Never

Wednesday. I am working only a half-day today, and then I am taking a short vacation. I don’t have to be back at the office until Tuesday of next week, so I am going to try to relax, get caught up on some things–without any pressure to do any of those things–and recalibrate my head, my heart and my soul.

And do something about how disgusting I’ve allowed my apartment to get in the meantime. I do think a thorough clean will help purge my soul; when my apartment isn’t clean and organized, it weighs on me.

I worked a little on the WIP and the Scotty yesterday, and primarily worked on another short story, “Never Kiss a Stranger.” One of the funny things about me, and my stubbornness, and my tendency to get caught up in tunnel vision, is my regular insistence that I am writing everything in the present day. Part of my struggle with “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the past was trying to make it work in the present; yesterday it occurred to me you can set this in the past, you know, and presto! By moving the story from 2018 to 1994, it clicked into place and started working. My main character is a gay man with twenty years in the military; at age thirty-eight, in those days before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” being gay was grounds for a dishonorable discharge; after the Gulf War he finds out he is on a ‘to-be-investigated’ list and so puts in his retirement papers. His parents dead and not having a relationship with anyone else in his family, he comes out into the general world and decides to move to New Orleans to start his life anew; it’s also his first opportunity as an adult to live openly as a gay man. As I revised what had already been written, the character’s voice clicked in my head and I was able to remember New Orleans in that time period; when I was visiting and falling in love with the city, as well as remembering what a different time period it was, even though it was only slightly more than twenty years ago. No cell phones or Internet, HIV/AIDS was still pretty much a death sentence (or rather, just a matter of time once infected), and New Orleans was riddled with crime everywhere and inexpensive to live; a beautiful old city decaying in her splendid, rotting beauty in the sun.

And it’s kind of fun writing about the past sometimes, being able to  use my own memories (and my journals) to remember things. And at the same time, incredibly freeing to finally realize something so obvious; that everything needn’t be in the present.

We finished watching both The Terror and Thirteen Reasons Why last night; The Terror, while unsettling, ended inevitably in the only way that it could; I am sorry to be finished with it, and will, when it’s free for streaming, probably watch it again to understand it better. It should be a leading contender for all the Emmys; the question only being which stellar member of the cast should take the trophy home. Thirteen Reasons Why’s second season was…interesting, yet incredibly disappointing in its third season. The resolution of some story lines, which had long since been played out, ended in unsatisfying ways that were, while bitter, realistic and honest and true to life. Rapists get away with slaps on the wrists far too often and our judiciary often lets female victims know that their lives really have no value and there is no justice for them. The final episode, with its bittersweet closure, worked in that respect while at the same time set the stage for a third season with horrifyingly depicted brutality, showing that the damage that was caused by the incidents that triggered the first two seasons have deeper and far more lasting consequences; when damage isn’t repaired and the systems that allowed that damage to occur aren’t corrected, far worse damage can occur. The close of the episode, I felt, was a bit of a cop-out; but I understand why they didn’t see that story through, and it did leave me curious to see where it can go next. There hasn’t been an announcement, as far as I know, that there will be a third season; I’d like to see it, if for no other reason than curiosity to see how these newly planted seeds will grow.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Alive and Kicking

Tuesday and a short work week! I am working half-a-day tomorrow, and taking off Thursday and Friday; which, coupled with Memorial Day, gives me a lovely mini-vacation which will enable to get some things done that I want to get done and rest and relax and write and…well, we’ll see how it goes, but I am heading into my mini-vac with seriously high hopes to get a lot accomplished.

And if I don’t? Well, at least I’ll be well-rested.

Watch this space for updates.

Seriously, though, we are continuing through Thirteen Reasons Why, with only two episodes left to go in this season, and while it continues to get better with every episode, I think there may have been a little too much conflict in the writer’s room when story-boarding this season. The show has yet to be picked up for a third season, but there are rumblings on line that Season 2 definitely left the door open for a third; possibly with major cliff-hanger endings to the various story-lines running through the show. It just gets frustrating when things are contrived for the plot, you know what I mean? But then, the original season was also contrived, since it was based on the notion that 1) she had access to cassette tapes 2) she was assuming everyone she wanted to listen to the tapes would have access to a cassette player and 3) she also assumed any one of the people wouldn’t just throw the tapes away. There was a bit of a blackmail threat, of course, but at the same time….I still think at least one of the kids would have destroyed the tapes, or at least not passed them on; especially one of the kids who didn’t really have as much to lose as the others.

