Can Illegitimacy Drive Modern Mystery Plots?

Silhouette of pregnant woman

Illegitimacy and the consequential stigmas of extramarital children have played a key role in the works of great authors, including Shakespeare, Voltaire, Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Hardy, to name but a few.

Some noted mystery writers also have used out-of-wedlock birth as a plot centerpiece, including Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. But there’s no arguing that times have changed.

As of 2015, 40.3% of all births in the U.S. occurred outside of marriage (compared with 7% in 1940). And today’s illegitimacy rates are even higher for most European countries. The majority of births (over 50%) are outside of marriage in Iceland, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal, and nearly half of births also are extramarital in the Netherlands, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Belgium, Hungary, Spain, Austria and Finland.

Family Baby Portrait, Young Mother Father Holding New Born Kid

As out-of-wedlock birth has become more commonplace, the social and legal status of illegitimate children, unwed mothers and cohabiting couples has improved. In the United States, for example, U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s found that most legal disabilities imposed on illegitimacy violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Yet extramarital children can still provide mystery writers with murder motives.

Even the old “Secret Shame” plot can be updated. For example, while illegitimacy alone may no longer be as socially unacceptable, illegitimacy resulting from other taboos–such as incest, rape or even adultery–can create a secret that someone will murder to conceal or avenge. Another plot device that still resonates is “The Unwanted Heir.”

When there is an inheritance to divide, even legitimate siblings can turn on each other, and a family outsider who stakes a claim can spark more than rude confrontations. “Cain and Abel” is one of the oldest plots around, so it’s easy to imagine bitter feelings between marital and extramarital siblings going to lethal lengths as they vie with each other for social status, financial gain or parental affection. Finally, there’s the traditional “Revenge” plot. Although many loving couples raise happy children outside of marriage today, there are less sanguine situations in which the violent feelings of a spurned lover, a betrayed spouse or an abandoned child can lead to murder.

For more famous fiction works with an illegitimacy theme, see

Join Mystery Gardeners in Rooting Out Evil

Land Of Fantasy

Spring blossoms perfume the air, and the garden centers are crowded. Luckily, if you’re a mystery lover with a passion for gardening, the shelves are full of fiction to satisfy both interests! Sleuthing gardeners, or gardening sleuths, can find a kindred spirit in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, a food-loving armchair detective who is also an ardent cultivator of orchids; if you’re new to the series, begin with the seminal first entry, Fer-de-Lance.

Or learn some herbalist arts from award-winning Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael, a 12th century English monk with a keen eye for poisonous human and plant secrets (A Morbid Taste for Bones is a good starting point).

alcatrazThe English are noted for their gardens and their mysteries, so retired botany professors with detective skills seem to abound. That includes Anthony Eglin’s English Garden mysteries featuring retired botany professor Lawrence Kingston (The Alcatraz Rose is an International Book Awards winner); award-winning author E.X. (Elizabeth) Ferrars’ Andrew Basnett, another retired botany prof; and John Sherwood’s Horticultural series with Celia Grant, a London botanist.


thymeBack in the U.S.A., gardening mysteries bloom in the cozy category, including Washington, D.C., gardener and housewife Louise Eldridge, who digs up crime in the Ann Ripley series that debuted with Mulch. Meanwhile, Susan Wittig Albert offers China Bayles, an herbalist and former attorney in Pecan Springs, Texas; the series debut, Thyme of Death, was a finalist for Agatha and Anthony awards.

A unique choice is Naomi Hirahara’s sleuth Mas Arai, a Hiroshima survivor and Los Angeles gardener. Snakeskin Shamisen won an Edgar Award and was an Anthony Award finalist.

For more gardening-themed mysteries, see


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

1000 Men Paid To Watch Me Bathe

woman shower


Read my story before it happens to you—

“Are you sure this is the right apartment?” I asked the realtor after she’d told me the rent. “I mean, that sounds so low for such a great place.”

She watched me take in the high ceilings, the beveled glass windows, and the rich, polished, wood floors. “The owner wants a renter who’ll stay forever,” she joked, nodding at me. “He wants someone who works steadily and will take good care of the place.”

“Well, I’d sure do that.” I ran my hand over the marble mantel above the fireplace. “Does the owner live here?”

“Yes. He’s up in the attic room, which he’s converted into living quarters. Mr. Sweeney travels extensively and is hardly ever at home. That’s why he’s concerned about getting a good renter in. There are currently two other women living in the apartment on the first floor. They’ve been here for several years. If you have any questions, I can refer you to them.”

I smiled at the tall, thin woman. “No, that’s fine. If my application is accepted, then I guess I’ll take the place.”

My heart jumped at those words. Finally, I was going to be on my own—in a beautiful, second-floor apartment in a rambling, old, beautifully preserved Victorian house. I handed the realtor a check. “I think this takes care of the deposit and the first month’s rent.”

The realtor took it out of my hand, smiling broadly. “Yasmin, I know you’re going to like it here. Mr. Sweeney will be getting in touch with you.”

The realtor left, but I stayed behind. I wanted to take in the atmosphere of my first apartment. Growing up, I’d lived with my grandmother, who’d died right after I’d started college. With what little money she’d left me, I’d been able to live in the dorms. But I’d hated the closeness, the constant noise, the feeling of never having a space of my own. So when I’d graduated and gotten a job, I knew I wanted a special place to call my own, to call home.

Luckily, I’d found it through a friend-of-a-friend type of deal. I’d contacted the realtor, and the rest is history. I loved the apartment from the first time I laid eyes on it. How many times had I said a silent prayer that I’d be accepted as a tenant? Too many to remember.

I strolled through the living room, glancing out the windows that faced the street. Elm trees lined the sidewalks. From my bedroom, I could see the park . . . just barely. But it was heaven to me.

Writing on a ringed pad, I took notes on what I’d need. The kitchen was small, but very modern. The refrigerator had a glass door that reflected the gleam of the built-in range and oven. The whole place smelled of cedar and mint. Gazing up at the high ceiling, I was disappointed to see the modern, jet-black lighting fixtures instead of stained glass ones. Oh, well. You couldn’t have everything.

The back door led out onto a small porch with steps that spiraled down to the backyard. No wonder I’d smelled fresh mint; the whole yard was full of it. A bench and table were nestled in the middle of the yard, a perfect place for an evening meal.

