Wooooo, dig these crazy concepts, gang. This one was, more than anything, an exercise in strong openings that hopefully will help in the future. And if not, hey, at least it won’t take long to read the lot of them.

The prompt was to write the first fifty words (or fewer) of a mystery novel.

Roxanne Lewis, The Devil Wear PRADAZ

She hadn’t seen her son in thirteen years, but she hadn’t ever stopped looking. That day in the park was one that she relived in her dreams every time her eyes fluttered closed.

She shuddered awake to a teenage boy in front of her desk, “Mom, I did something bad…”

K: This is actually more intriguing before the twist, although it still opens up a lot of possibilities. Looks like someone knows about me being a sucker for missing person stories? I think I’d rearrange and cut a little. Last paragraph instead goes first, and then something as simple as “It was the first time she’d seen her son in thirteen years.”

MN – As a parent, anything with a missing child really hits hard. As a small critique, I’m a bit thrown by the description “fluttered closed” since “fluttering” implies both opening and closing. The temporal gap smartly introduces much mystery. But you’ve kicked us off well for the week.

Bret Highum, For the Love of Pete

The wind pushed the unlatched door open, stirring the kerosene fumes around me.
I dragged myself out the door, the way she’d gone. I rolled off the porch just as the house ignited.
As the sirens drew close and my consciousness dimmed, I promised myself I would find her.
K: I definitely like that we’re in the heart of the action. I’d still prefer the money line was first (“I rolled off the porch…” in this case) and the last line is overly expository, but we’re headed in an interesting direction. BRONZE

MN – This is very clear about the mystery, and it absolutely could kick off a good chase-mystery. At the same time, “her” and “she” are perhaps a little bit too vague for the beginning of a mystery, since it doesn’t tell us anything about her relationship to the narrator, and why we should care.

Beau, The Hidden Legends of Temple Grandin

Sparks enjoyed the finest luxury foods while on holiday. Tonight’s meal was the head of an Outlier. Some thought it barbaric, but this fate was surely better than the camps. Win-win, one could say.

“Here you are, Sir,” said his waiter. “A blonde, as you ordered.”

It was his wife.

K: This seems more like horror than mystery, and I’m not sure whether it should be humorous or terrifying (or both). It’s a unique idea, though I need a bit more to be truly grabbed by it. BRONZE

MN – This seems like an interesting world you’ve built, but the concluding sentences feel more like they’re further establishing the type-of-world than establishing a mystery. I’m guessing you had a much bigger vision than the prompt permitted.

Joshua Longman, Hidden Legends

Wiping the sweat from his brow, he killed the mower, but the smell of grass lingered. Dinner was ready, so he trudged up the stairs. Brittany’s door was ajar. He heard a giggle and his face paled; an elegantly wrapped gift was on her bed, signed with a bloody thumbprint.

K: Is Brittany giggling, or is part of Brittany in the box? If the killer is giggling and he’s in the room, this will be solved rather quickly, I would think. There’s a nice sense of dread here but I’m not sure what I’m reading yet.

MN – I am sufficiently intrigued by this. The setting gave us a good feel for the relationships, and the kid thing gives it a punch. This might have worked better as a first-person narrator, or if you’d given the protagonist a name. Still, the disrupting of suburbia jars us right into things. BRONZE

Jordan Graham, Hidden Legends

Dashing through the downpour, I hear sirens.

Can’t stop.

Brush water from my brow. Bump bruises on my cheek. The new one. The weeks’ old ones too.

Even in chaos comes relief; thank God he’s dead.

Gun goes in lake. Wedding ring in gutter.

But I hadn’t killed him.

K: The convention of cutting words to build tension works sometimes in short bursts, but there’s a fine line before it becomes irritating, and we’re right on the line with “Gun goes in lake,” which seems more like a way to conserve words. That said, the final line works extremely well as a twist worth reading. SILVER

MN – This moves, and I love the pace. The word count killed your pronouns, and those make this one of my favorites. The last line might have gone a little differently to express the idea less directly, but again that’s a word count casualty, I suspect. SILVER

Zack Sauvageau, PRADAZ

After four hours on logging roads, seeing the sun again can be blinding. Ripowski and Jones suddenly found themselves in a clearing; a perfectly circular clearing.

