Falling behind in reading my Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, I dashed ahead with the EQMM November/December issue when it arrived. Both magazines always have a smorgasbord of mystery subgenres and crime stories, in such diversity it’s hard to compare one story to another. My two personal favorites from this current issue were “A Small Mercy” by Alice Hatcher and “Kit’s Pad” by David Krugler.
Hatcher’s clever story successfully lulled me along with domestic difficulties and relationship challenges to the point where I didn’t see the big surprise coming. It takes a confident writer to trust that readers will buy into the misdirection so solidly that the tables can be turned on them!
This list of tips on writing clever plot twists starts with having authors put themselves in readers’ shoes. It suggests that as a story progresses, authors should develop a list of possible directions a reader might guess the story is headed in. Then “discard every one of them as a potential plot twist”! If the author can readily think where the story is likely to be going, chances are readers can too. That’s why Hatcher’s distraction—making me think the protagonist was solving one problem, when actually he was solving another one—worked so well.
So pleased to learn she’s a fellow University of Michigan alumna! You may know her from the award-nominated novel The Wonder That Was Ours (2018) or her numerous short stories.
In David Krugler’s “Kit’s Pad,” Kit, a homeless man, or the politically correct “unhoused,” which he scoffs at, takes the unhousing dilemma into his own hands. He finds an empty house for sale that’s not properly secured and camps out in luxury. But this pad turns out to be Grand Central Station for late-night visitors sneaking in and looking for . . . something.
The story has a very satisfying ending that gets him out of the “brutal wind scuffing off Lake Michigan” (there it is again, my home state). It’s what experts call a “resolved ending,” and it’s also a happy one. And it’s happy because Krugler has made his protagonist clever and likeable throughout. If a less appealing character ended up in the position Kit does, I as a reader wouldn’t be satisfied at all!
Krugler is a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville, and has written two WWII spy thrillers: The Dead Don’t Bleed and Rip the Angels from Heaven. His short story “Every Fire Wants to Kill” was published in the August 2023 issue of Mystery Magazine, in which a different empty house opportunity is seized.