But…the young cast is very appealing and compelling in their roles.

Also: we can watch the finale of The Terror tonight. Seriously, if you aren’t watching, it’s some of the best television I’ve seen in years.

And now, for a return to The Short Story Project, we have “The Good Cat” by Vicki Hendricks,  from Retreats from Oblivion: The Journal of Noircon:

I had no name till Dad took me home. Now I answer to Lickrish, Buddy, and Son–when I feel like it. I gave up chasing lizards, squirrels, and birds, and climbing trees, for Dad. None of it was as good as his fingers behind my ears, his soft belly-lap, and the tang of his silky armpit slung across out bedsheets where I curl. I am a good boy till I start trouble.

Dad is on the couch and I am in his lap, as we are supposed to be at night. He turns my head toward his snout. “Son,” he says, his fingers massaging the tingly spot above my tail, “You’re the only one Dad needs.” I stretch forward, head down, butt up. I hunker into a cuddly lump and purr, keeping my eyes cracked on a swaying palm frond outside the window. I’m lulled by the movement—happy—as Dad calls it. He rests his hand on my back and watches the picture-screen.

After a while he says, “Buddy, let’s take a drive to my Ami. Wanna?” It is a place with windows in the sky, a world of sand, and salty waves that try to drown you if you stop to dig a hole. I leap to his shoulder and tuck my forepaws into the dark stubble on his neck, scouring the side of his face with my tongue till he pulls me off. He does not understand what I am telling him, that we are happy on the couch. I do not want to go to his Ami, or anywhere, but I do not want to stay home all by myself.

Read the whole story here.

Vicki Hendricks should be one of the biggest names in crime fiction today, without question. I myself am just as guilty as all the rest of you; this is only my second experience reading some of her work, and I really need to remedy that failing. Her debut novel, Miami Purity, is one of the best noir novels of all time, period, no questions, no doubt. The entire time I read it–and if I recall correctly, I indulged in the entire thing one rainy afternoon in my easy chair, riveted from beginning to end, and it is still an accomplishment in noir writing that I can only try to emulate; I doubt, in all sincerity and honesty, that I could write its equal. After reading this short story, I immediately added all the rest of Hendricks’ novels to my list; I strongly urge you to do so as well.

“The Good Cat” reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s short story “Ming’s Biggest Prey”; both are dark, noir tales from the point of view of a cat–which is not entirely an easy thing to pull off, but once you read the stories they totally make sense: what could be more noir than a cat? Both stories are about a cat’s love for their owner; Highsmith’s is darker because the character of the cat is more dark; Hendricks rather views a dark thing from the cat’s point of view; a cat who loves its owner, which makes the ending all the more heartbreaking and yes, noir. (Highsmith’s story ends with no small feeling of satisfaction in the reader.)

Read Vicki Hendricks. Do it. Now. 

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There’ll Be Sad Songs To Make You Cry

Another Monday morning here at my desk in the Lost Apartment. I submitted a short story to a market yesterday, and today I am submitting my short story collection.

PROGRESS.

Last night, as I watched Thirteen Reasons Why (only three episodes left; it definitely has picked up since those slow initial episodes), I thought about and made notes on not only the WIP but some other short stories I am working on. It would be lovely to make notes on the Scotty book, but you know what? I am trying not to force creativity–which is why I’ve no contracts and no deadlines–and making notes on what pops into my head at the time. The changes I’ve decided to make to the WIP aren’t as simple as one might think–a lesson I am definitely learning; no changes to a manuscript, no matter how small they may seem, are ever simple–but it’s going to make the book/manuscript much stronger, and that’s always a good thing. I am also trying to strip the book of as much cliche as I can; which is not that easy when you’re writing about a high school. As I said before, the second chapter needs some serious restructuring as well as revision, but I am feeling a lot more confident about that now.

