Monday, January 28, 2013

Talkin' Heads #49

TITLE: Big Cat Country
GENRE: Mystery

A week after discovering the body of a co-worker at the big cat sanctuary where she volunteers, Madeline answers a knock at her door.

“I’m Artie Tremble, North State Insurance,” he said, handing me a card and grinning like a giddy possum.

“I have insurance,” I said, returning the card.

“I’m not selling, I’m investigating Wyatt Drinkwater’s death. We have to tie up loose ends before paying his life insurance benefit—may I come in?”

I poured lemonade as Artie settled into the sofa, still grinning. “This is exciting, my first claims investigation,” he said. “I’ve been stuck in a cubicle for months, doing database searches and ordering death certificates.” He opened a binder. “Now, did the body have any unusual marks? Scars or tattoos?”

“His throat was torn open, if that counts,” I said.

“Sure does. Attacked by an escaped tiger? Bingo, accidental death.”

“That cat didn’t escape. The pen’s fence was cut. We can’t figure out what Wyatt was doing, whether he was drunk, or trying to steal …”

Artie’s glass stopped half-way to his mouth. “Steal? As in, theft?”

“No. I mean, I don’t think so. Shouldn’t you talk to the police? I’m just throwing out wild ideas.”

Artie started writing that particular wild idea in his notebook.

“Does it matter? Wyatt’s still dead.”

“Accidental death pays double. Dying while committing a crime? Pays nothing. It’s the difference between a million bucks and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” He stopped writing and looked up. “Um, the million dollars? That’s theoretical, of course. Not saying it’s what his policy is worth.”


  1. I like the dialogue here, it sounds natural, and totally paints Artie as awkward. Also, I love love love the phrase "grinning like a giddy possum."

    Good job.

  2. I like this, but don't quite love it - because it's rushed. This is a delightful game of tiger and mouse, so have more fun with it, much more fun. I want to see both of the sweat, and get a sense of who's enjoying the game, who's ahead on points at each moment, etc. Especially since this is first-person - what's Madeline feeling, thinking, saying, smelling? "That cat didn't escape." Why does she say that? Is she worried she's blundered into a trap? Is she totally pissed off that everyone is assuming she was at fault? Let us in on her inner life, and on what she sees as she tries to figure out the claims investigator.

  3. I like the suggestion to have more fun with it, especially if you have a playful tone elsewhere in the story.

    My only other suggestion is you have a good start at removing a dialogue tag:

    “I have insurance,” I said, returning the card.

    You could say instead. I returned the card. (sans tag).

  4. I like this. Though my opinion is kind of biased. I'm working on a Animal Sanctuary Mystery series. Best of luck w/ this. Hope to read more.

  5. Echoing Brent here--like, but too rushed to be a "love." It actually sounds like you edited it down to meet the word count.

    The conversation is very natural. Artie's demeanor definitely paints him as over-eager, awkward and a little annoying; the grin bugged me for some reason. I think you were going for showing his excitement, but it seemed a little over the top to me. However, that has nothing to do with dialogue. You communicated a ton of information in a very compact form, so the only thing that is missing, also as Brent said, is the internal monologue. We don't really have a sense of who Madeline is and what she has to do with the sanctuary.

  6. It flowed for the most part and sounded natural. The tone kept my interest and revealed some of the character's personality. I thought in a couple places there was too much in the tag - like at the very beginning when he is grinning like a possum and handiong over his card. Other than that, it works for me. The small touched of humor also worked.

  7. I quite enjoyed this. Your insurance salesman is a hoot and I would love to see more of him. And your dialogue is great. But I have to agree with others that I need more of their feelings and inner struggles to shine here. I hope you did cut them out for this posting.

  8. I like Artie's dialog, but I thought Madeline should become increasingly offended at his insensitive manner. Perhaps there's more going on in the context outside this passage, but I could not believer her lack of reaction.

  9. coming in late i have to agree with the rushed part. Also i felt the insurance guy gave a lot of extra information and if it was trying to be indicative of his personality you might want to give us some insight into what the other character thinks of his babble.

  10. Author here.
    Many thanks for the thoughtful and helpful comments!