Looking up, I saw the top of Mr. Sweeney’s balcony, which overhung my little porch. There were no steps leading up to the third floor, which was fine. I had my privacy, and he had his.

I jotted down several items I’d need, and then walked once more through the apartment. At the front door, I gave it one more glance. So perfect, so wonderful . . . so cheap. I’d really lucked out this time.

Moving day came two days later. I didn’t have much stuff, but I splurged on buying a new couch, bed, and dinette set. I had a few things that had belonged to Grandma holed up in a storage bin; I’d get them later, after I’d found space for them.

I was taking a break when the doorbell buzzed. Hopping over packing boxes, I hurried to the door. Standing there were two women my age, smiles on their faces.

“Welcome to the building!” the taller of the two said, handing me a steaming-hot pizza box. “I’m Dena from down below, and this is my sister, Missy.”

Missy smiled shyly, handing me a six-pack of beer. “We—uh—wanted to make sure you eat tonight.” Blushing through her pretty freckles, she bowed her head in embarrassment. “I mean—because you’re moving in, and all.”

I smiled, glad to have the company. “Please—come on in,” I said, taking the beer from her hand. “Excuse the mess; I’m still just settling in.” I balanced the pizza box on my arm. “And thanks for the food. Why don’t you gals join me?”

Dena pushed Missy into the apartment. They sat down on the couch together, making themselves at home. “We wondered who’d rented this apartment.” Dena eyed the room suspiciously, looking up at the ceiling, checking out the walls. “The last tenant wasn’t happy here.”

“Oh. No?” I handed each of them a beer while I got plates for the pizza. “How come?”

“Tiffany felt—”

Dena furrowed her brow at Missy. “Uh, Tiffany was a little . . . strange. She had panic attacks. She was sure someone was constantly spying on her.” She popped her beer open and took a sip. “Anyway, it’s nice to have another woman here again.”

I handed them each a paper plate, opened the pizza box and set it down on the coffee table in front of them and waited for them to help themselves. “No men tried to rent here?” I asked.

Missy shook her head. “Mr. Sweeney is very specific. Women only. He believes that men create problems for an apartment owner.”

Dena pulled a slice of pizza free from the steaming pie and plopped it onto her paper plate. “Yeah, he’s a funny guy. Keeps to himself and doesn’t bother his renters.”

I sipped my beer. “I suppose that’s better than having your landlord breathing down your neck every second.”

Missy laughed. “That’s right. And that’s why we were so surprised when Tiffany moved out.”

Dena locked eyes with Missy in warning. “Miss gets so dramatic,” she said, smiling wanly at me. “Tiffany was her worst enemy. She was under psychiatric care and paranoia ruled her life. She was always afraid of something.”

Missy fidgeted. “Dena, you should tell her why Tiff was so upset.”

Dena bristled. “We don’t want to rehash old rumors,” she said, glaring at her sister. “The woman was mentally ill.”

“No, she wasn’t,” Missy countered. “She thought someone was spying on her in the apartment.” Missy crossed her arms over her chest, her brows knitting together.

Dena shook her head. “Missy always sticks up for anyone who has fantasies. “Tiffany just imagined things. Nothing more.”

“What kinds of things?”

“Oh, that she was being watched. She put up heavy drapes to cover the windows. Even in the shower, she felt like eyes were watching her. How crazy is that?”

I agreed with Dena: It was a little nuts. “How long did she live here?”

“About six months,” Missy said. “Then another girl moved in, but only for a week. Said the place gave her the creeps. She ended up moving out, too.”

“She only moved out because you filled her head with crazy ideas about the place being haunted,” Dena snapped derisively.

Is it haunted?” I asked.

Dena rolled her eyes; Missy’s grew wide. “Yes; I believe it is. I asked Hunter to bring in a psychic and have the building cleansed, but he ignored me.”

“Gee. I wonder why?’ Dena quipped, rolling her eyes again. “Maybe it’s because he thinks you’re batty?”

“Well,” I replied, hoping to mellow the topic, “I plan on staying here as long as I can.”

They both smiled. “We certainly hope so.”

“Let’s eat,” I said, desperately wanting to change the morbid topic of conversation.

Later that evening, I curled up on the couch, tossing about the information I’d culled from the two women who lived below me. No men allowed in the apartment building? It seemed rather odd to me, but times were crazy, and I figured that whatever Hunter Sweeney decided undoubtedly had to do with his concern for the safety of his renters.

Being spied on? That really seemed farfetched. Granted, I’d been in plenty of buildings with security cameras, and I’d always been aware of them. But this rambling, old Victorian had nothing like those security devices. It was just an old building—certainly very well maintained, but definitely not a high-tech security setup. And, if Tiffany had been having mental problems, then feeling watched certainly wouldn’t have been unusual for her. As for the woman who’d only rented for a week—well, people change their minds all the time. So, as much as I instantly liked Dena and Missy, I made up my mind right then and there not to take too seriously anything they said about the building.

Especially about my apartment being haunted.

Then one morning, when I was checking my mail slot, a handsome man walked into the foyer, nodding politely at me.

“Oh, you must be Miss Buckley,” he said, peeping over my shoulder at the number on my mailbox. “I’m Hunter Sweeney.”

“Oh, Mr. Sweeney,” I said, dropping my mail. Crouching to hastily collect it from the floor, I quickly rose and smiled at him. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

He was tall, with dark hair that curled over his shoulders. His deep-green eyes peered down at me. An expensively cut suit did little to hide his athletic build. “I trust you’re happy with your new living arrangements?” His eyes traveled up and down my body as he spoke, studying me.

Much as I hated it, I blushed like a silly little schoolgirl. “Oh, of course! The apartment is wonderful!”

A long-fingered hand went to his lapel. “I’m glad you’ll be a part of our little family.”

“I’ve met Missy and Dena, and they seem very nice. I’m sure I’m going to love it here.”

His brow furrowed. “You did hear about poor Tiffany and her . . . problem?”

“Yes. But that doesn’t bother me. Everyone is different.”

He grinned at me, his perfect teeth as white as snow. “Perhaps we can get together soon?”

I felt myself blushing again. “I’d like that.”

With a nod of his head, he climbed the stairs. Hunter Sweeney certainly was charming. But there was something about him that just didn’t set right with me, right from the start.

   Uh-oh, I thought. Don’t start getting paranoid like Tiffany. I realized I would have to keep my imagination under control.

