Author Topic: McLarry And The Code of Practice (2000 words. Please give feedback)  (Read 514 times)

Offline Jacko

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This is the beginning of a mystery novel I am toying with. I would be grateful for your honest thoughts.

My car was in the garage again.

Every couple of months or so, it kangaroo hops its weary way back to Wilkinson’s Auto Repairs, from where I once bought it, like some sort of motorised homing pigeon. On this occasion it had barely made it on to the premises before coughing and spluttering to a final shuddering halt.

Ronnie Wilkinson gave the rust bucket the once over.

“Have you been “ramping it”?” he asked, suspiciously.

I reminded him that I drove in and around London. If by “ramping it” he meant the odd occasion that I managed
to move out of second gear, then yes, I was guilty as charged.

“Anyway, I think it’s had its day” Ronnie pronounced, closing the bonnet.

“Had its day?” I repeated, incredulously. “What do you mean ‘Had its day’?”

“You’re the private detective! I should have thought even you could work that one out. You know, time for it to go to the Great Scrap Heap in the sky or in this case Bernie Chalfont’s breakers yard”

This was catastrophic news.

“Yes, I know what it means. But surely, there’s something you can do” I said.

“I’m a mechanic not a bloody magician.”

“Well, Ronnie” I shook my head sorrowfully “I don’t want to come across as all official, but I did actually buy it from you.”

 “To be fair, that was seven years ago and I told you then it was only a temporary run around. Also let’s not forget who has managed to keep the thing on the road for you all this time.”

I suppose he did have me on that one. Even so, I was still a bit narked with what appeared to be a somewhat callous and summary judgement on my meagre mode of transport.

“What am I to do, then?” I wailed pathetically “I need to be able to get around. I’ve got an appointment at the Brewster Building later on today.”

“Here’s an idea. Apparently there’s a new-fangled contraption called a bus. I seem to remember somebody saying that they’re just the job for that sort of thing.”

I snorted contemptuously. He could add comedian to magician in the list of things he wasn’t.

“And what about this?” I waved a hand towards the pile of junk that masqueraded as a car.

Ronnie Wilkinson pondered on the question like Archimedes sitting in his bath tub. Finally he reached his Eureka moment.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

The Brewster Building is one of those gigantic, multi-windowed monstrosities that trendy London architects seem to relish inflicting on a city already festooned with more glass structures than a bloke could comfortably shake a stick at. Slap bang in the middle of Canary Wharf; it is surrounded by a phalanx of similar constructions, each with their own varying degree of hideousness.

That afternoon, as I jumped off the number thirty two at Docklands, the old currant bun was, as usual, conspicuous by its absence and the district of glass, with its bespangled myriad of panes, reflected the dismal gloom of a dark grey sky down onto the streets.

It was an appointment with Shadrach, Tomlinson and Shadrach that had brought me to the steps of this monumental eyesore. As I craned my neck upwards to look at the building in question, its tip seemingly disappearing into the lugubrious charcoal clouds like some sort of glazed beanstalk, I wondered whether it would be a lower or a higher floor on which London’s most prestigious Private Detective Agency was situated. Knowing my luck, what with my recurring bouts of vertigo since childhood and all that, it was bound to be the latter.

For a change, I managed to negotiate myself through the baleful jaws of the revolving doors without incident. These contraptions always have a tendency to throw me off kilter, so that generally I either walk too slowly so the mechanism whacks me on the back of the ankles or too fast so my face is pressed up against the glass like a kid in the 1950’s staring through a sweet shop window.

As the glass lift with its sprawling view of the metropolis whipped me up to the twenty fifth floor, I held on for grim life. My knuckles turning white, teeth gritted and eyes closed until it deposited me at the reception.

Amongst the hotchpotch of colourful motleys that inhabit the world of private investigating, Noel and Norrie Shadrach were the closest things to celebrities.

From their not so humble beginnings on the streets somewhere in North London, the early days were spent rising swiftly in an upwardly mobile fashion each within their respective chosen fields. Whilst Norrie earned his daily crust in one of the larger insurance companies where his incomparable ability as a False Claims Investigator was duly rewarded with a series of promotions, Noel cut his teeth in one of the gigantic investment houses in the city displaying an uncanny knack of uncovering fraudulent transactions within the financial sector.

Legend has it that they met Benny Tomlinson, an ex Detective Chief Inspector, who had been put out to pasture by Scotland yard, at a Masonic Lodge meeting. Where, presumably, over a dodgy handshake and a rolled up trouser leg a business partnership was forged with each of them doing what they did best.

Not for them, however, was the grubby day to day grind of messy divorce cases or the sordid world of debt collecting.