The Scotty book? Yes, I need to get back to that and the sooner the better. I have already decided that in order to move forward, I need to go back and revise the last chapter I wrote, which not only isn’t any good but is fucking terrible, even more terrible than my usual first draft of a chapter. It totally derails, and characters behave in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t; plus having them behave that way was completely lazy on my part because I didn’t want to deal with it. Which is beyond lazy on my part; it’s borderline shameful laziness. But at least I know it already–I knew it when I was writing it, and it shouldn’t be hard to go back and fix before I move forward onto Chapter 15. I still want to get this done before July 1; I think I can manage it.

I am also trying to take a long weekend this weekend; a couple of vacation days in addition to the Memorial Day holiday, with big plans to get a lot accomplished. I always have big plans, but even if I only manage some of it, that will be a huge step in the right direction. And huzzah for huge steps in the right direction!

I also took notes on some short stories that are in process, and I think one of them is particularly going to turn out to be really amazing.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.


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West End Girls

Sunday morning and yet again, I have overslept. I wasn’t feeling particularly well yesterday, and managed to get nothing–outside of some errands in the hideous heat and humidity–accomplished yesterday. The end result was I parked my not-feeling-great ass in my easy chair and watched Netflix for most of the day; beginning with an original Netflix show, The Kissing Booth–a teen rom/com, which was actually kind of cute–and then it was back to the misery/drama porn of Season Two of Thirteen Reasons Why.  Season Two is nowhere near the quality level of Season One; without the connecting hook of the cassette tapes telling the stories of the individual kids, it loses a lot. The connective tissue being used for the second season is the trial, where Hannah’s parents are suing the school for not doing more to help their daughter before she killed herself. Therefore, each episode focuses on each kid and is kind of told from their perspective, based on who is testifying that day: because, of course, only one person per day can testify. There are a lot of really good moments in this season, which shows glimmers of how good the season could have been; yet the need to weave the now-dead Hannah into this season without a reason for her to be there is a weakness. I do feel that it would have been smarter to simply have shown her from the point-of-view of the kids in this season–last season was seeing the others through hers–without the ghost/voice of reason/conscience/whatever-the-fuck-she-is that keeps appearing to Clay; which also, unfortunately, weakens Clay. It makes him unreliable as a narrative voice, and we are also not entirely sure he’s not simply lost his mind in his drive and desire to avenge Hannah. This undermines the character and the performance being given by Dylan Minnette, who was so terrific in the first season; which is unfortunate.

But…I continue to watch to see how this is all going to play out.

It’s difficult for a series based on a single novel to be adapted into a regular television series; Thirteen Reasons Why’s first season was a great example of how it can be done, and beautifully so. I greatly enjoyed that first season. But when the show is successful–and let’s face it, in the entertainment industry success  means continue to build on that success, or at the very least, keep milking that cash cow until you’ve squeezed every penny out of it. There wasn’t a need for a second season of this show, nor a third; where I thought they might go in a second season isn’t where they’ve gone. But the series does get stronger after the first weak episodes; maybe it will continue to get stronger. But the standout of this season is the character of Alex, and the young actor playing him, Miles Heizer. The first season ended with someone being shot, and we weren’t sure who it was. Turns out it was Alex, and he survived. This season, the bullet, which entered and exited through his skull, didn’t kill him but partially paralyzed him and messed up his memories. So, watching him struggle with physical therapy, and trying to figure out what went on the month before he tried to take his own life is incredibly powerful and he is knocking it out of the park. It’s really a shame; the first season was about finding out why Hannah killed herself, and the second season should focus more on the kid who tried to kill himself and now not only has to live with the consequences of that decision but try to figure out why he did it, and deal with the pity and cruelty of his classmates.

Now, there’s a story for a young adult novel. Hmmmm. *makes notes*

I am hoping to get some cleaning out of the way today as well as some writing. I’ve been seriously slacking lately, and I need to stop doing that. Granted, yesterday I didn’t feel good, but I need to get motivated and get back to writing. There’s also a lengthy blog entry I  need to finish writing.

