depression at the top. Major Wilson was wheezing as he struggled to keep pace with Holmes.

    A hooded woman in a dark coat was kneeling by a new gravestone where there were fresh flowers piled upon the earth mound.

    ‘Give her a moment.’ Holmes stretched out his arm to stop Major Wilson from walking forward. They took off their hats. The woman stood and came towards them.

    ‘Our condolences Mrs McKay.’

    ‘Aye.’ She walked past them towards the village path.

    ‘Mrs McKay may I talk with you.’ Holmes called to her. ‘Just a moment of your time.’

    She turned. ‘Who are you?’

    ‘My Name is Russell Holmes, I’m a private investigator.’

    ‘Not a sheriff’s man then?’

    ‘May we walk back with you, then you can tell us about your daughter.’

    Mrs McKay was shocked when Morag announce she was going to the Americas with Angus. She was surprised indeed because she hadn’t met this man, a gardener for the gentry at the big house in Bonnington.  Morag had said they were going to meet and stay with her Uncle Hamish in Pennsylvania. Poor Hamish, he fell overboard and drowned when the boat crashed on the rocks by Benbecula and he never got to the Atlantic, never mind the Americas.

    ‘That was ten years ago Mr Holmes, Morag was only a wee bairn just turned three.’

    The McKay’s were chased off their crofts by the highland gentry and told to seek a new life elsewhere. So it was a new start in the Americas for them all until the weather hit their ship. Despite the damage they made it to Glasgow for repairs that would take months. The passengers were offered jobs in the New Lanark mills and they were so grateful really as everybody was terrified of the sea.

    ‘I lied to the wee lass that Uncle Hamish was safe in the Americas. I shouldn’t have, but she was so wee.’ Mrs McKay stopped at the top of the steps. ‘She was a wee cherish with a wild imagination that one, Mr Holmes.’ She pulled her hood down. ‘It’s the fault of education and all that reading filling her head with adventure and treasure islands.’

    ‘What about Angus what do you….’

    ‘He can go to hell.’ She spat into the air. ‘That boy wouldn’t show his face at the church.’ She stared at Major Wilson. ‘What kind a person does that, Mister?’

    ‘Major if you don’t mind.’

    ‘Well mister Major, you can all go to hell.’ She stomped off down the steps leaving Holmes and Wilson standing.

    ‘Wilson we’ll have a look at the grave.’ Holmes turned back up the path.

    “Taken by the Lord our beloved daughter Morag Anne McKay aged 13 years.”

    Holmes picked a scrappy note attached to some withered snowdrops with a familiar scrawl. “Te ma sweet lass so sory angus”. Young love is full of regrets or could it be a guilty admission?

    ‘Let’s go back Wilson. You’ll need to smarten up before dinner.’

    After dinner they sat by the fire drinking Assam tea.

    ‘It has a fine smooth taste, don’t you think Major Wilson?’ Lady May dabbed her lips with a silk napkin. ‘I offer all my guests this flavour of India.’

    ‘I’ll add a little more sugar if you don’t mind.’ Wilson helped himself.

    Holmes placed his cup on a side table and rubbed his temples. ‘Lady May how much do you know about Angus, one of your gardeners?’

    ‘Mr Charlie McCabe’s boy, o yes.’ She reached for a chocolate truffle. ‘He works on the estate. Mostly in the walled garden at this time, you know preparing the ground.’ She offered the plate of truffles to Major Wilson. ‘But Angus his son, you know I’ve no idea.’

    ‘No thank you.’ Wilson added another sugar lump to his tea.

    ‘Tomorrow I want to have a look around Wallace’s Leap. Do you know the exact spot.’

    ‘O yes Holmes, it’s on one of my tourist walks.’ She picked up another truffle. ‘Tomorrow then after breakfast.’

    The path led down to a bend in the river where the water was trapped by rocks against the cliff. Above sat the castle ruins. Wallace’s leap was over the small fall where the water escaped from the pool.

    ‘You know you can only leap across in the summer.’ Lady May stood with her hands on her hips. ‘If you trip the water will drag you into the gorge and over the falls. Can you swim Holmes?’

