Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Name That Genre: Critique Round #8

GENRE: Mystery/Thriller

Foley stared at the name painted on the shop window: Manley and Munion Lock and Key. God, how she wished she could scrape off Allison Manley's name. But the way business was going, the point could be moot by the end of the month. Allison had made a mess of Foley's life, but her death still brought in some lookie-loos who turned into customers.

Inside, the small lobby felt colder than the parking lot. Foley shivered and nudged up the thermostat. Metal shavings from the key grinder dotted the floor. Sweeping the place could wait. She lifted the walk-through section of the counter and entered the workshop.

Something felt wrong.

Her work area looked fine, the bins of wire and alarm system components sat undisturbed. Nothing was out of place. She hurried to the safe, crouched and spun the dial. The lock clicked. She yanked the handle and pawed through the contents. Most important, her cash still lay bundled inside. Foley settled back on her heels, staring into the dark interior.

Money untouched. Schematics secure. She leaned forward to sniff the locking mechanism. No tell-tale odor of oil or graphite. So why the heebie-jeebies? Foley stood and took a slow turn. Everything looked normal. But something was off. What? She closed her eyes and breathed deep.

Oh no. That smell. Soft, but with a slight edge. Partagas. Her dad's favorite cigar. He smoked other brands, but when flush, Partagas -- at forty bucks a pop -- was what he bought, smoked and stored in his humidor. Whey did she smell it now? Her eyes opened and her heart started racing.

No, no, no.

He stepped out of the storeroom, unlit cigar in hand. "Thought you might be that kid who works for you."

"Dad." Foley's hand flew to her chest while she did parole math.


  1. I love this entry. If I read this sample online I would buy the book. You have a typo towards the end Whey. My only other problem with it is her smelling the cigar but it is unlit.

  2. I'm a sucker for mysteries that start this way. Really --- 300 words and you've got Alison dead, a business on the line, money in a safe, and a 'paroled' dad sneaking around. I can imagine that - were i the clever author here - I would have carefully pared my w/c to end at precisely this point!

  3. This is good. Really good. I'm in. Rick is right about the whey and they unlit cigar. A lit cigar gives an excellent opportunity for an ember showing in the dark or a bit of smoke as well as give a reason for the smell. But beyond that, I think you are there. Very nice.

  4. I really like this. It pulled me in.

    The cigar thing was ok 'cause unlit cigars do smell and someone who grew up with them would be able to identify it quickly. The dad probably reek of smoke too. To help people out the author could mention that.

    This line confused me "Thought you might be that kid who works for you." It's the you work for you thing.

    When her hand flies to her chest I don't get a sense of if she is excited or stressed, and if she's counting I think of fingers moving.

  5. I enjoyed reading this and I liked the sensory elements that made the picture more vivid. However, I am not sure the questions work here. I would have liked to know what is in the safe. What is so important that she has to check it? Was she only checking the cash? How much? Which currency?
    I would read more. Good luck.

  6. Great opening. You give us a lot of information without it being and info dump. I think you don't need the question about why should she smell it now. Just have her heart start racing. We know it's stressful and out of place. Overall though, good stuff.

  7. This is really good. Good setting, good atmosphere, good tension, and just the right amount of information without it being dumpy or confusing. I have nothing to critique and would keep reading.

  8. The cigar needs to be lit for her to smell it. The last line seems awkward but overall, it is a good opening. Good luck!

  9. Wow, freaky ending. I've been reading about adding atmosphere to shore up your desired emotional content, and I like how you have it being cold, which adds to the uneasy, uncomfortable feeling before we even know anything's wrong.

    'parole math' - love it. I'd read this too, or at least a little farther, and I'm pretty picky about what kind of thrillers I get.


  10. (Bah, this thing ate my first comment!)

    I really like this. There's lots of tension and it's really cleanly written.

    I'm not that familiar with "when flush" meaning "when he has money," so it took me a minute to sort out that sentence. I read it as the Partagas was flush. That might just be entirely me, though.

    I'd ditch everything from "Why did she smell it now?" through "No, no, no." I knew her dad was there the second she said he smoked that brand of cigar, so her questioning it seemed overly dense.

    I love "parole math."

  11. I like this. Very nice start. I agree with most above comments. I would want to keep reading.

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  13. I absolutely love this! I understood the "flush" remark and thought it added great noir. I also get the comments above and hope you wrestle through them according to your story and voice (that is, lit v. unlit cigar, etc.).

    Do you want a crit partner??

    1. The short answer: Yes, I do want a cp!

      The long answer: Though I'm in a great writers group (they are all insightful readers), we're down to four members and only two of us are still writing regularly. We've become kind of far-flung over time and now only get together every 6-8 weeks. While that gives me lots of time to prep pages, it's not so great for momentum. What genre do you write? Feel free to email me at -- and thanks so much for the feedback.

  14. I thought this worked very well. It's a nice set up. My comments are all on the little things.

    Once she's introduced as Foley, refer to her as 'she' or 'her.' You don't need Foley anywhere else and the constant use of the name is a bit much, considering she's the only person there. You could also say why she's there. Another day at work, or is the office closed and she went back for something?

    The inside is colder than the outside. Perhaps give us a hint at the time of year here. Maybe she brushes some snow off the knob if it's winter (which will also hint a bit at location.) Or she should have brought a sweater if we have summer turning into fall, that type of thing.

    Instead of saying something felt wrong, tell us what she feels. Is she uneasy for some reason? Does she shiver?

    You could cut 'Money untouched. Schematics secured.' because you've just said that in the previous parg, and maybe say what the smell of oil or graphite would indicate.

    Loved the 'parole math.'

  15. I hope a couple days late is ok, but I wanted to give it a shot.

    ‘Foley stared at the name painted on the shop window’ Interesting way to introduce the fact that your main character is named ‘Foley Munion’ poor girl! I do like a unique name though. I’m not a fan of ‘stared’ though because it makes me think she’s spending a significant amount of time doing this, where I can imagine a shopkeeper merely glancing at the offending name. She already knows it’s there, so why spend much time staring?

    I like how you set up that the character is insecure, double checking everything, even before she smells the telltale odor. It makes me curious why.

    I’m not a fan of the ‘No, no, no.’ You’ve already set up that she’s on edge, that her father’s presence is a bad thing. To me it’s redundant, plus the super short paragraph draws my eye to it and tempts me to skim the long preceding paragraphs. I’m lazy.

    ‘Foley’s hand flew to her chest’ I’m not a fan of this action. It’s something that I’ve only seen people do in movies. Gives me the sense of an inexperienced actress. ‘while she did parole math’ is a perfect end to that sentence though! You do a great job setting up the backstory without being too obvious. I’m intrigued by it. It lives up to its ‘thriller’ genre immediately.

    I like your word choices, ‘humidor, lookie-loos’. The description of the interior of the shop is full of nice little details that bring the place into sharp focus. 'Metal shavings, wires, graphite and oil, cold lobby.'

    I like to end all my critiques by saying that I’m a nobody whose opinion is just one in six billion. This is just a ‘first impression’ of the story. If you find it useful, great, if not and you think I’m way off base, sorry to have wasted your time. Only you know the right way to take your own story. Sail onward!

  16. Thank you one and all for the feedback. I'm saving all the comments in order to give me time with them before I do any edits -- though I'm itching to get in there and make some adjustments. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and critique.