by Deborah Elliott-Upton
For a mystery writer, one of the basic elements of the story is why the crime takes place at all. What drives someone to do some dastardly deed that may lead at best to a stint in a jail cell? What is worth taking someone’s life, cash, or car? Why does someone jeopardize their good standing with the community by pilfering a neighbor’s lawn decoration as a prank?
Many jokesters don’t realize their fun and games could lead to a misdemeanor, possibly a fine or community service, and hard feelings with the victim. However, most crime stories that make it to publication don’t devote themselves to such minor misdeeds. One that did time and again was the stories of Nick Velvet, protagonist of Edward D. Hoch. Velvet stole only things of insignificant value, but he was still a thief. His escapades were entertaining not just in how he stole the items, but why the person paying his fee thought they were valuable enough to steal. Velvet made Hoch a visionary and Hoch made Velvet appealing to an ever- growing readership.
Remember the guys who laughed at their neighbors who placed plastic ducks in their front yard, then stole one of them and took pictures of the duck in differing vacation spots? The photos were mailed to the neighbors who had no idea who was playing such a prank on them. One day, the duck magically appeared in his spot on the front lawn again. As far as I know, no one confessed to the “crime” of stealing the lawn decoration. No “ransom” was demanded. The duck finally returned home. I suppose the neighbors also laughed at the prank in the end. But what if there had been something valuable inside the duck? Even if it was only valuable to the owners and they were the only ones who knew what was inside the duck? Would this story be even more fun and a lot more mysterious?
I think I may write that story. My motive? The answer to that lies somewhere between being a storyteller and having fun.