Norrie and Noel resigned their positions, offering themselves out as freelance in their respective industries.
Fortunately for them, this coincided with a time in British industry when larger companies embraced the current zeitgeist of outsourcing and subcontracting. Within a very short time they had managed to garner business from nearly every major financial institution in the city.

Meanwhile Benny Tomlinson had not stood idly by. Using his extensive contacts around the Old Bailey law courts and Temple Bar, coupled with his old boy affable charm, soon anyone in a horsehair wig and silk knee breeches who needed witnesses found or suspects watched, availed themselves of their services.

As the company grew larger, the amount of staff needed to satisfy the constant demand increased until it became the behemoth that it is today encompassing the entire twenty-fifth floor of The Brewster Building.

Poor old Benny was long gone but his name remained enshrined in the three foot tall metallic lettering of the moniker which adorned the wall of the reception area. Norrie and his brother Noel continued at the helm as usual, but more or less left the actual day to day business to younger bloods. Therefore, it came as somewhat of a surprise when their request for a meeting landed on my desk.

When I say landed on my desk, I mean the message was relayed to me verbally by my part time and often barely paid secretary, Marcie.

“Electric” she said, a couple of days earlier, handing me a piece of paper with the bright green logo of my current supplier. “It’s a final demand” she added.

Before I had a chance to throw it onto the desk in disgust, she handed me another. “Water Rates…a final demand.”

And then, another “Rent. A final…”

“Yes, thank-you, Marcie” I snapped. “I get the picture. Have you been storing these up?”

She returned to her desk. “Don’t shoot the messenger. Oh and you’ve got a meeting on Thursday on the Isle of Dogs.” She flicked a piece of paper at me. “I made a note of the time and place for you.”

I glanced at the scribbled handwriting and made out a familiar name.

“Noel Shadrach?” I suppose I must have sounded rather incredulous. “What did he have to say?”

“I don’t know. I spoke to his secretary. A woman who earns considerably more than me, I shouldn’t wonder” she said, adjusting her keyboard before adding the vicious side swipe “but, then, that wouldn’t be difficult.”

“Okay,” I put on my most patient voice. “What did she say?”

“Mister Shadrach and his brother have some work for you, if you are interested” Marcie repeated mechanically. “I told her I would have to remind you what the word meant.”

The time had come for us to establish once again who was master and who was servant in this relationship and to dance the same merry dance that had been choreographed, it seemed to me, since the fateful day I offered her a job.

“Marcie, you are familiar with the terms “employer” and “employee” aren’t you?”

“Yes, are you?”

“The thing is, as your employer there are certain things that I expect from…where are you going?

She had moved from behind her desk and was putting on her coat.

“I can’t hang around here. I’ve got to go and pick my kids up,” she grabbed her bag. “This will have to wait for another time. Toodlepip!”

And just like that, the discussion and what pathetically passed for a reprimand was over.

All of which, found me two days later standing in front of the reception of Shadrach Tomlinson and Shadrach wearing my least stained raincoat and my lop sided “I’m not going to get angry” smile trying to establish the fact that I had a meeting.

“I’m afraid I can’t seem to find you, Mister McLarry.” The pretty young lady tapped her computer keyboard and stared intently at the monitor as if expecting my name to illuminate in bright lights on the screen accompanied by a fanfare of music. She frowned.  “Is your meeting with Mister Noel or Mister Norrie?”

I told her that I always assumed they came as a package; a bit like Marks and Spencer or cheese and onion. She gave a nervous titter and tapped again. “What time is your appointment?”

“About five minutes ago.”

The telephone beside her gave a sharp trill, which she answered immediately. She made a couple of conciliatory noises and smiled sweetly at me as she gently laid the receiver down on the cradle.

“Mister Noel and Mister Norrie will see you now.”

She rose from behind her desk and asked me to follow her. In her business suit and heels, she looked the epitome of professionalism and for a brief insane moment I dabbled with the notion of mentioning to Marcie that maybe swapping her track suit bottoms for such an outfit could be considered by many as a colossal sartorial change for the better. However, after quickly contemplating the Chernobyl proportioned nuclear fall-out that this suggestion would inevitably invoke, I dropped the idea.

She led me through the entire floor, passing en route various members of staff beavering away on computers, until we reached an end office. With a smile, she indicated the door and left, so I went in.

My first sight as I entered was the brothers Shadrach beaming at me like Cheshire cats. They were older and greyer since the last time we met, but still immaculately turned out. One was stood slightly behind the other, but because they both wore the exact same suit, they seemed to meld into one and for a brief moment they looked like one person with two heads.

