For all its steampunk trappings, If Two of Them Are Dead, is a mystery at its heart. Mysteries are devilishly hard to write in short fiction, which is why this story grew to a long novella. I opened the story knowing who would die: Permelia Westbrook, wife and sister-in-law of two wealthy brothers, Benjamin and Abraham respectively. That's where the story started, and it was all I knew about these characters. I didn't even know who had killed her and why.
Poor Permelia had to die so that her brother-in-law, Abraham could cross paths with Victor, the detective trying to solve her murder. At first I thought, the easiest way to work up a motive would be to have a love triangle and that would suffice. And it would have. Watch just about anything on Discover ID and you'll see that it is one of the commonest motives. However, that is what made it less attractive to me. Permelia needed more to her than being an adulterer.
There isn't much more I can say about that without giving away the plot. Of course, Abraham becomes an instant suspect. As a rather eccentric millionaire, he was in his nearby home working on his inventions while his brother, Benjamin, was down in New York City dealing with the family business. Abraham had access to the victim, and Permelia and he didn't particularly like each other.
Victor is instantly taken by Abraham but fights to put him out of mind. He can't possibly get involved with a suspect, even if the man wasn't a wealthy widower on top of it. As Victor noses into all aspects of Permelia's life, often finding doors closed to him as the Westbrooks equally wealthy friends circle their wagons, he finds himself hoping to uncover something that will put Abraham in the clear.
Victor quickly learns there is no shortage of suspects and motives. However, finding a way to clear Abraham and his brother will prove harder. Victor’s attraction to Abraham distracts him from his job. Soon, it becomes a race to the find the killer before someone else dies.
Thanks to Elizabeth for having me over!
excerpt – If Two of Them Are Dead
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Westbrook. Again, I’m sorry for stirring up the bad memories.” Victor gestured to the machine. “I have to ask. What is this thing?”
“A difference engine. I use it for computations. Would you like to see how it works?”
Victor held up his hands. “I would, but I’m afraid I don’t have much time.”
Abraham got up. “Do you have time to see one thing?”
Victor knew he didn’t, but he said yes anyhow. He wanted to spend as much time in this man’s company as he could. Was he imagining that Abraham seemed to be trying to keep him around even when it was obvious their business was done for the day? Victor could hope so. He followed Abraham outside to another outbuilding on the crowded property. Abraham threw open the door. Inside was the smallest airship Victor had ever seen.
“I used the difference engine to come up with the math to allow me to engineer a personal airship. It’s fairly new, but I’m sure it’ll catch on once I get to marketing it.” Abraham beamed, sweeping a hand to the ship, whose bright red and gold coloring put Victor in mind of a circus train. It was barely more than a hot air balloon gondola with a couple of seats under the gaudy gas balloon. A compact engine took over one end of the gondola. Was that a little bar near the seats? Yes, it had to be.
“Amazing.” Victor peered closely at the control panel. He wasn’t even sure what a couple of the buttons were. Abraham had created something completely new there. “How do you get it out of here?”
“Over here.” Abraham crossed to the side of the building and thumped a furnace. “You fire this up, and the steam drives the machinery to open the ceiling. It’s my newest baby.”
“I would love to fly something like that.” Victor ran his hand over the sleek, lacquered side of the gondola before going to check the engine. “I miss flying after retiring from the Air Corps.”
“Maybe one day, once this is all over, you can fly it.” The offer stunned Victor into silence. Abraham shrugged, and a sheepish grin cut across his face. “I like intelligent people, Victor, and you are smart. I can tell. I’d like to take you flying.” He patted Victor’s back. “Besides, it was Permelia who cared about breeding and money, not me. I care about the person and his actions.”
Victor thought about those words and the invitation long into the night.
Jana Denardo's career choices and wanderlust take her all over the United States and beyond. Much of her travels make their way into her stories. Fantasy, science fiction, and mystery have been her favorite genres since she started reading, and they often flavor her works. In her secret identity, she works with the science of life and gives college students nightmares. When she’s not chained to her computer writing, she functions as stray cat magnet.
Jana is Queen of the Geeks (her students voted her in) and her home and office are shrines to any number of comic book and manga heroes along with SF shows and movies too numerous to count. There is no coincidence the love of all things geeky has made its way into many of her stories. To this day, she’s still disappointed she hasn’t found a wardrobe to another realm, a superhero to take her flying among the clouds or a roguish star ship captain to run off to the stars with her.
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