The first incident occurred about three weeks after I’d moved in. I was in my huge shower, letting the spray massage me, when I got the funniest feeling that someone was in the bathroom with me. Pushing the glass shower door open, I peeked out. There was no one there—just the rain beating against the bathroom window.

woman aloneThat’s odd, I thought. I feel like someone’s watching me. The hair at the back of my neck bristled as I quickly rinsed the soap off of me. Stepping out of the shower, I quickly wrapped myself in a towel. Going to the window, I wiped the steam away, and then looked out. The window faced the alley, but there was no access to it. If anyone were, in fact, snooping on me, I realized they’d have to be two stories tall. Shaking my head, I gazed around me at the small room. Nothing there.

Deciding I was just nervous, I went into the bedroom, slipping on my robe. Shuffling out to the kitchen in my slippers, I poured myself a glass of wine, remembering my nana.

She’d come from the old country, and her life was always filled with superstitions and silly beliefs. She always made sure the local priest blessed her house every year—to keep evil spirits away. Garlic hung near her kitchen window to keep vampires from gaining access to her home; out of old twigs, she fashioned little, makeshift witches to hang in her kitchen to ward off the evil eye. To make sure that the Old Hag didn’t attack her at night, she hung witches’ balls in her bedroom window.

Granted, she was a little eccentric, but many of her beliefs came to my mind suddenly. Maybe the place really was haunted. After all, I’d felt as if someone were watching me. Was it only a case of nerves, or was some lonely, departed spirit inhabiting my apartment?

I took a deep swig of wine and then laughed. How silly! I was letting my imagination run wild like a scared deer. Sighing, I went to bed. Enough of ghosts for one night.

The first time I noticed something definitely strange was when I returned from a two-day business trip. I’d locked up the apartment, asked Missy to pick up my mail, and generally felt safe about leaving for those days.

Until I got home.

When I walked into the apartment, I instantly felt like something was off-kilter. You know how it feels when you know something is wrong, but you just can’t pinpoint it? Something really harmless, but still different, nonetheless?

I dropped my suitcase onto the couch and turned to check the messages on my answering machine. That’s when I noticed that the small, framed photograph of my grandmother wasn’t in its usual place on the bookshelf. It was now on the table, next to the answering machine. I raked my mind, trying to remember if I’d left it there before leaving. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember.

A slippery shiver inched up my spine, nonetheless. My breath came in short gasps, fear penetrating my body. Slowly, I turned. The rest of the room was perfect, and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching me, keeping an eye on what I was doing.

What nonsense! I was making ghosts out of a moved photograph! Laughing, I grabbed my keys and trotted down the stairs to get my mail.

“So, how was San Francisco?” Missy asked, pulling me into her apartment. “I missed you!”

I glanced around the apartment, realizing it was identical to mine. Except for the light fixtures. Mine were modernistic, and black, while hers were old, antique, ceramic. I guessed the money had run out when Hunter got to remodeling this apartment.

“San Francisco was wonderful,” I said, taking my mail from her outstretched hand. “I missed you guys, though.”

She grinned. “Dena is up north for a conference. I’ve had the building all to myself. And it’s been really creepy.”

I liked Missy, but she could be a little too ditzy for me at times. She was into reading Tarot cards, divining, and anything that the New Age had produced. “Well, it’s hard to get used to old buildings; they creak and groan,” I said, trying to make light of what she’d said.

She came close, the smell of lavender floating around her like a cloud. “It isn’t the building,” she whispered. “It’s something here that watches us, I swear. I even heard it walking around in your apartment.”

I inched toward the door as she crept closer to me. “Well, uh—thanks for getting my mail,” I said, pulling open the door. “I’ll talk to you later.”

I was out the door and up the stairs in a flash. Missy called to me from down below, but I just closed my door hard so she’d give up. Putting my ear to the door, I heard her door close downstairs, too. Breathing a sigh of relief, I headed for a glass of wine.

A few days later, I found a note stuck on my door. I pulled it free, opening the ivory stationery gently. The note was from Hunter, asking me to join him for dinner that night.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get chummy with Hunter. Oh, he was certainly very handsome, and he possessed charm that would turn any woman’s head. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that all wasn’t right with that man. He didn’t have long, blood-coated fangs, or wear a sweeping black cape, but still—I felt uncomfortable around him.

However, one didn’t offend her landlord—especially when the rent was so affordable. So I called Hunter’s answering service and told the operator that I’d be glad to join him for dinner.

To say the evening was great is putting it mildly. Hunter picked me up at my apartment and ushered me through a locked door at the end of the second-floor hallway. I’d noticed the door before, but figured it was a utility closet of some kind. Soon enough, though, I learned that it led to his private entrance to the third floor.

We climbed a short flight of stairs that gave onto a landing, which opened into a huge loft space. The attic was definitely very modern, but still comfortable. With the exception of a small, closed-off room near the back, the whole floor was like something out of an architectural magazine.

“This is very nice,” I said, eyeing an expensive print on the wall.

“Thank you.” Hunter handed me a flute of champagne. “I like the openness.”

I walked around—nosing around, really. There were bookcases lined with computer and cinema texts. Marble columns held bronze and terracotta statues.

“You’re into art?”

He nodded. “A little. With my kind of work, I don’t get to appreciate the finer things in life.”

Turning to him, I asked, “What kind of work do you do?”

He motioned toward a sleek, red, leather couch. I sat down, sipping my champagne. “Mostly computers and cinematic applications. Nothing exciting.”

“It must keep you busy, though. You sure seem to be gone a lot.”

Nodding, he shrugged. “These days, I work out of my laptop. I call it my traveling office.”

I watched him tuck a strand of raven-black hair behind his ear. “Well, at least you have this wonderful place as a retreat.”

He went to the small kitchen and retrieved a platter of fruit and cheese. “Yes, I love it here.”

Picking up a slice of mango, I smiled. “I love it here, too. Except. . . .”


“Well, I think Missy and Dena have filled my head with ghosts, and, sometimes, I feel like I’m actually being watched . . . in my apartment.” Wanly, I tried to smile.

“Really? Funny, Tiffany said the same thing—though the poor woman was mentally ill.”

Okay, I thought to myself, open mouth and insert foot. Now I’d made myself look like I was some kind of mental case, too. “Oh, it’s just my imagination, I’m sure.” I chewed the mango slice, hoping I hadn’t looked like too much of a fool.