The GPS told them they’d arrived at their destination, but all they saw was a giant black circle.

“Weren’t we looking for a house?”

K: I’ll forgive the incorrectly used semicolon because this is an intriguing idea. I figure these two are rednecks about to be thrust in a seemingly supernatural case, which could be funny as well as a good mystery. GOLD

MN – Bum, bum, buuuuuum! I wonder how many times I’m going to do that? I really felt the need this time. The matter of fact opening sentence wasn’t my favorite, but the rest of this plays out exactly like a good Sci-Fi mystery would. I can see myself watching this exact scene in a movie or TV show. BRONZE

Eric Schapp, For the Love

The leaves of Skyline Drive were binging on the crimson colors that forewarn of their imminent death. Jack looked out over Big Gap thinking about the center. The leaves were violently rustling.

“Is that the wind?,” thought Jack. Another crack even closer. He turned just as the foliage went dark.

K: Is this prose annoyingly purple or appealingly flowery? I’d need a longer piece to be sure. This is a hard one to judge because whatever’s going on is completely shrouded in mystery. Still, I want to read further, and that’s good. SILVER

MN – The focus on the color of the leaves and the ending with them going dark has me believing that this mystery is centered around the trees themselves as characters, or something to that effect. But it’s not entirely clear that’s where this is going, as you’d almost certainly need more words to establish that. I thought the balance of description and action was perfect though, and I absolutely want to read more.

erik sunshine, For the Love

A brassy American, far outside the customary Amsterdam circuit, sidles to the bar of its oldest chess café. The bartender, freshly arrived, nods to Maurice, named for one of the few Dutch kings not named William. Faint lines from a garrote slowly fade in between his index and middle fingers.

K: Garrotes are such great weapons for dark mysteries. The prose is smart, amusing and sets the perfect mood. I want the rest of this novel. GOLD

MN – Doing this all through action is fantastic. I’m insanely curious about everything here, and would read more. My one critique is that it’s not immediately clear which of the 3 characters we’re going to end up following as the story develops, and I really want to know my rooting interests in this scene already. Because I really care about what will happen, and you did that very quickly. SILVER

Colin Woolston, Long Distance Phone Call for Friendship

An ordinary life lived carefully is no match for an extraordinary life lived recklessly. Keegan Lewis decided early on, witnessing his father’s ascent and subsequent crash into the world of corporate espionage, opposite his mother’s cautious and nervous administrations at home, what his destiny would hold. He would rule, reckless.

K: Well, we have a character and we’ve certainly learned a lot about him, but we don’t have any hints of a story yet. This works as the beginning of a character study, but has not yet set the stage for a gripping narrative.

MN – This narrative tone is different from what we’ve seen so far. Often times third-party omniscient narrators don’t work for mysteries, since they know it all. But this one feels like it could work, and it’s picking a different setting, which I really appreciated. Looks like it’s setting up an anti-hero too, which is cool. BRONZE

Brendan Bonham, For the Love

The Rafflesia arnoldii is one of the world’s rarest flowers. Found in Indonesian rainforests, it survives only on the Tetrastigma vine. Undeniably beautiful and deeply red, efforts to cultivate it elsewhere have failed. How, then, did it appear in the suit lapel of a dismembered torso on the Tangiers shore?
K: I wish the first couple of lines didn’t read so much like a Wikipedia entry, as it came off as more clinical than beautiful. The twist is certainly a nice one, though. I’m never quite sure about the narrator asking a direct question, as I think the drama works better with the facts laid out, but that’s a small thing. SILVER

MN – This reads like a Twilight Zone thing, and I enjoy that approach. I assume you meant “Tangier” and not “Tangiers”? Not having any characters revealed to us makes us take the reigns of the mystery, which is really fun. SILVER

Brooks Maki, Phone Call

The detective and the dead body had been staring at each other long enough that the dust had covered both of them. The coroner was waiting inside the door, not disturbing anything. Her legs gave out just as the detective toppled forward to lie next to the first body.