    ‘Of course, Lady May.’ Holmes crouched to pick up a carved horn button and a woollen scarf half covered in gravel. He held it up.

    ‘O that poor girl.’ Lady May gasped.

    Major Wilson sat on a large boulder with his face turned up towards the winter sun.

    ‘Wilson.’ Holmes shouted. ‘Can you get over here and help search, look along the path.’

    Using his stick, Wilson went poking around the vegetation. ‘Over here.’ He shouted. Then went into a bramble patch thrashing away with excited vigour. He held up the jewellery box.

    ‘I think we need to speak to Mr McCabe, don’t you Holmes.’

    Lady May nodded. ‘He lives in the cottage at the Tulliford, its not far.’

    ‘Another one of your walks, Lady May?’ Holmes followed her up the path.

    The cottage was set back from the river ford. The stagecoach from London once used the shallow crossing until the bridge at Hyndford was built. Then came the railways. The ford remained a convenient shortcut to drive cattle and sheep into the Lanark market. Mrs McCabe at Tulliford cottage sold soup with bread to the drovers.

    ‘Mrs McCabe, it is said had been swept away by a sudden flood.’ Lady May pointed to the peaceful river. ‘More likely swept away by one of the drovers from Douglas. A romantic rumour I tell my visitors.’

    Mr McCabe was sitting by the cottage door watching them come up the path between the freshly dug ground of his garden. ‘Lady May!’ He stood up and brushed his hands down his jacket.

    ‘Hello Charlie.’ Lady May smiled. ‘These gentlemen would like to speak with Angus.’

    ‘Are you sheriff’s men?’ Charlie McCabe stared at Major Wilson.

    ‘Mr Holmes at your service.’ Holmes docked his hat. ‘Is your son at home Mr McCabe?’

    ‘What do you want with him?’

    ‘He was planning a trip to America with Miss Morag McKay and …’

    ‘To America, now that’s fanciful.’ He gave a wide grin that changed to a stern glance at Wilson, then a solemn nod.  ‘I was sorry to hear about the wee lass and such a bonny creature.’

    Holmes persisted. ‘Your son, Mr McCabe is he …?’

    ‘He’s no at hame.’

    Angus came out of the cottage front door. ‘Whit’s going on dad?’ He stared at the jewellery box that Wilson held then looked up. ‘Ah Lady May, I didn’t see you there.’ He took off his cap.

    ‘You’ve seen the box before?’ Holmes pointed at it.

    ‘No. Why should I?’

    Wilson grabbed at Angus’ arms and pulled on the jacket sleeves, only one had a button the other was missing. Holmes matched the button he had found.

    ‘Now Angus tells us about Morag.’

    ‘I don’t ken her, why should I?’

    ‘But you have spoke with her at Bonnington house, perhaps in the gardens.’

    ‘Oh her, well maybe once.’

    ‘Did you leave this note on her grave?’ Holmes showed him the scrap of paper. ‘Is this your scribble?’

    Angus shook his head. ‘Aye well, she was a lively dreamer. I felt sorry for her.’

    ‘And you met her at Wallace’s leap, did you Angus?’ He held up another scrap of paper for him to read. ‘It’s your scribble is it not?’

    ‘Did she tell you that, why should I.’

    ‘Angus when were you both planning to go to America?’

    ‘No dad.’ He turned to his father. ‘I never said I was going to America, it was Morag she … why should I?’

    Mr McCabe took off his bonnet and started to smack his son over his head. ‘You stupid wee bugger.’

    ‘I’ll have him whipped.’ Lady May shouted and stomped off.

    Angus landed a solid punch in his father’s face and then sprinted off towards the ford, Wilson and Holmes dashed after him.  Wilson slipped on the mud and fell onto his back. Winded he reached into his coat, pulled out the revolver and shot into the air.  Holmes had already caught Angus mid-river and held his head under the shallow water to knock the fight out of him.

    ***

    Holmes gave up reading about African artefacts and dropped the book onto the side table. He sat back in his chair by the fire and rubbed his temples. Damn this persistent headache.