Hunter nibbled on a slice of cheese. “I was going to put security cameras on every floor, but I decided they’d intrude upon my tenants’ privacy. That’s why I have the double-locks on the front door.”

“Oh, it’s fine. I guess I’ve just been reacting to what Missy told me. She sure comes up with some strange ideas.”

Hunter laughed. “Yes, she’s quite a character. But she and Dena have been terrific tenants. Missy’s a tad eccentric, though.”

Nodding, I gazed around the apartment. “What’s that room back there?”

“Oh, excuse me. That’s my office. Just some computers. A desk. Ready to eat?”

Life settled into a pattern. Most evenings, I brought reports home from the office to go over and recheck. Some evenings, I came home so dog-tired that I collapsed on the couch, totally exhausted.

On those nights when I worked late, though, I still had the creepy feeling that I was being watched. Hunter graciously bought shades for my windows, which I pulled down faithfully every night. Still, that eerie feeling crept with me from room to room. Washing dishes, I felt like someone was peering over my shoulder. In the shower, those eyes wouldn’t break away. Even tucked in bed, I felt as if someone were sharing the room with me. Quilt pulled up to my chin, I would listen quietly, almost hoping to hear something out of the ordinary. But then there would be just the groan of the building settling in the cool night. Gazing around, I would search for a wispy form to appear and float toward me across the bed.

Nothing ever happened.

But how was I to explain those objects that seemed to move by themselves? Like the little porcelain doll I kept on a bookcase. I’d found it one night, sitting on a window ledge. And what about the red-sequined dress I’d spent a fortune on? Hadn’t it been wrapped in a plastic bag? Now, it hung, uncovered, in my closet—not where I thought I’d put it, but on the other end.

How strange.

One day at lunch, I was sitting with my friend, Candace, when I mentioned the puzzling happenings in my apartment. “You don’t suppose the place is haunted, do you?”

She frowned. “Nah. It’s most likely someone snooping around in your apartment. What about that batty neighbor who lives downstairs from you?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Missy isn’t batty. She’s just a little . . . different. Anyway, I don’t see her coming into my apartment. She’s not the kind.”

“Then what about the other one?”

“Same with Dena. And she’s gone a lot, and I doubt she’d sneak around, anyway.”

Candace twirled a strand of her short, blond hair around her finger. “Then it’s definitely someone else. Ever consider setting up a video camera to see who it is?” Candace was a technical buff. Any new electronic device kept her happy. I knew immediately what she wanted to do.

“No, I can’t do that. Anyway, it’s probably just my imagination.”

She bit her bottom lip. “Listen Yasmin—it’s not your imagination. Sure, you get dumb ideas sometimes, but you’re by no means ready for the funny farm. So if you feel creepy in your own apartment, then it’s time you found out why.”

“But—video equipment?” I shook my head. “That’s spy stuff.”

“Glad you realized it.” She pulled a pad out of her purse and grabbed a pen. “I’ll make a list of what we’ll need and bring it over tomorrow night. We’ll set it up and catch that pesky little ghost.”

I was already having doubts. “No, I’m fine. Really.”

She tossed the pad and pen into her purse. “No, you’re not. I’ll be by tomorrow night.”

Candace rigged the cameras in closets in every room, positioning the lenses through the slats on the doors. The kitchen was a little tricky, so she put the camera in the breadbox, with the cover just barely open.

“We won’t get the full figure of your ghost,” she explained, “but at least some part of it.”

I felt sillier by the minute. “Candace, maybe this is going too far. . . .”

Positioning a small microphone under the blender, she then turned to me. “Quit it. It’s all set up. All we do now is wait.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

For two days, the tapes revealed nothing. Candace rewound them and checked the equipment.

“We’ll give it one more day, then call it quits. It just might be your imagination, after all.”

“Okay, then that’s it. I hate this super-spy game, anyway.”

Running a hand through her hair, she sighed. “Yep, I agree. But it’s worth one more try.”

“Say we do get someone or something taped. Then what?”

She shrugged her bony shoulders, adjusted her tank-top straps, and grinned. “It’s your baby, then.”

Just what I needed.

The following night, when I got home from work, there was an ivory note tucked under the door. Smiling, I knew it was from Hunter. Another invitation to dinner? I opened it quickly. He wanted me to join him for a nightcap. Okay, fine with me.

Tucking the note into my pocket, I went inside my apartment. And immediately gasped. Several books were laid out on the coffee table—books that had been tucked away in the bookcase. A vase with a bouquet of tulips arranged in it was sitting on the kitchen counter. Without hesitation, I called Candace.

“Someone’s been in my apartment!” I cried.

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

The note in my pocket crinkled and I remembered Hunter’s invitation. Quickly, I dialed his exchange, leaving a message that I might be a little late, due to work. I figured I’d explain later what was really going on.

Candace must’ve run every red light in town to get to my apartment so fast. I threw open the door and she rushed in.

“Got ‘em!” she said, opening the closet doors and ejecting the videotapes from the recorders. “Whooee!” she cried, dancing around the room. “Let’s get the kitchen one, too!”

She pulled the small camera out of the breadbox, and then reached for the microphone. “Damn it—I think I put it too far under the blender. We might not get good sound, if any.”

“Hurry—let’s look at the tapes!”

Candace slipped a tape into my VCR and pushed play. After a few whirls, the VCR sprang to life. We stared closely at the TV screen, waiting to see a ghost. Instead, all we saw were the shoes of someone who was roaming my apartment.

“Damn it!” Candace swore again. “I thought I’d leveled the cameras enough to angle through the slats on the closet doors. Shoot! All we got are feet!” She frowned and plopped down onto the couch.

“But we got the shoes,” I replied. “And that means it’s a real person coming in, not a ghost.”

She brightened. “Yeah, you’re right! Hey—do those shoes look familiar to you?”

“Well, it definitely looks like they’re men’s shoes—polished, neat, and expensive. But I don’t know anyone who wears shoes like those.”

“Too bad. It’s definitely a clue, though.” Standing up, she pulled on her jacket. “Well, girl, I gotta run. Sorry this was such a bust. We can try again.”

I shook my head. “I’ve had enough spying to last a lifetime. Thanks for your help, though.”

Saluting me, she slipped out the door.

So someone was coming into my apartment. But who—and why? And why did I feel like I was being watched whenever I was home alone?