But I’ve been thinking about young adult fiction a lot lately; the WIP is young adult, and there’s another one I want to write, or at least get started on, before the end of the year, Bury Me in Satin. It’s going to require some research, which isn’t a bad thing, and perhaps a drive up to Tuscaloosa. I really have been wanting to write this book for a very long time, and I think it’s time. It’s a dangerous topic, but I kind of want to do it. I also want to finish “Burning Crosses” today; it’s ready to be read aloud so I need to go ahead and do that. I also want to finish the first draft of “This Thing of Darkness”, and I have some reading I need to get done. I seriously need to get off my lazy ass and get a move on you know? There’s also that filing shit I started and need to finish. So, yes, indeed, I need to get motivated. But next weekend is a glorious three day weekend, and I am also planning on requesting Friday off and taking a short day on Thursday, not only to maximize the weekend but enable myself to have more time to work, as well as to have a day or two where I have literally nothing to do except read and relax; we’ll see how that turns out.

And I am not missing the cable. Not in the least little bit. This is wonderful.

And now, back to the spice mines.

For your viewing pleasure, here is Jacob Elordi, who plays the romantic lead in The Kissing Booth:

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Glory of Love

Saturday morning and it’s chilly in the Lost Apartment; the sun is out and there’s condensation on the windows. Scooter is perched next to my keyboard, staring out the window, watching Kitty TV; I’m not sure what’s on, but he’s fascinated. It rained brutally yesterday with flash floods and so forth throughout the city. It had been a few weeks since it had rained, but there it was; a long overdue downpour. I managed to get home before it got too terribly bad, and spent the evening organizing and cleaning out files, rather than actually writing. I just didn’t feel like I was in a writing place, and so I decided to go with that but demanded of myself to complete this tedious chore that I hate doing so much.

Essentially, it meant cleaning out old files that no longer need accessibility–old book contracts, royalty statements, and even file folders of old short stories now published, etc.–out of the file cabinet and boxing them up to put in storage. This, naturally, has freed up space in the file cabinet for files to be moved into from the ACTIVE files. (Yes, I am aware how insane this all sounds; but I have two small file holders on the small bookcase next to  my desk, where I file new ideas, articles that might lead somewhere, and new stories that I have started or are not immediately working on; on my desk itself I have a metal file rack that contains the folders of what I am immediately working on. I know, I know, but it makes sense to me, and it works for me.) I also gathered all my non-fiction research on being queer in America, as well as my journal (materials for my memoirs, should I ever write them, or at least personal essays about being gay)  to collect in one place: a lovely box that is currently sitting on my kitchen counter, preparatory to going into the storage space. While doing all of this I ran across several of my old journals.

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These are some of my journals–I suspect some of them have been lost to time, through moves and so forth–but the oldest is from 1994; the most recent of these is from 2003. I started my blog in late 2004, and I suspect that’s approximately also when I stopped writing in these. It was an interesting experience, idly paging through these before placing them in the box; some of the earlier ones are from, of course, when I worked at the airport. That’s when I started carrying one with me at all times; I always had a pen, my journal, and whatever book I was reading at the time with me when I was at the airport, on an airplane traveling, etc. The ones from my time at the airport are all written in green ink; because we used green pens at the airport for everything. I wrote on my breaks, I wrote when I was in between flights at the gates, I wrote while I was waiting to board an airplane, I wrote while on airplanes. Later, I wrote between clients at the gym, or while waiting for it to be time for an aerobics class I was teaching; I wrote in coffee shops. There are scenes in these journals, that eventually made it into Murder in the Rue Dauphine or Bourbon Street Blues; there are the openings of short stories I’ve written, scrawled in long hand on these pages. I’ve even found things like when I first had the idea for the book that became Dark Tide many years later; places where I worked on developing characters or plots of themes for the book or story I was currently trying to work on and/or finish; there are also personal moments, moments of frustration or joy or happiness, all recorded in my neat, broadly looping handwriting. Starting to keep another one of these this year has been enormously helpful for me in many ways; it was lovely to reconnect with the bound journal format. (I actually need to buy a new one; I am hoping they have some at Tubby and Coo’s, where I am going this afternoon for Bryan Camp’s book-signing for his brilliant debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes)

This morning I need to finish packing up these boxes, and perhaps work on getting some of the other files moved; it is literally astonishing how much paper I have. One entire file cabinet drawer is filled with short stories and novels-in-progress that I stopped working on at some point, folders with ideas jotted down, characters and names and ideas for stories and books. All this effort, besides keeping me from actually writing anything, is an attempt to declutter my workspace as well as to make it more organized; I had an idea for a story for an anthology call I saw recently, and I knew I’d written a draft of an appropriate story (possibly) years ago–which meant it was probably in the file cabinet and I should probably drag it out to see if there was anything written in it that was usable. The need for this file made me see how desperately flawed and out of control my filing system had actually been allowed to become so as it thundered and lightning lit up the sky and the yard filled with rushing water I started working grimly on fixing this mess.