K: I love the way the first line sets up a tone of black humor and a total lack of leads so far for the detective. The coroner falling dead (I think?) was a surprising twist, though I would have taken a line or two from her – just to establish her presence – before she croaks.

MN – The detective being dead is a nice twist. I feel like I’m being really nitpicky tonight, but for me the action in the last sentence gets a bit confused because the coroner has her legs give out, which would cause toppling, but she’s not the one who topples.

Daniel Caouette, PRADAZ

A photo, a broken pocket watch, and words clipped from a newspaper. It was no way to leave someone you drugged and threw into a bathtub, but it didn’t seem like I had a choice. Who did this? I looked at the words. TWO DAYS. FIND HER.
Find who?

K: This reads more like a book jacket or DVD case than the actual book, as it really sets up the entire case in a very clear manner. A lot of information is thrown at us here, and I think it hurts the potential mood.

MN – The last four sentences are perfect. The first sentence was a good start. That sentence in between? I don’t know what happened. I’ve been puzzling over this… did the narrator drug someone and leave them? That doesn’t seem to fit with the rest. Truly, this is a mystery to me. Sorry for not getting it.

Shawn Ashley, Hidden Legends

Thirteen railroad cars.

He ran; muscles pumping, sweat clinging to every pore. He clasped the rail of the last one and hoisted himself up.

The stench hit him immediately; the body just barely visible among the cargo. A man he’d never seen before stepped from the shadows.

“Welcome, James.”

K: The second half of the sentence with a semicolon would be a sentence fragment. I foresee an action story here more than a mystery, and the subtle change in genre from the stories before it feels jarring, although I suppose I want to know more about the man from the shadows.

MN – I was about to say “you needed to give this character a name” and then you did. Well done. I’m not convinced that semicolon works, but I’ll let Kelly comment on that. Even if it does technically, there might have been better choices. Hey, nitpicky Matt is back tonight! While he’s here, he’ll point out that clasping a “rail” in a setting involving railroads probably implies the thing on the ground, but I really wasn’t thrown off by that, just picked it up on second read. GOLD

Will Young, For the Love

“Zabrinsky Park 50 steps e of shore.” As usual, it came from an unknown number. Frank appreciated Ryan’s caution; for three years they had kept this arrangement secret. As he loaded his shovel, Frank felt a buzz on his thigh. “Should warn u body is Ryan.”

K: A clear scene, an interesting and menacing character, and a established secondary character leading into a twist death – it’s all here! Plus, a semicolon used to glorious effect! I see a fast-paced, gritty action mystery coming. GOLD

MN – I puzzled over the “e” at first, before realizing it was “E”. “Should warn u” is an unfortunate addition to this story, because “body is Ryan” is the warning. Otherwise, I think it is perfect, and Frank is already an interesting enough character to follow for a while. SILVER

Joseph Rakstad, Hidden Legends

My eyes opened to a scene of chaos and confusion. My ears heard the panicked sobs and screams of widows and orphans. I shook off the shock that still sizzled in my head. I struggled to my feet as my senses returned. I had just witnessed a terrorist attack.

K: As terrorist attacks go, that one didn’t get the terror across as much as others I’ve read. Terrorist attacks seem an ill fit for the genre, though I suppose that’s my own experiences talking.

MN – I’m going to be nitpicky again… sorry. Widows and orphans is oddly specific for describing the victims of a terrorist attack, since it implies female and children survivors, with no adult male survivors. I also would change the verb in the last sentence from “witnessed” to something more active, since the narrator was also a victim. I have to admit, I didn’t think of terrorism as a possible angle, but I think this could absolutely set off the beginning of a great international political mystery, and that’s quite cool.