Remembering my “date” with Hunter, I dashed into the bedroom to get dressed—and, as usual—felt the eyes peering at me.

“I’m glad you could come,” Hunter said, inviting me inside. “Would you like some wine?”

“Yes, I’d love some.” I settled onto the couch. The leather squeaked under my weight. “How’s business?”

I heard the pop of a cork. Then Hunter said, “I’ve been gone a week. Business seems to get better every day.”

“That’s great.”

He came and handed me a glass of white wine. “To us,” he toasted.

I raised my glass, glad to be able to escape my apartment for a while. Sipping the wine, I debated whether or not to tell him about the intruder. Waiting till I was certain who it was made better sense, but I still hated the idea of having my privacy invaded in such a terrible way.

Hunter sat down beside me, putting his feet up on the glass-topped coffee table. “Ah, it’s great to relax.”

Just as I went to take another sip, my eyes fell on Hunter’s shoes. There was no mistaking the highly polished leather, the intricate stitching of the imported shoes. They were the same shoes we’d seen in Candace’s videos.

My breath caught in my throat. Was it possible? Was Hunter going into my apartment? Moving things? Snooping around?

It couldn’t be. Surely, he wasn’t the type to do such a thing.

Or was he?

Hunter put his arm around me. I couldn’t contain the shiver that raced up my spine. “Are you cold, Yasmin?” he asked.

“Oh . . . I’m fine. I—I just might be getting a bug or something.” I moved slightly to the right, only to have him move with me.

Grabbing my hand, he helped me to my feet. “Let’s get more wine,” he said, his face close to mine.

I stared in disbelief at the handsome face before me. No, it wasn’t true. Hunter wasn’t snooping around. . . .

Then his lips covered mine, and just as quickly, I pulled away. “Oh—please!” I cried.

His dark eyes shimmered. “What’s wrong? Did I frighten you?”

I croaked out a faint laugh. “I—I think I’m coming down with something and I—I don’t want to give it to you.” I gazed up at him. “Please, Hunter—I’m not feeling well. You don’t mind if I skip tonight, do you?”

He took my arm, his fingers tight around my sleeve. “Yasmin, maybe I should take you to a doctor? You look pale.”

Pale wasn’t the word for how I looked. I knew I looked as if I’d seen the devil in the flesh. Trembling, I shook my head. “No—I’ll be fine. I—I just want to lie down for a while.”

“Let me walk you down,” he said, reaching for his coat.

“No!” I cried. “I mean—I’m okay. Really. Please—just stay here. I’m sorry about this.”

Before he could say another word, I was out the door and down the steps. Seconds later, stepping into my apartment, I locked the door behind me and then leaned against it, breathing deeply.

What was I going to do?

The following morning at work, I caught up with Candace.

“I know who the intruder is,” I told her quietly.

Her eyes widened in surprise. “C’mon. You’re kidding. Right?”

“No. I’m serious—I know who he is. He’s my landlord.”

Candace’s mouth dropped open. “You mean—that guy who’s never around? The computer guy?”

“The one who also does cinematic work,” I added.

“Holy moly. That’s creepy. What’re you gonna do?”

I leaned against the wall, shrugging. “I don’t know. I can’t prove anything with just a few shots of his shoes. I’ll need something more solid to go to the police with.”

She wiggled her leg nervously. “How do you explain the feeling you have of being watched when he’s not even around? The cops aren’t going to bust him on your word alone. You need something concrete.”

“Okay. You’re the technical genius; tell me how you’d give me a creepy feeling without being around?”

Tapping her foot, she thought for a moment. “Actually, it’s quite simple. What I’d do was put hidden cameras in all the rooms of your apartment. These days, cameras are so small, you can place them almost anywhere.”

“But I’ve checked the place up and down. There’s nothing suspicious.”

“Of course there isn’t, Sherlock,” she said, rolling her eyes. “If he’s got the place wired, he doesn’t want you finding the cameras. So what’s unusual about your place?”

“Nothing, really.”

“C’mon. There’s got to be something different.”

“Well, it’s an old building, and only the attic and the second floor got extensive remodeling. Missy and Dena have the old-fashioned light fixtures, while mine are more modern and—”

The words died on my lips.

“Oh, my God—he’s got the cameras in the light fixtures. That’s why I never saw them.” I smacked my forehead. “I should’ve known.”

Candace patted my shoulder. “No big deal. Who would’ve thought? Okay, so they’re in the light fixtures. You still need more than that for the cops to do anything.”

“Well, if he’s taping me . . . then he has copies of the tapes somewhere. We’ve got to get those.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been in his apartment, and you haven’t seen anything. So where’re the tapes?”

man in suitMentally, I retraced the layout of Hunter’s apartment. Suddenly, I remembered the locked office. “Candace, he has a small office that he keeps locked—all the time. With two padlocks on the door. That’s got to be the place.”

“Bingo! You’ve got it! Now, though, we’ve got to get in.”

“And do what?”

“Steal the tapes, stupid. Then you can go to the police with them.”

“But—I never know when he’s gone.”

“What about his mail? Packages? Who collects them when he leaves?”

“Missy does. She got mine while I was away, too. She’ll know when he leaves again.”

Candace was hopping around. “That’s great! So find out when he leaves, and then we’ll sneak inside!”

“But that’s breaking-and-entering, isn’t it?”

She smiled wickedly. “Only if we’re caught.”

I stopped in to talk to Missy and Dena when I got home. I hated to use them in my plot, but I had no choice.

“Hi, Dena,” I said when she opened the door. “Is Missy around?”

Dena shook her head. “No. She had to visit our mother; she’s sick.”

My heart sank. “Oh, darn. I wanted to ask her something.”


“Well, I—uh—I thought I’d give a small dinner party for the apartment tenants. But I don’t know when Hunter’s going out of town again.”

Dena’s beady eyes studied me closely. “So why don’t you ask him?”

Fair enough question. Now I had to think up a convincing lie. “Uh, I can’t, because I want to make it a surprise for him. With him being such a great landlord and all, I think I owe it to him.”

“You inviting us, too?” she pressed.

“Of course,” I said, managing a not-too-phony laugh. “I wouldn’t have a party without you two!”

Dena smiled through tight lips. “Well, I’m not one to give out information, but under the circumstances. . . .” Leaning forward, she whispered, “You’ve missed him this week. He had some emergency business to take care of. He was in quite a hurry. Said he’d be back next week.”