I did find the file, by the way.

I need to go to the grocery store at some point this morning as well; I could wait to do it tomorrow,  but between the cleaning and the filing and the going to the book signing I don’t see any window for actually writing, so rather than putting it off till the morrow I should probably do it today, since today is going to be shot on that score. Or maybe it won’t be; I may be able to get some things done today on the writing. My writing/editing goal for the weekend is to read “Burning Crosses” aloud and be finished with it; to finish revising Chapter Two of the WIP, and possibly read all fourteen chapters of the Scotty book and see where things sit with it, preparatory to getting back to work on it as well.

I also want to dive into Alex Segura’s Blackout, which is getting rave reviews everywhere.

We started watching the second season of Thirteen Reasons Why last night, and I have to say, I am not overly impressed with it. The first two episodes were terribly uneven–the third began to pick up steam again–but the device of having Hannah appearing as a sort of ghost to Clay isn’t working for me and is something that I hope is used either sparingly as the show moves on, or is eradicated completely. We don’t need Hannah appearing as Clay’s conscience, nor do we need her at all. It derails the show, frankly; them having conversations is, to quote youth culture of some time ago, kinda whack.

So far, we’re disappointed with it. but not so much so that we will stop watching.

That, however, could change.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Friends and Lovers

Well, I wrote practically nothing yesterday; maybe a couple of hundred words on “This Thing of Darkness.” I did reread Chapter 2 of the WIP, and realized it needs a complete overhauling, but that’s fine. There’s an endgame in sight, and now I kind of know how to get there, so I don’t mind the massive work that will be required to get me there. Huzzah! And I know that, when it is completed, I will be enormously happy with it.

It’s weird because this story; these characters, have been brewing inside my brain for a very long time; I’ve used this fictional town in Kansas for aborted novels and short stories before. I’ve always wanted to write about this town–I cannot deny that it is based on/inspired by Emporia, Kansas, the seat of the county where I spent five years of my life. When you said you were going to town you meant Emporia, even if you lived in a one of the small hamlets scattered throughout the county. My particular hamlet, Americus, was one of the larger ones; I believe with a population of approximately 932. I do know it was more than nine hundred and less than a thousand. I know that the main crossroads of the town had a flashing red light suspended on wires over it’s center, the town park was right on one corner and the bank was on another. I’ve gone back to the well with Kansas and that area several times in my writing career, but it never really ever seems to get anywhere. Sara was set in Kansas, in a county based on the real one,  in a high school based on the one I attended, but very loosely.

I’ve always wondered if it’s because I’ve not been back there since leaving in 1981 that the stories are so hard, so difficult, to write; the place so hard to envision. And then again, of course it’s ridiculous because any inconsistencies, or changes in my fictional town, might not matter simply because I am writing about a fictional place.

But this manuscript, which I’ve really been working on, in one shape or another, since about 1982 (!), is hard for me because I’ve been trying to write this book for over thirty years. The story and plot has changed dramatically over those years, the names of the characters have been changed, and I’ve blatantly stolen or adapted plots that were originally thought up for this book for others (Murder in the Garden District being one of them; the murder in the back was originally set in my fictional city in Kansas in its original version; for a Chanse novel I had to pare back the literal dozens of suspects and adapt it into New Orleans). For years in the aughts I called this “the Kansas book” as it went through different iterations and ideas and how the story worked; it was originally intended to be a two different time line novel, with a crime that was committed back in the 1970’s with the wrong person convicted and going to prison and dying there; a chance encounter between two people who knew each other back there and then in New York City–one now a successful realtor, the other a successful journalist–and a casual conversation in which the realtor reveals to the journalist that the wrong person was convicted and the murder was a lot more complicated than anyone knew, gets her to thinking. Then she finds out the realtor went back there and also turns up dead; this brings her back as well, as she investigates the current murder and the old one at the same time. I thought it was a very clever idea, but I could never get the story to work for me properly; and I still like the idea; I may write it someday. But I’ve taken the characters and the town from that idea and used it for this one. I also then tried another version, where it was the same town and the same characters and the same set up from the past, only with a dramatically different storyline for the present.

