Detective fiction or romance? Any preferences?

Here’s something I wrote for a creative writing course. These were our instructions:

You will try writing two different versions of the same story. The first story should be a detective story; the second one a romance.

Following is your topic: two people meet after having been separated for 20 years. One of them has stayed in their hometown, and lives a traditional family life; is married and has two children. The other person left home in her/his early twenties and experienced various things that you are free to imagine. /…/ It should be clear to the reader why they meet again after all these years. There must be a conflict of some kind. Is the conflict something that happened recently/is about to happen, or is it an old conflict that has been going on for decades.

It couldn’t be more than 400 words either, but I changed a few bits to post it here (according to the feedback the teacher gave me at the time), so it might be slightly different than it was to begin with. Anyway, here’s my take on that task … We begin with the mystery/detective drama version of the story:

Fish Dock, Grimsby, Lincolnshire

GRIMSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE, 1849

Aldous Bentley never could get used to corpses, especially not when they once had been acquaintances. He grimaced at the body stretched out in front of him, a sheet pulled up to its pale, grotesquely bloated chin. The smelling salts could not disguise the foul stench of death which permeated the air. Somehow, he had always thought he would be the one first one to go. Out of the two old school friends, it had been he who left home early, travelled around, been a good-for-nothing nobody as his father liked to put it.

Mordechai Simpson, on the other hand, had always played it safe. Never one to wander, he had apparently stayed in Grimsby, become a fisherman like his father and grandfather before him, married some local girl and started a family. Yet he was the one who had been tied to an anchor and dumped into the sea for some inexplicable reason.

Simpson had had the audacity to get himself murdered before he had had a chance to tell Aldous whatever it was the man had to get off his chest. Highly annoying.

Aldous had returned to Grimsby on a whim, happened upon Simpson late one night, and was told there was something important he needed to tell him, but at the time, Simpson was in a rush and now it was too late. Whatever it was, it must have been important. Obviously, or he would not have lost his life over it.

‘It is him.’

Putting his hat back on, he nodded at the policeman. Outside the cold, grim room, he discovered a woman pacing up and down the corridor. Aldous thought himself a gentleman, and had therefore volunteered to identify the body, to spare the widow.

‘Mrs. Simpson?’

Turning around, she was astonished to find she recognised the man who had spoken, but she was not pleased to see the man who had once left her without as much as a good-bye. His bow was returned with an ever so slight curtsy.

‘Mr. Bentley.’
‘You look well. Unlike your husband.’
‘So it is true?’
‘I am afraid so.’ He hesitated. ‘Annie, I am sorry.’

‘Pray tell me what for! That I am now a widow and my children fatherless, or the fact that you decided you were too good for me and left without so much as an adieu?’

And then we move on, to the same scene, but seen from a different point of view, and with a different genre in mind.

GRIMSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE, 1849

Pacing up and down the chilly corridor of the morgue, she heard a door open and close behind her. A man spoke her name before she had a chance to react.

‘Mrs. Simpson?’

Turning around, Anne saw a man she had scarcely expected to lay her eyes on ever again. Aldous Bentley was as handsome as he had been all those years ago; a proud figure of medium height, broad shoulders and auburn hair. He still had the same peculiar green-brown eyes that she had once found so alluring. Why, she could no longer remember.

He gave her a bow, which she returned with an ever so slight curtsy.

‘Mr. Bentley.’
‘You look well. Unlike your husband.’

Faint hope that it was all just a dreadful mistake left her, she could feels tears burn in her eyes.

‘I am sorry, Annie.’

Sorry! Anger flared up and joined grief and she had to stop herself from giving him a good slap. Oh, yes, he was sorry, only twenty years too late, and in the wake of her husband’s death. The nerve!

‘Pray tell me what for! That I am now a widow and my children fatherless, or the fact that you left without as much as an adieu?’

‘Both, actually.’ A hand clad in brown leather touched her elbow; she shook it off, but it returned straight away. It felt oddly reassuring, and she did not approve. Not here, not now. ‘I could never hope you would wait for me, but I never knew … could never dream that you would marry him of all people.’

‘He is …’ Anne corrected herself, ‘was … a good man. Better than you ever were. He was there for me. Where were you?’
‘You could have gone with me.’
‘You never asked! One day you were gone, never to be seen again.’

Everyone had been expecting him to ask for her hand and she had longed to accept, so when he suddenly left Grimsby without so much as a by-your-leave, she had been devastated. All that love gone to waste had taken her years to accept, even after she pretended to have moved on. Fearing he was lost to her forever, Anne had eventually agreed to marry the man who was now lying dead in the other room. She had grown to love Mordechai Simpson, and now all she had left was confusion.

I realise it’s probably a “slightly” biased readership of this blog, but never mind. What do you prefer personally as a genre, detective fiction or romance? And which version of the story above do you prefer (if either)? Do you prefer it because you prefer the genre it’s supposed to be, or is it more down to one being better written? Sorry for asking lots of questions – I’m just a bit curious to try on a bunch of different genres to see what I actually prefer writing. Or rather, what my strengths are. If any. (*kicks herself to stop being so bloody low in the self-esteem department and to quit putting herself down all the time*)

So yes, any feedback you have is greatly appreciated, as always. 🙂

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