“That’s great!” I cried, stifling my excitement. “But—are you sure? I mean, I wouldn’t want to mess up the dates.”

She frowned at me. “Yasmin, I’m very specific in everything I do. Hunter asked me to get his mail this week, and that’s what I’ll do.” She sniffed loudly. “I would never ‘mess up the dates,’ as you put it.”

I’d certainly been put in my place. I offered her a weak smile. “Thanks, Dena. I’ll see that you get an invitation. We’ll make it for when Missy comes back.”

Dena pulled her thick lips into a tight line. “At least I hope she won’t mention any ghosts,” she huffed.

I didn’t reply. Turning on my heels, I was up the stairs to my place in no time.

My fingers trembled as I punched in Candace’s number on my phone. “Candace? He’s gone! We’ll have to do it soon!”

“Then it’s tonight. I’ll see you in an hour. Dress in dark clothing.”

“What?” I asked before she hung up. Dark clothes? What next?

With Candace, you never knew.

Candace set her small toolbox down near the entrance to Hunter’s place. Pulling out a small set of lock picks, she wiggled each of them around inside of the lock. Pressing her ear to the side of the lock, she smiled when we both heard the audible click of the tumblers falling into place.

“Okay; let’s do this.”

At that moment, I had second thoughts. After all, this was my landlord’s apartment that we were breaking-and-entering.

“Wait.” I grabbed Candace’s arm. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this.”

She sighed. “Yasmin, you’ve got to get evidence if you’re going to the cops. Quit being such a sissy.” Grabbing my arm, she pulled me inside to the stairs, and then softly closed the door behind us. “We’ve got to do this fast.”

There was no turning back then. My heart pounded in my chest. My breath came in short gasps. I couldn’t believe we were actually doing it—breaking into Hunter’s home.

We climbed the steps quickly. Entering the loft, I reached for the light switch. Candace slapped my hand away.

“No lights. And keep your voice down to a whisper. He’s probably got this place bugged, too.”

She looked around, and then turned toward the office. Tiptoeing, we made our way across the polished wood floor. A couple of Oriental rugs softened our footfalls. Within seconds, Candace was at the office doors, inspecting the locks.

“Simple. No problem here.” Out came the picks again, and another tool I didn’t recognize. A twist here, a turn there—and the first lock clicked open. The same procedure, and then the second one was open, too.

“Where’d you learn how to do all this?” I whispered, shamefully impressed.

“My dad’s a locksmith.”

“So now what?”

She put the locks on the floor, and then gently opened the doors. “Inside we go.”

I followed her into the office. It was well lit, and looked more like a television studio than an office. Shelves held small TV sets that displayed various areas of the apartment filmed by different, closed-circuit cameras. Other sets showed something completely different—

The inside of my apartment.

My knees wobbled. Candace pulled out a chair, pushing me into it. “Stay here and stay calm. I’ll find the tapes.”

I watched in silence as she pulled tapes from a rack near the TV monitors. It was eerie, sitting in the chair, catching scenes of my apartment on the closed-circuit monitors displayed before me. Candace had been right about the light fixtures. Hunter had gone to a lot of trouble to set up his surveillance system.

Candace stuffed several tapes into her duffel bag and then came over to me. “C’mon. We’ve gotta get out of here.”

As quietly as possible, we hurried out of the office. Candace closed the doors behind us, snapping the locks back into place. Just as she turned to me, the front door lock squeaked.

Hunter was home!

“Damn. We’ve got to get out of here,” Candace muttered, grabbing my arm. “Is there a door to the outside?”

“Yes, but it goes out to a balcony over my back porch. There aren’t any stairs. I don’t even know how you’d get out in case of a fire.”

“We’ll soon find out.”

Crawling almost on our knees, we moved toward the kitchen. Then Candace stopped suddenly; Hunter was inside the loft, his footsteps heading toward his office.

“Let’s get outta here!” Candace growled.

I followed her to the back door. Her steady fingers turned the knob. Holding my breath, I waited for the door to squeak loudly as she opened it. It didn’t.

Seconds later, we were out on the balcony. “There’s the fire ladder!” Candace said.

“Let’s get it down.”

Candace shook her head. “We can’t. He’ll know we’ve been here. We’re going to have to drop down to your porch.”

“What?” What did she think I was—a circus acrobat?

She pushed me over to the ledge. “Just put your feet down on the railing of your porch and drop onto the floor.”

I gazed down at the porch railing that seemed miles away. “I can’t do it. I’m afraid!”

She shook me hard. “You’ve got to! Who knows what this guy is capable of?”

All I remember is hopping over the ledge, feeling my feet hit the railing, and then slipping down onto the porch. Seconds later, Candace did the same, her little bag hooked to her belt.

We had made it.

“Let’s take these tapes over to my place to watch,” Candace said, going down the back steps. Just as we reached the bottom, footsteps echoed on the balcony.

“He’s coming!” I cried.

Candace and I pressed up close against the building. “Be quiet!” she whispered anxiously.

Hunter’s shadow could be seen. “Hello? Anyone down there?”

I jumped at his voice, but kept my back glued against the wall. We waited in silence until he retreated back into his apartment.

At the sound of his back door closing, Candace and I raced to the garage, then out a side door to her car. Nonchalantly, we walked half a block to where she’d parked. It wasn’t until we were safely inside her car that I breathed a sigh of relief.

“We did it!” Candace said proudly, holding out the tapes. “The cops are gonna love these!”

I leaned back, trying to still my racing heart. Beads of sweat rolled down from my armpits. This was just about the worst thing I’d ever gone through. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

Candace and I sat in the police station’s video room watching the tapes. There I was, sudsing up in the shower, running the soap all over my naked body. I knew that the detectives weren’t ogling, but I couldn’t help but feel horribly embarrassed, ashamed, devastated, and violated as the camera zoomed in on my hardened nipples.

I gasped when another shot showed me naked, slowly getting dressed for work. As I hummed to myself, Hunter’s camera zeroed in on my private parts.

I was sick.

I felt like I’d been raped.

After the police saw the tapes, a warrant was issued for Hunter’s arrest. Unfortunately, he’d left town without anyone knowing it—just vanished into the night like a ghost.

But the tapes would be great evidence if he were ever caught. There were tapes of Tiffany showering and doing chores around her apartment; two tapes were filled just with raw footage of me in the shower, in bed, and watching television. Other tapes that Candace had snatched were even more pornographic in nature.

