Yet again, Carolin Esser-Miles, Medievalist and Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester, went above and beyond with her adjudication. The competition title was ‘Create a detective with unusual or quirky habits’ in 300 words. Carolin was generous enough to write a few words for all entries, not only the placed five, very kind as feedback is always appreciated (I have emailed the comments to individual entrants). The winners are below, followed by the winning pieces with Carolin’s comments.
1st place: Nan Keightley – Mrs B and the Hoodie
2nd place: Wendy Fitzgerald – A New Pin
3rd place: John Quinn – Demi John
Commended: David Lea – Josna Pandi and Gill Hollands – Detective Farr, Homicide
Mrs B and the Hoodie – Nan Keightley
Carolin Esser-Miles: Here we have the first encounter of a potentially great pair. The two strikingly different characters are both given enough space to come alive independently. Both have interestingly odd back stories that are promising in their own right. Within our 300 words, we see a dynamic developing between the two that promises sparring partners connected by mutual respect and a lot of scope for interaction. I would love to find out what happens next.
‘’Oo did you say you were, again?’ Mrs B defended her doorstep from the hoodie in front of her. She pulled a tattered arran cardi close across her stubby figure, and tutted. A warrant card was shoved towards her.
She handed it back, held between finger and thumb, as if contaminated. The cop’s overlarge parka, she noticed, was not quite hiding a gossamer-thin frame.
‘Well, DS Ellie Wilson, what do you want, besides a few good meals?’
‘Am I in the right place? I’m looking for Marina Beecham? The woman who shot Harry Winfield?’
‘Yes, kiddo. That’s me.’
Ellie gawped, speechless.
‘What?’ said Mrs B. ‘You don’t believe an all-action forensic psychologist could be old as Noah, and wear slippers? Or live in a suburban bungalow full of kitten ornaments and chintz?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘Didn’t need to. I read your mind.’
Mrs B shuffled into the kitchen. She pushed a plate of homemade gingerbread at Ellie, who hovered by the door.
‘Come on. I’m not going to eat you.’
‘The boss said you could help us find Angelika Harrison’s killer,’ mumbled Ellie, through a mouthful of crumbs.
Mrs B replaced the empty plate with a pile of potatoes and a peeler.
‘Where did that lot go?’ she asked. ‘Have you got hollow legs or something?’
‘The boss thinks I must have worms, ‘cos I can eat for England and never put on a pound.’
‘Hmmm. If you want my help then you can peel these spuds. Fish and chips do for you?’
‘You don’t have to feed me. I only need advice.’
‘Your boss didn’t tell you anything about me, did he? I cook. A lot. It helps me think. Nobody escapes this house unfed. Now, peel, and talk!’
A New Pin – Wendy Fitzgerald
Carolin Esser-Miles: We spend these 300 words following our detective through a surprising amount of well-placed garden paths and detours. Expectations are built up to deceive, and we are prone to fall into the trap just as the characters in the story are supposed to judge falsely. Upon rereading, we are presented with a cleaning detective, formerly from the Met, now working class Miss Marple. While the cover that cleaning provides will be quickly blown at the police station, the provision of holiday lets gives ample opportunity for undercover work.
I walk to work in the early light: it’s fresh, calm and serene. Little waves wash up on the shore; seagulls swoop and bicker. The sun rose ten minutes ago into the pearly dawn, a glowing, optimistic beacon. Peaceful, life-affirming. A far cry from my days at the Met, where dark, dingy streets festered every deadly sin; long nights in gloomy offices, desk lamps and single malts burning. Remembering, anxiety rises within me. I stare out to sea to cleanse my mind again. The lightest of breezes, deep breaths and the wide blue expanse expunge, as they always do.
I enter the police station and its main office. It’s tiny. What you’d expect in a remote backwater like this. A rare violent murder is reflected on the whiteboard: an attractive fifty-four year old woman, single, bludgeoned to death with her own rolling pin. No signs of burglary. She’d been baking, for the charity cake stall. As they do in these parts. I pick up the files but there’s nothing new since yesterday. She lived alone; in a cottage set back along a lane. Semi-detatched, but to a holiday let. No-one saw a thing.
My senses prickle. Worryingly, she looked not unlike me.
That will be my next job. The files in the holiday let company. It’s mid-summer: a popular spot. Then I’ll check the charity. Something tells me this is not a random killing: there was real hatred behind that pin.
I open the cupboard and remove the vacuum cleaner. Strangely, there’s cake crumbs on the floor. I clean three offices, three mornings a week. This one, the estate agent-come-letting company and the solicitors. You’ve no idea how useful that can be. Well, no-one ever notices the cleaner, do they?
Demi John – John Quinn
Carolin Esser-Miles: One of the two character studies among the submissions, Demi John has a rather complex life. He is a single father with Olympic potential in clay shooting that is thwarted by his son’s football needs, this character needs space to be fully introduced. But given that, there is a lot of potential, especially with additional public settings such as the family café as an opportunity to blend family trouble with a potential case.