Brian David, Hidden Legends

Xavier checked the time, sighed, and tapped the screen of his phone.

It rang three times. Nobody answered.

The coffee shop vibrated, and through the window he could see a plume of smoke forming along the Chicago skyline. Xavier grabbed his handbag and quickly walked outside.

K: I can see reading more of Xavier, and I’m not totally turned off the idea of following the villain. It’s a strange way to deliver a mystery – I guess it’s a mystery to the secondary heroes, and not to us – but I like the writing and I’d keep going. SILVER

MN – Are you kidding me? Terrorism again? I guess I should have seen this a possibility, huh? I have a kid named Xavier. He’s 1. He likes tapping on our phones too. Anyway…this scene plays out perfectly, and is expertly written, but I’m not sure about following the terrorist as our possible main character. The mystery seems to have vanished already for us as a reader.

Danyel Logue, Phone Call

A passing eighteen-wheeler on the freeway overhead violently rumbled Jen awake. She assessed the small pools of blood on the cool concrete; felt the pressure of pulsing bruises on her face.


Jen frantically surveyed the gently waving sea of wheat fields surrounding her. The toddler had vanished.

K: A kidnapped toddler? Okay, now you have to write the happy ending or I’ll be messed up until you do. It’s a pretty basic opener – confusion and a missing kid – but the writing gets the tension across. BRONZE

MN – This moves, it establishes relationships, it introduces a desperate setting… nicely done. I’m not quite sure about “freeway overheard” and “wheat fields” as I don’t see too many freeway overpasses over open fields? Nitpicky Matt strikes again! GOLD

Annette Barron, PRADAZ

I gripped the steering wheel and I tried to focus on the officer’s face. “Where’s your wife, Mr. Matthews?” There was a sizzle in my temple and I tasted metal.

“My wife?”

“You tweeted that you and Anna were dining on the water.” His face was grim. “Three days ago.”

K: Well, I assume Mr. Matthews didn’t kill Anna, because if the narrator is the killer, we’re going to hear about it in his thoughts pretty quickly, I should hope. Matthews’ confusion is, again, a pretty basic way to start a story, but here we have a central character who’ll certainly be the prime suspect, which sets up a common, but engaging, twist on the detective story.

MN – This is perfect to me. The officer knows more than the main character and the reader. This is exactly as it should be in a mystery. We have a place we can go to get the information (the officer), but we might not like what we’ll find out (dead loved one?), or the price we’ll have to pay (jail?), and that decision drives the action. GOLD.

Pete Bruzek, PRADAZ

The fear of death had driven Marcus Kaye all his life. It had driven him to create a vast empire and to raise a son who would carry on his legacy.

The day after his murder, all that drove him was one question, seared into his consciousness.


K: Marcus was driven…the day after his own murder? Marcus’s son may be the driven one, but if so, the second bit needs some cleaning.

MN – The distance we have from the character is a bit too far here to be completely effective. Normally you’d spend time showing us his vast empire, introducing us to his son, etc. Obviously that can’t happen in this word count. I really like that the question is “why” and not “who.” BRONZE


Okay, so we have two nonsubs. However, one – Melissa Diamond of Phone Call – was saved with the tribe’s pass chip before I was done judgin and her nonsub will not be counted.

For the Love of Pete: 1/3/8/6/8 = 26/5 = 5.20 (but a nonsub, too)
The Hidden Legends of Temple Grandin: 1/1/6/5/0/3 = 16/6 = 2.67
The Devil Wear PRADAZ: 0/6/0/5/1 = 12/5 = 2.40
Long Distance Phone Call for Friendship: 1/0/6 = 7/3 = 2.33

Man oh man, do I ever hate to tell the tribe that dominated the challenge that they have a nonsub and now have to vote. For the Love of Pete, you have until Monday night at 9pm Central to vote. At that time, you’ll get your next prompt. You will receive more words, but the deadline will be earlier in the night.

Cheers, Survivors.