A thorough inspection of my apartment revealed the concealed cameras in the light fixtures. Hunter had the cameras linked to his own, closed-circuit monitors in his apartment, and also wired directly into an online, pay-per-view, live-sex-cam link that serviced any pervert with a camera and a major credit card.

“No wonder Tiffany moved,” I told Missy and Dena later on. “She was right all along. She was being spied on—videotaped doing the most personal, private things that a woman can possibly do! Just like I was!”

Missy shook her head sadly. “This explains all the noises we kept hearing upstairs. Hunter was roaming around your apartment when he was supposed to be at work. Do you think he’ll come back?”

“The police know he’s left the country. So all they can do is wait for him to try and return.”

“How awful. To think that someone would actually do something like this!” Tears filled Missy’s eyes. “My God—no woman is safe!”

I held her close. “You’re right. That’s why we’ve got to always pay attention to those subtle feelings we all get at times. Because it’s not always just our imaginations at work.”

I’m still in the apartment. Hunter’s brother took over the management of the building in his stead, and he’s graciously kept the rents reasonable. The office upstairs has been turned into a library. The only surveillance cameras on the premises now are those that track visitors and tenants at each end of the hallways. Just for security reasons, not for spying.

I’m glad Candace and I helped stop Hunter from continuing his depraved perversity. The only regret I have today is that he still hasn’t been found.

Which worries me.

Because somewhere, in another country, Hunter is probably doing the same thing to other innocent, unsuspecting women that he did to me. Taping the most intimate, private moments of a woman’s life. Invading her privacy—

And she doesn’t even know it.

I can only hope that she gets a feeling of something being strange . . . something that’s not quite right, not quite what it seems to be. And that she takes that feeling seriously.

Because, only then, can Hunter be found and put on trial.

Truth or Fiction: Mystery Plot Twists Fascinate Us

tram at night at Prague

By Katherine Sharma

Mystery lovers, by their nature, are lovers of the plot twist. Just a few of my favorites with surprise twists include Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins,Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, In the Woods by Tana French, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

girl on trainOf course, the great Agatha Christie has multiple entries, such as The Murder of Roger AckroydAnd Then There Were NoneDeath on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express. Notice how often the “unreliable narrator” is key to the surprise twist, by the way.

Sometimes fact is even more astounding than fiction, however. Just check out’s post about 10 real-life mysteries solved by incredible plot twists. For example, there’s seven-year-old Maria Ridulph’s 1957 murder solved by a “murder will out” twist 54 years later. Although 17-year-old neighbor John Tessier was suspected of Ridulph’s murder at the time, he had an iron-clad alibi: He had taken a train trip on the day the child disappeared. The police reopened the case in 1994 after a deathbed statement by Tessier’s mother, but the alibi had them stumped–until one of Tessier’s ex-girlfriends helpfully provided an old framed photograph. Investigators found the 1957 train ticket hidden inside, unstamped because Tessier had never used it to take the trip. Tessier was finally charged with murder in 2011. Science, not luck, played the key role in another seemingly insoluble murder.

gone girlAfter a 13-year-old girl was found stabbed to death in 2011 in Italy, police took 15,000 DNA tests to compare with DNA samples found at the murder scene. One man’s near-match led to testing of his family, including a long-dead uncle and the uncle’s children–without an exact match. Police then learned the dead uncle had been a very active womanizer, and 500 women were investigated. Police finally found a married woman whose twins turned out to be the secret offspring of the dead uncle. One of the twins was a match for the killer’s DNA, and he was charged with murder in 2014.

For more real-life twists, read


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Injecting Poison Into the Mystery Plot

Portrait of office manager poisoning petroleum

By Katherine Sharma

Poison is a rare murder weapon statistically but not fictionally. And here’s a case where mystery plots may be more revealing than crime data. Many homicidal poisonings go undetected per experts, and only one in five verified murders by poisoning is ever solved.

As an introduction to the topic, read The Poisoner’s Handbook by Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Deborah Blum. It’s a historical thriller about how a medical examiner and toxicologist team uses trailblazing forensic science to bring to justice poisoners in early twentieth-century New York, setting new standards for forensic detection along the way. Structured as a series of linked stories about poison death investigations, it was a finalist for the 2010 Agatha Award for nonfiction and a New York Times bestseller in 2011.

Beautiful young nurse with syringe in handOr, you can turn to fictional inspiration. Agatha Christie counted many poison victims in her mystery books, from Cards on the Table, in which an evil doctor salts anthrax on a shaving brush to kill with a razor nick, to The Pale Horse, where tasteless, odorless thallium is the poison of choice. Another British mystery queen, P.D. James, used insecticide in a whiskey to poison a trainee in a nursing home in Shroud for a Nightingale.

But how close are the fictional mysteries to real poisonings? Author-scientist Blum lists carbon monoxide, arsenic, radium, cyanide, nicotine, aconite, chloroform, mercury and thallium (kudos, Agatha) among her favorite poisons from historical homicides. And based on convicted poisoners (recognizing that they represent the minority of poisoners who have been caught), criminal profilers can say that, contrary to the popular notion that poison is a woman’s weapon, the majority of convicted poisoners are male. The homicidal poisoner is also more likely to be in the medical field (doctor, nurse, lab technician) or in a care-taking role (wife, mother, nursing home attendant) where he or she has ready access to poisonous means and vulnerable, trusting victims.

Psychological profiling of convicted poisoners shows that they tend to be clever, methodical, self-centered, emotionally immature and certainly unburdened by morality and empathy. And they are sneaky, often skillfully masking their true natures by pretending to be a loving spouse or caring nurse. For examples of more famous poisonings in literature, check out


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Blindsided By Murder Mystery Plot Twists

TS-522556328 Murder Plot Twists

By Katherine Sharma

Skilled mystery authors can use an ingenious plot twist to surprise and stump even veteran mystery readers. Here are some favorites that continue to inspire imitation and inventive variation:

Let’s start with the Narrator Culprit. Readers tend to trust the mystery narrator, especially if he or she is a victim, sympathetic witness or helpful aide to investigators, so it’s a real shock to find out they’ve been bamboozled by a villain (and the author). It worked in The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie and the more recent Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

The Impossible Murder twist is another favorite in which the evidence seems to contradict logic and science, including the many variations on the classic “locked room” murder. Read John Dickson Carr’s The Three Coffins for an ingenious example that includes a locked room death followed minutes later by the shooting death of the main suspect on a snow-covered street, surrounded only by his own footprints yet with a powder burn showing he was shot at close range.