    ‘It’s here.’ Wilson called from the bay window. He folded the page of Herald in half. ‘Listen to this.’

    “The mill employees from New Lanark threatened to withdraw their labour unless there was justice, that McCabe be hanged. The cause of their unrest was the verdict of not guilty for murder reached on the scoundrel Angus George McCabe of Tulliford Cottage. He was found guilty of the enticement of Miss McKay to steal. The judge pronounced a life sentence and transportation to the Colonies, namely Port Jackson in Australia. A foreman for the mill workers expressed his anger and said it was an injustice since the statement from the gentry of Bonnington House had influenced the judge.  Lady May appeared as a witness and declared that under no circumstances would she employ a thief or a murderer.”

    ‘Ah Wilson, perhaps the reputation of a Lady is above the law.’ Holmes warmed his hands and rubbed his temple. The damn headache felt better.

    End.

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  • Diane Dickson Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    I think that’s a great reaction to this, I have to admit that (not counting the novels which are a whole ‘nother story (ooops)) I don’t really like to re-write and we can all take something away from these more in depth considerations and hopefully it helps us to improve continually.  I think that this thread can be of more use to the commenters than it is to the writer is many ways as it leads one to think about things so much more deeply and I don’t think it’s possible to do that with your own work very easily.  Thanks again for submitting to the examination table.  I’m sure there’ll be more comments as we go along. - Diane

  • James McEwan Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    Diane, Adam,  It is always interesting to get as many different ideas and views on a short story.  I have been criticised in some of my writing as being too linear with my events and holding back too much information.  Here I gave the reader the answer, who was the murderer? But now considering the two main ideas, the lack of tension or pleasure and the weak character of Angus.  I realise now if the death was really an accident and poor Angus was going to hang for a murder he did not commit this would have added more concern and tension for the reader debating an injustice. But then this passes the blame onto poor Morag! Basically more fleshing out of the characters is need here and a little less of the author leading the reader on a tourist walk along the Clyde.

    I know writing is not so easy and I won’t rewrite but instead use the experience and lessons for my next Holmes/Wilson adventure, that is if you can stand another!

    Regards,  James.

  • Adam West Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    A couple of follow points, James, that should help muddy the water even further - where the Dickens is Holmes when you need a mess clearing up eh?

    I enjoyed the historical aspects of the writing and see these as seperate from the unecessary detail as mentioned previously. Thanks for the info on the Marlowe coat I looked it up and couldn’t find anything and so was surprised that you would have used a reference out of time and ended up non-plussed. Thanks for clearing that up.

    I disagree with Diane about knowing who the murderer was and removing the mystery element. For it to be a true mystery there would have to be several suspects which is all but impossible to do justice to in 4000 words. I do agree though about Angus. If the reader had learnt something of his nature that would have better served the act of murder.

  • Diane Dickson Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    James, I have read Adam’s comments and your response and I thought I’d bob in here and say that knowing from very early on who the murderer was rather took some of the pleasure out of the read.  I realise that to do it another way would mean a complete re-write but that is what I was thinking when I made the comment about the angel and the ghost.  I liked that bit and if there were still mystery that could be beautifully woven into the story about the missing girl, the missing jewellery and so on.  I am afraid that the old construction where the reveal comes at or very near the end does work very well and as this is set historically I would have followed the tried and tested route. just personal opinion of course.

  • James McEwan Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    Hi Adam, I understand the point about superfluous detail as the sentences would work equally well if not better should the the historical padding be omitted.  e.g just say coat.  The Marlowe coat was fashionable as well as being very practical during the Victorian period as it is for some today. (Steam Punk sub genre).

    I am not sure if these historical crime pieces fit the short story genre as in this case I admit I went overboard with locations and loaded in a lot of historical information, e/ g. New Lanark and the highlander weavers being employed.

    (Incidently Bonnington house was badly damage by fire in the 1919/20s,women from New Lanark were suspected for the cause the house no longer exists.)

    You were right the author has teded to impinge on the story with local and perhaps irrelevant information, now you see why it is over 4000 words. (sorry).

