Dead in the Water, by Meredith Cole
DEAD IN THE WATER opens with Lydia McKenzie, my protagonist and sleuth, in the darkroom. Photography is her passion and her art form. She's got a new project, doing portraits of prostitutes on the waterfront in Brooklyn. Lydia has gotten to know one woman in particular, Glenda, and she is developing a picture of her. But she's feeling guilty because she has just ducked a call from Glenda asking for help, assuming that Glenda just needed drug money. But Glenda really is in trouble. She's been murdered and her body is in the East River. So the submersion of Glenda’s image in the developer tray mirrors her eventual fate.
It’s important with mysteries to give your sleuth a good reason for getting involved. With a police procedurals, it’s usually their job. But with an amateur sleuth they need a personal connection. Glenda provides the personal connection. The guilt Lydia feels over ducking her phone leads her out of her comfort zone and into danger. She’ll end up questioning her art, her choices, and her relationships—all because she wanted answers and closure. And it all started with Glenda.
Glenda’s eyes appeared first just below the surface. Dark and accusing, she looked like she did not enjoy being submerged or photographed. As she floated up in the shimmering liquid bath, Lydia ruthlessly pushed her back down with her tongs. Thirty more seconds in the developer, and then she could move the black and white photograph to the stop bath.
Lydia felt she managed to capture both Glenda’s identity and her profession in her world-weary face, her sassy pose and cheap clothes. But Lydia wished she didn’t feel so guilty about missing Glenda’s phone call that afternoon. She had ducked the call deliberately, assuming Glenda was trying to hit her up for cash again to buy drugs. When Lydia checked her messages several hours later, she was shocked by the fear in Glenda’s voice.
“Lydia, you’ve got to help me. I don’t know who else to ask. Call me, okay?” Fanning herself in the stuffy overheated darkroom, Lydia called Glenda’s cell phone as soon as she had listened to the message but Glenda didn’t pick up. She told herself it could be yet another false alarm. Drug addicts were notorious about taking everyone around them on emotional roller coaster rides. But still Lydia felt uneasy. She called her again several times, but she received no response.
She lifted Glenda’s image out of the developer and gave it a quick shake before she dropped it into the stop bath. The chemicals would halt the development process and prevent the developer from darkening the entire page. Ten seconds later, she moved the paper to the fixer to sear Glenda’s image onto the paper permanently. She watched as thirty seconds ticked slowly by, and then dropped the photo into the wash bath. The chemicals would have to rinse off completely before she could examine it in the light.
Meredith Cole directed feature films and wrote screenplays before writing mysteries. She won the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition. Her book POSED FOR MURDER, set in Williamsburg Brooklyn, was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in 2009. Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen and anthologies. Her second book, DEAD IN THE WATER, comes out May 11, 2010. She lives in Virginia, and teaches mystery writing and screenwriting.