The Supernatural Killer is a popular way to play mind games with readers, too. There’s often a spooky house, a ghost sighting, a curse, an old crime and a new one, and clues that fit both natural and supernatural explanations. A recent example is Tana French’s The Secret Place, in which adolescent girls at a posh Irish boarding school claim to police investigators that they see the ghost of the boy victim of an unsolved murder. Similarly, The Chinese Gold Murders, the second entry in Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee series set in ancient China, involves sightings of a murdered magistrate’s ghost, as well as a murdered monk in the wrong grave and a tiger at large, events Judge Dee traces to a common cause to solve the mystery.

Finally, there’s the Not Really Dead Suspect ploy, in which the author misdirects reader attention away from a supposedly dead character as in Agatha Christie’s famous And Then There Were None.

For more classic plot twists courtesy of Queen of Mystery Christie, read


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Sci Fi Meets Mystery: Detecting in Future Time

TS-512327828 Sci Fi Mystery-candles

By Katherine Sharma

In previous posts, I focused on mysteries set in past historical eras, but some mysteries leap into the future, and this marriage of science fiction with mystery has attracted best-selling authors and awards.

caves of steelStart with sci-fi titan Isaac Asimov, who wrote Caves of Steel back in 1953 to prove to his doubting editor that mystery and science fiction were not incompatible genres. The result: On an overpopulated future Earth, a New York City police detective, who dislikes his arrogant Spacer superiors and their robotic companions, is sent to the Outer Worlds to track down the killer of a Spacer, aided by a robot partner made in the likeness of the murder victim.


adromedaThe Andromeda Strain, by best-selling Michael Crichton, is a techno-thriller rather than a who-done-it, but it’s a great puzzle pitting a hero bacteriologist and his flawed team in a race to decipher clues and stop a murderous alien “biological agent” released by the crash of a military satellite before they are destroyed by a quarantining nuclear blast.


yiddishMeanwhile, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is set in a “temporary” Jewish settlement in Sitka, formed after Israel’s imagined collapse in 1948 and now about to revert to Alaskan control, where homicide detective Meyer Landsman investigates the murder of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, and runs afoul of old forces of faith and evil.


the cityThe City & The City, by China Mieville, is a police procedural involving a psychic journey across borders as two detectives in neighbor cities, one in the decaying city of Beszel and one in the vibrant city of Ul Qoma, are drawn by a woman’s murder into an underworld of nationalists intent on destroying the rival city and unificationists seeking to combine them.


demolished manFinally, Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man won a Hugo back in 1953 yet seems strangely apropos today: In the year 2301, guns are only museum pieces, and benign telepaths sweep the minds of the populace to detect crimes before they happen, so murder is virtually impossible–until Ben Reich, a psychopathic business magnate, devises a scheme to eliminate the competition and destroy the social order.


There are just too many options to note here, so check out


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Remembering Mystery Author P.D. James

158915552-murder mysterySome mystery authors transcend the genre in style and originality, and P.D. James, the British “Queen of Crime,” who passed away at age 94 this past November, is one example. Her last book, Death Comes to Pemberley, was published in 2011 when she was already in her 90s and combined two of her passions, which happily coincide with mine: Jane Austen’s social novels and detective fiction.

But I fell in love with her poetical Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh long ago, from his first appearance in Cover Her Face, published in 1962, through 13 other Dalgliesh books, including the award-winning Shroud for a Nightingale, The Black Tower, and A Taste for Death, as well as the last Dalgliesh mystery, The Private Patient, published in 2008. Another favorite was Unsuitable Job for a Woman, which introduced female detective Cordelia Gray, an inspiration/aspiration for female mystery fans back in 1972. James provided this deceptively simple definition of a mystery novel in a 2011 NPR interview: “What we have is a central mysterious crime, which is usually murder. We have a closed circle of suspects, with means, motive and opportunity for the crime. We have a detective who can be amateur or professional who comes in rather like an avenging deity to solve it. And by the end, we do get a solution.” The difference between James and most other genre authors is how masterfully she led us on the literary journey through twisted psyches and plots to solution. James, who said she drew inspiration from grande dames of mystery such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ruth Rendell, her longtime friend, has earned her own special place in the mystery writing pantheon, and her voice will be missed. For one obituary, see


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Separating Forensic Facts From Fantasy

29By Katherine Sharma

I admit I’m a sucker for forensic detection, especially mystery fiction where the medical examiner or expert is the key crime solver. I like Patricia Cornwell’s Dr. Kay Scarpetta series, Kathy Reichs’ Dr.Temperance Brennan mysteries, Tess Gerritsen’s Dr. Maura Isles, and Aaron Elkins’ “skeleton detective” Gideon Oliver, for example. Of course, I watch TV series such as “CSI,” “Bones,” “NCIS,” etc., where forensic experts put trace evidence in fancy machines that pop out scientific proof of guilt in seconds. With all the incriminating circumstantial evidence from DNA, fingerprints, bite marks, ballistics, blood spatter, insect activity, hair and fiber matching, and so on, it’s amazing that, in reality, direct evidence from witnesses still leads cases and that some crimes remain unsolved, murderers escape and innocents are convicted. In fact, popular fascination with forensics has actually created a crime prosecution problem known as the “CSI effect.” Trial jurors now may hesitate to convict without the forensic evidence from supposedly infallible experts that they have come to expect based on fictional crime dramas. Alas, there is more fantasy than fact in many televised forensic feats. Contrary to TV dramatics, forensic investigators don’t question suspects, process evidence in minutes, and then direct police to arrest the guilty party. The police, not CSI sleuths, take care of interrogations and arrests. Most forensic investigations stay removed from the action in autopsy rooms and labs. And those labs lack all the high-tech devices and expert staff seen on TV so specimens are routinely sent out for tests requiring days to months, not minutes, to complete. It can take four to six weeks just to get toxicology test results, for example. Plus, forensic tests — even DNA and fingerprint matching– are not foolproof. Forensic science is not immune to human error or varying opinions. That’s not to say that forensic advances aren’t playing a vital role in solving and prosecuting crimes today. The real forensic triumphs are as amazing as the myths. Check out some fascinating forensic facts at


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.