And now, I am using the town and the characters for something completely different.

As I have said numerous times, I am nothing if not stubborn, and apparently I am determined to someday publish a novel about this fucking town and these fucking characters.

“This Thing of Darkness”, the short story I am currently working on, while set in New Orleans, also harkens back to Kansas in some ways. I like this short story, I like the idea behind it, and now it’s really just a matter of seeing whether or not I can pull it off the way I want to. I’ve also realized that my own satisfaction with my short stories is the most important thing, not whether they get published by a magazine or not. I also need to expand my scope of where I submit short stories to; not everything works for the major crime magazines, and who knows? Maybe some of these stories are more  correct for other markets. I’d love to have something in some of the Southern magazines, for example.

Anyway. I am looking forward to this weekend, and hope you all have a lovely, pleasant one as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Greatest Love of All

So, today I am very pleased to announce that my short story, “This Town”–which I’ve shared the opening to with you already, Constant Reader, will be published in the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology, edited by Holly West! Watch this space for more news about the anthology as publication date approaches!

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Pretty cool, huh? I’ve loved the Go-Go’s for going on nearly forty years now, and so it’s kind of cool to be in anthology of crime stories inspired by their music. And editors–if you ever do such a volume based on the music of Fleetwood Mac and don’t include me, I can’t be held legally responsible for what happens. Just sayin’.

And so many awesome people to share the pages of the anthology with!

Jane Wiedlin is writing the introduction! Eeeeeeeeeeeee!

So, yesterday I continued to work on revising the WIP and shifting the POV/tense, which isn’t as easy as it may appear on its face; it’s very easy to miss instances where past tense is used and needs to be switched to present. It’s also an excellent exercise for me, anyway, because I almost always use the past tense in my writing. (I think I’ve maybe used the present tense once, in a short story.) I also realized another short story I’m working on–“Burning Crosses”–would work better in the present tense, so I revised it into the present tense and revised it as well. I think it’s ready to be read aloud this weekend, which is pretty flippin’ cool.

And one more tweak, and my short story collection is ready to be turned in to my  publisher. Huzzah!

Last night, I reread Agatha Christie’s short story, “Philomel Cottage,” from her collection Witness for the Prosecution:

“Good-bye, darling.”

“Good-bye, sweetheart.”

Alix Martin stood leaning over the small rustic gate, watching the retreating figure of her husband, as he walked down the road in the direction of the village.

Presently he turned around a bend and was lost to sight, but Alix still stayed in the same position, absent-mindedly smoothing a lock of the rich brown hair which had blown across her face, her eyes far-away and dreamy.  Alix Martin was not beautiful, nor even, strictly speaking, pretty. But her face, the face of a woman no longer in her first youth, was irradiated and softened until her former colleagues of the old office days would hardly have recognized her. Miss Alix King has been a trim business-like young woman, efficient, slightly brusque in manner, obviously capable and matter-of-fact.

I loved this story when I first read it, when I was either eleven or twelve; it’s a classic domestic suspense tale: young married couple lives in a remote location, they married very quickly after meeting–after the woman inherited some money–and, in fact, she’d been rather in love with someone else but her husband just swept her off her feet. This day, after her husband goes off, she has a chat with her gardener…who mentions that he’d come early (on a Wednesday rather than his usual Friday) because he wanted to ask her about the garden trim “and since they were going off to London the next day” (sic) he wanted to check with her before she left. She laughs, and responds that they aren’t going to London; but he is insistent that her husband had told her that. He then also mentions that the former owner of the cottage, which they bought for three thousand pounds, had only wanted two. As she put up two to her husband’s one…she’s certain he must be mistaken. But in a masterpiece of paranoia and psychological suspense, Alix then begins to wonder, and starts putting together the errant pieces of strange behavior from her husband–each individual instance nothing, but when put together make it very much seem like he married her for her money and is planning to kill her…and she keeps finding more and more evidence to convince her she is right.

And the ending is stunningly perfect.

Christie, such a master of suspense and crime!

And now, back to the spice mines.