Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September Secret Agent #26

GENRE: Speculative Fiction

Inspector Kate Swanson knew the junior officer standing by the courtroom doors watching her. Flaherty was flushed with excitement. He looked so desperate to get her attention that for one horrendous second she thought he might shout over.

The accused sat to Swanson’s right on a separate table with his lawyer. Little more than a child, he had been arrested six months ago for petty theft after stealing a bottle of vodka from a supermarket - a dare from his fellow gang members. Dressed in a prison jumpsuit, his narrow eyes looked absent. Swanson listened to the familiar sound of the verdict followed by the equally familiar sentence.

There was only ever one sentence.

The boy barely reacted. She had seen the weary look of resignation countless times before. No doubt the hope had been ground out of him during his probationary incarceration in the holding zone.

‘Court dismissed,’ said the Judge.

Flaherty was by her side in seconds. In his ill-fitting uniform, he looked like a schoolboy playing dressing-up games. He smelt of nicotine and sweet aftershave. He pulled at he clip-on tie which dangled from his throat. ‘Ma’am,’ he said.

‘What is it?’ asked Swanson.

‘It’s Judge Lloyd, Ma’am. He's missing.’


  1. Okay, I was kind of on the fence until "There was only ever one sentence." Then you hooked me. I'm guessing from the genre there's some kind of dystopian thing going on here. I'd definitely be interested in reading more.

    I'm not sure if the first paragraph is the one you want to start with. If it's important to introduce Flaherty, maybe you could do it a few paragraphs later. I think starting with the bit about the accused might be a stronger opening. Good luck!

  2. I was interested until I got to the "There was only ever one sentence" part. Then I kept reading trying to figure out what the one sentence was. I couldn't get into it after that, trying to get a sense of what the setting was for an idea of what that one sentence might be. It sounds like modern day, but in modern day I can't imagine what the one sentence would be.

  3. I had difficulty with the opening because courtrooms have doors at the rear with the tables facing the judge. I couldn't picture the set-up that would allow Kate to see Flaherty. For me that was distracting. Was Flaherty perhaps standing in front of the door next to the bailiff?

    If Kate arrested the kid, it would be more interesting if you said so instead of saying the kid had been arrested. The way it's worded sounds almost like Kate is little more than a bystander. It would add a little tension to the scene and give her authority.

    I was also intrigued with line about there being only one sentence.

    There are a few typos here that you've probably already noticed.

  4. The character of Kate Swanson is nicely established just with a few observations she makes while the scene is unfolding. It is someone I wouldn't mind reading more about. I think you need to clean up some of the writing - like sat at a separate table not on a separate table. There are other random typos - but if you are setting it in a court then you have to be careful with procedure (unless this is a made up world in the future). An Inspector would not be sitting at the prosecution's table - only the DA or ADA would be there. So, there was no reason for her to be there. The term "probationary incarceration" is also problematic. He is incarcerated or on probation. I am not sure what probationary incarceration means. Maybe pre-trial incarceration since there was a verdict and not a plea. Anyway, the chracter is good but the details need to be very real in order to make it work.

  5. I'm not sure how I feel about this. There's nothing really wrong with it, some small things that don't sit right.

    For instance, we have no real indication of age. The accused could be six or sixteen. Six is a bit much to be in a jumpsuit, but you never know. It is Speculative Fiction.

    Also, there's nothing here that makes us care about your opening setup. It's literally set dressing because we get no names, hell we don't even get the sentence except in oblique terms. If there's not enough interest, I'd suggest cutting out everything from "The accused" to "holding zone." It still gives us an understanding that she was in the courtroom and uncomfortable with his impatience. AND it moves a lot faster.

  6. I'm thinking this isn't the place to start because we don't get anything from it. Why is Kate there? Does she know the accused? Is she the one who caught him? Is she a witness? We do learn that trials are predetermined, but we don't know in what way, although I would assume everyone who went to court was guilty.

    A few small things. They were sitting AT the table, rather than on it, and she can't listen to the sound of the verdict, because the verdict doesn't make any noise. Perhaps cut 'sound of the.'

  7. The line about there only ever being one sentence,is great and conveys a sense of cynicism about the justice system, but the rest of the opening feels very similar to other courtroom dramas and lacks tension.