    I wrote the beginning with no idea how this would end.  Therefore Angus’s reason to kill Morag had yet to be developed. His motive was to take advantage of Morag’s naivity, he did not want to go to America and tricked her into stealing the jewellery to pay for their passage. Clearly Morag was going to make trouble if he didn’t keep his side of the bargain.  If only Lady May hadn’t found that note.

    Perhaps if I developed the Angus character to show a sinister side of him.  Although at his meeting with Morag he was rather cold, the plot would have held more strength.

    In writing this I wanted to feel like Holmes who did not know what the outcome would be. In contrast you the reader knew all along, now let me ask you; was having this knowledge a bonus or a frustration or were you hooked just to see justice done?

    I can see why you didn’t enjoy this as much as the other Holmes/Wilson stories, it did not come across as Holmes ’ experience.  I would say he was rather faceless and stood back a look more.

    Adam, thank you for taking the time to be critica, your view it is most appreciated.

    Best of luck in getting your article published,  regards James.

  • Adam West Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    Hi James - I haven’t read Diane’s critique. Here is mine.

    I did not enjoy this much as your original Holmes/Wilson, but I did enjoy it. I have number of points/observations t make which I hope are useful. Some of these observations I imagine are peculiar to my viewpoint. Other points are general enough to be held by a wider group.

    My overall impression was that the story fell between two stools. It wasn’t a send-up and yet there were elements of humour that crept in that didn’t work that well for me or worked to a point but as a result temporarily shifted my idea of the nature of the story, long enough for it to be offputting. However, by the conclusion I had settled to the nature/syle of the writing and as a result enjoyed it more.

    There were a number of examples of superfluous detail that felt like the author displaying knowledge and as a result jarred. Examples were:

    Russell looked at the envelope with its lilac 4d Postage and Revenue stamp.

    ...Marlowe coat*

    ...Clarence carriage

    I am not much of an advocate for similes. If they are fresh and fit well enough into the context then they add to the pleasure of reading but more often than not similes are cliched and stick out as such. I think the two you used were brave as they were quite original, neverthless they felt like an imposition.

    I thought the plot worked well overall but there were elements that felt thin. The girl’s murder - on which the whole story rested - seemed incongruous. Cold blooded murder of such a kind in those circumstances came as a shock to the reader and yet on reflection felt unecessary/unlikely. Why kill her? Why not just profit from the scheme as the girl could hardly incriminate herself just to get back at her lover?

    The historical references were the glue that held this together. Made it solid enough to read and not think too much about whether it was credible and these details (gentry/mills/crofters etc.) were the most enjoyable element.

    *Marlowe coat - if this was indeed a reference to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe (which is what came to mind) then it was almost a century out of date, as this story had to be set before 1868 or thereabouts when transportation to the colonies ended and Marlowe did not of course appear in fiction until 1939.

    There was a lot to like about the narrative - the construction as a whole (order of events/scene changes and so on) - and the dialogue in particular which clearly delineated each major character, however, I feel this story is not by any stretch the best example of your work - The Orphanage immediately springs to mind as one of - if not the best - stories you have published on Shortbread.

    Now that you and Diane have submitted to the CC it reminds me that long with myself and Steven Lewis we were the original group that kicked this all off in the forum when we began by suggesting a short story by a favourite published author before we went on to suggesting one of our own. I have recently submitted a story to a new quarterly print magazine and when it gets rejected I might just be brave enough to inflict it upon the CC and your good self for dissection.

    ATVB - Adam

  • James McEwan Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    Diane, Thank you for taking the time,which is most appreciated.  I was going to wait until some more critical reviews were posted before I replied but thought it best to answer while the iron is still hot so to speak.

    What I wanted to try with this story was to give the reader a privileged position of knowing the truth, whereas the characters had to make sense of why, what and who towards this truth.

    Yes the point about too many factoids, something authors (in this case me) should ask themselves if these are relevant, and do they add to the main story? Being a short piece and stuffed in as you say I wonder if they began to overpower the main events. I suspect background information and historical facts are best slipped in without detracting the reader from their imaginary interpertation and flow of reading.