“McLarry!” they both shouted in unison

“How the devil are you, dear fellow?” Norrie said pumping my arm like we were boon companions from childhood or something.

“Yes, fine thanks, Norrie.”

“It’s been a while hasn’t it, Malcolm?” Noel boomed, slapping me on the back heartily. “My brother and I were just discussing the last occasion we all met up, before you came in. The Reginald Birkenwood case wasn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s right, Noel, in 2007. Benny needed a surveillance job done on Reggie Birkenwood’s accountant.”

“That’s right!” said Norrie. “And you helped us out marvellously!”

Noel Shadrach indicated for me to sit at the large mahogany table. They both sat the other side of me, still beaming. It was a bit like sitting opposite Tweedledum and Tweedledee. That is if Tweedledum and Tweedledee wore expensive Saville Row tailored suits, three thousand pound Rolex watches and lived in St John’s Wood.

“The thing is” Noel said, thankfully dropping his smile which had begun to rather unnerve me somewhat. “We need your help again.”

“Yes,” continued Norrie, sombrely “A rather delicate case.”

“Delicate is my middle name, Norrie.” I quipped. “But I am wondering why you need me, when you have all these people working for you.”

“Like I said” he lowered his voice, just to emphasise how sensitive this all was “It’s delicate.”

“Delicate” echoed his brother.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2019, 09:56:17 AM by Jacko »

Online PIJ1951

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Re: McLarry And The Code of Practice (2000 words. Please give feedback)
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2019, 11:22:29 AM »
Your opening scene almost stopped me in my tracks, I'm afraid.

Apart from the revelation that your MC is a private detective, it's rather flat. A guy takes his car to a garage and is told it's beyond repair. The non-event has nothing to do with what follows, so I'm guessing it was there to demonstrate to the prospective reader that you're going for the humorous approach - but it wasn't a particularly fun read. 400 words in and nothing out of the ordinary has happened. I had to scratch my head when I saw the phrase 'the old currant bun' - and I live in the UK. Your hero seems to be more Arthur Daley than Arthur Dent.

I also found his narrative voice quickly became annoyingly long-winded - as if you set out to make him quirky and unlikeable in equal measure.
It was an appointment with Shadrach, Tomlinson and Shadrach that had brought me to the steps of this monumental eyesore. . .
In a nutshell, he was due to meet Shadrach, Tomlinson and Shadrach. You've already spent long enough elaborating on the architecture. The vertigo is a pointless distraction - as are the two paragraphs devoted to the revolving doors and the glass lift. You probably had a chuckle whilst writing this scene, but pity the poor reader in search of the story. The pacing is uneven and rather monotonous.

Cliches are scattered on the page seemingly at random - 'an upwardly mobile fashion' - 'earned his daily crust' - 'cut his teeth' - 'put out to pasture' - all crammed into two short paragraphs. That's not the sign of a new writer looking to shed fresh light onto a stale genre. As for the plot, that seems to have been abandoned on the ground floor - maybe inside the revolving door.

Believe it or not - this is where the story begins:
Therefore, it came as somewhat of a surprise when their request for a meeting landed on my desk.
But almost immediately you press the pause button once again and waffle on about electricity bills... and water bills... and rent bills. Hopefully you get the message. Every time you wander off track you're inviting the reader to skip ahead in search of the actual plot. The conversation with Marcie that follows does this 'mystery novel of yours no favours.

On a separate note, your over-use of speech tags and adverbs is also questionable:
'He asked, suspiciously'
'Ronnie pronounced'
'I repeated incredulously'
'I shook my head sorrowfully'
'I wailed pathetically'

Most established writers would advise you to stick with 'said'. The words your characters utter should make it clear how they were spoken. When a statement is followed by a question mark the reader doesn't need to be told someone asked it. That's a bit like writing 'Who?' he enquired questioningly.

You are obviously having great fun writing this, and there might well be an audience for the kind of gently frivolous, old-fashioned, self-deprecating material we have here (judging by some of the cosy crime TV series on daytime TV) but your extract failed to hook me, I'm afraid. And it's fair to say that most readers looking for something new to read by an unknown author will only browse the first few paragraphs before reaching a decision - to read on or to give up and try something else. The fact that all you have established within these opening 2000-plus words is that S, T and S have requested your hero's services on a delicate matter does not bode well for whatever may follow.

But there may well be others who take great delight in this story. You write well - but what you have written so far is rather lacking the oomph-factor.

Offline Jacko

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Re: McLarry And The Code of Practice (2000 words. Please give feedback)
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2019, 02:21:39 PM »
Thanks very much for your frank and honest feedback on this. It is much appreciated.