Demetrius Jones is a North London detective who’s second generation Greek-Cypriot, born in Palmers Green after his parents fled the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
To his colleagues he’s too Greek, to his parents and the Greek-Cypriot community he’s too British and he is never fully happy in either world.
Tall and swarthy, with black hair that is longer than normal and a full moustache, he’s handsome and he’s often told he looks like Tom Conti playing Costas Dimitriades in the film Shirley Valentine.
Demi-John, as he’s known by colleagues ‘because he’s big, never full and you can see straight through him,’ is running to seed, weighing some 100 kilos. He says ‘it’s a Greek thing’ and is trying to quit smoking and diet but cannot resist döner kebabs or his Mum’s mezes.
He looks younger than his 40 years ‘ever seen a crease on a balloon?’ is one of his ever-ready quips. He uses his natural warmth, humour and the ability to invent ‘an old Greek saying’ to win trust.
A North-London Turkish family killed Demi’s wife after he put away the patriarch and two eldest sons for a series of armed robberies.
Arsenal supporting Demi brings up his son, James, 12, with the help of his parents, who should be retired but still run the family café in ‘Palmers Greek.’
Taught to shoot by his father, Demi has a chance of representing Greece, Cyprus or the UK at the next Olympics at sporting clays but refereeing James’ football matches and work interferes with practice.
Demi listens to George Michael songs whilst driving his mustard 1974 Rover 3500 his Dad bought on arrival in the UK, spending the family’s savings: ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.’ It does break down!
Josna Pandi – David Lea
Carolin Esser-Miles: Josna Pandi will most likely not have many friends. She is too perfect in most ways. But other great detectives have demonstrated that success through unflattering habits is possible. One might think of the Mentalist, Sherlock Holmes, or Stella Gibson from ‘The Fall’.
Josna Pandi is thirty years old. She is a Detective Constable with the Hampshire Constabulary and is on the “Police High Potential Development Scheme”.
Her father, Sanjit Pandi, manufactures textiles in India and imports them into Britain and Europe. He is a rich man and Josna does not have to work. Her mother died in childbirth and Josna has no siblings. She has lived in Britain all her life and went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College where she was captain of the lacrosse team. She is an accomplished horsewoman and dinghy sailor. She has also represented her country as a fencer. She lifts weights and is highly proficient in Hatha Yoga. She keeps dumbbells in her locker at Basingstoke nick.
She gained a first in Law at Edinburgh and then joined Goldman Sachs. She was doing extremely well until asked to take part in a deal that she believed to be unethical. She then joined Mckinsey Global Management Consulting, but resigned after her paper on plans to rationalise the delivery of policing concluded that more police were needed on the beat.
Her “quirks” are attributes or character flaws, depending on who is at the receiving end. She has a fierce intelligence, combined with a frighteningly accurate moral compass. She is unafraid to “speak truth to power” and is disconcertingly honest in both personal and professional interactions. She believes in the rule of law and in the need to uphold the law, even when the law is an ass. She has an upper middle class accent and speaks and writes English with great precision. She is unusually tall, has very dark skin and long, jet-black hair. She has a habit of adopting extreme yoga positions when she needs to solve a problem. She is very beautiful, but has difficulties maintaining romantic relationships.
Detective Farr, Homicide – Gill Hollands
Carolin Esser-Miles: Here we are dealing with a true quirk, both the ferret as partner and the sensory abilities of the detective themselves. There is potential here, for a ‘just right’ over the top storyline á la Monk, which needs to play out as realistically as possible and as relevant for the cases.
‘This way, Detective Farr.’ The dubious constable pushes open a battered door. Sunlight floods into the dingy corridor. I look down, blinking.
Merit pokes his nose out of my yellow waterproof pocket for another snack. I fish a pellet from inside my hat; avoid sharp little teeth as he snatches.
‘What the ‘ell’s that?’ The constable steps back, eyes round.
‘It’s just my sniffer ferret.’ I hook Merit out, dangle his snaky body. ‘See?’ I set him down to start work.
‘Ha! Never ‘erd of one o’ them!’ He backs away, shaking his head. The usual reaction.
‘He’s very helpful to me, officer.’
Watching Merit, I sniff too as he scuttles under a chair. The scent of despair assails me. I wince, catching my haggard reflection in a spotted mirror: Must try to sleep soon.
I take in the crime scene; a tragic apartment; peeling grey walls, rank, mould-coated ceiling. My fingers scrape neglected wood; I taste betrayal. Dust is often my friend. Merit brings me a wrap of paper, darts away, sneezing.
A coffee table lies on its side in a splash of magazines. Yellowed, photos curl on the wall around one threadbare, fireside chair in the corner.
Ragged curtains shiver by the smashed window. I step nearer, my feet sticking to the mat. Broken glass lies, sparkling like a snowflake, on the mossy balcony.
I tug open the balcony door, admitting more freezing wind.
‘You kin see that from inside!’ Yells the officer, gasping behind me.
‘I think better outside.’ I step out, shut his whining off with the door. Now I can think. I fondle the wrap, the scuffed moss, feel where he was thrown…
‘Outside eh! So that’s why the yeller coat!’ He flings the door open, breaks the spell.
Watson, he is not…