    Poor Morag, yes..I didn’t want her to drown in the pool, so yes she had to ‘regain’ consciouness (point taken) as she came over the small fall (Wallace’s Leap). I have made a classic mistake here where the author has a clear image in his mind but does not get that picture across. In reality there is a large pool above the falls where the water is still. From the pool the water passes down a small gorge like a shute, so yes poor Morag would have gone flying out.  Hence the clothes flapping and the idea of the angel.

    I didn’t want to make too much of this in the pavillion, Shona saw a ghost, Wilson dismisses this, Holmes is still thinking ..the reader knows the answer.  But it was fleeting and I can understand I missed the opportunity to create more atmosphere at this stage.

    Yes the ‘silver chain’ sentence on reflection is clumsy perhaps I should drop the dangle..

    Soliloquy. Yes I agonised over this image and I can see now it is not a clear construct.  I wanted an image of a lone figure lit up by the moon as if on stage, to provide the William Wallace ghost that Shona saw.  Also reflected by Wilson on the boulder later in the story.

    Dr Major Retired Wilson introduction; here I was trying to create an irritation between him and Lady May by over stating his own importance and then be put down.  Clearly I didn’t get this across.

    Typos.. I seem to have a word blindness with quite and quiet as well as you’re and your, these oddities creep into my writing time and time again..Well the answer on my part is deeper detailed editing to check my sentence constructs and these repetative typos.

    The last point about Lady May in the story is subtle. During that historical period the prisons were overcrowded, hangings for minor offences were common but becoming repugnant to the public at large. It was not unknown for charitable personage to interfere with justice and to deter a ‘good hanging’.

    My characters are Russell Holmes and Dr (Major) Wilson and I am not sure if this infringes on the Sherlock Holmes copyright.

    Diane, thank you once more for taking the time. Your comments are appropriate and appreciated. Regards James.

  • Diane Dickson Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    A Sherlockian mystery all nicely tied up and sorted.

    I have a few thoughts.  First of all I would say that I think you have tried to get too many interesting factoids in for a piece of this length.  Although it is very helpful to mention things which fix the story in time I think that in a relatively short piece there is a limit to how many historical references can be included and this seem rather stuffed with them at times.

    I think that it may have been worthwhile making much more of the pensive ghost and flying angel aspect of this as I think it was one of the really good parts and it would have added a great deal of atmosphere, rather than simply having the serving girl mention it almost in passing.

    I did wonder about the term “gaining consciousness” I would have thought that “regaining” would have been more correct in this case.  I wasn’t convinced that the unconscious body would have floated in the way that you mentioned, it seemed almost “Ophelia” like and yet there was a strong current which carried the girl away I would have imagined that she would be swept and whirled rather than floated.  Also when she went over the falls I don’t know whether she would be thrown into the air but rather thrust forward to tumble through the air.

    When you have described the necklace it “dangled and glinted” and it sounds as though the dangling is related to the play of light which of course it isn’t and so maybe a rewording of that would work better – perhaps “glinted in the light as it dangled on the end of the fine chain.”

    You have used the term soliloquy to describe the varlet and I rather think that a soliloquy is actually a speech so this simile didn’t quite work for me.

    The characters of Holmes and Watson were quite well drawn I thought though I did wonder if the Doctor would have introduced himself in the way that you describe when he met Lady May.

    On their arrival in Scotland you had the sleet drifting with the clouds and then immediately refer to a clear sky, this was too much of a contradiction and I wonder if simply changing the word clear to clearing would be a good move here.

    The actual story worked well and in the end the justice meted was satisfying I thought and I particularly liked the way Lady May was so very concerned that no-one should think that she would have employed a thief.  The street scene and the graveyard were vivid and convincing I thought.

    There were a few typos:  Not you’re cup of tea –(your).  In the quite (quiet) were two which have stuck in my mind, oh yes and at the beginning undone should have been undid I think.

    Apart from all that pickiness I thought this story was well constructed and true to the type and if you hadn’t put it in the Collective probably my comments would have been much kinder.  I applaud your bravery it takes a tough hide and a strong nerve to show up on here – well done.  I hope that some of my comments are of help.  - Diane  

  • Diane Dickson Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    Looking forward to this one.