Hello, and welcome to my 2022 A to Z Challenge! For a detailed explanation of my theme this year, see my theme reveal. But basically, I am exploring classic mystery novel murder motives, by making up a victim (Sir Adam Bracegirdle Clutterbuck) and then coming up with 26 characters who wanted to kill him. It is part genre exploration and part world-building exercise.
Today’s suspect is Stella Slaughter… if that is her real name!
Stella Slaughter is a mystery writer. Her novels are starting to be quite popular. A few years after the end of World War I (or, as it would have been known at the time of our story, the Great War… though if you just said “the war,” I bet people would know which one you meant) she bought run-down Millstone Manor (which is on the outskirts of Clutterbuck Parva) for a song. She then had it fixed up with all the modern conveniences, and has lived there in semi-isolation ever since. She does occasionally enter into the life of the village, but more often she holds herself aloof, working on her latest mystery novel.
Some people theorize that she came to Clutterbuck Parva to gather local color for her novels, which are often set in isolated English villages. This thought makes people rather shy of her, but they needn’t worry: it isn’t true. The only English village Stella needs for her writing is the one that lives in her head, and actual village life, if anything, tends to disturb her model and disarrange her ideas. No, her reason for taking Millstone Manor is more personal.
For you see, she is Sir Adam’s first wife, and Ingrid’s mother. She has changed much over the past two decades, and no-one who saw her then would know her now. She was living in France during the Great War, and the experiences of that are written on her prematurely aged face. Then she caught the deadly influenza that killed so many, and barely survived. Suffice it to say, she doesn’t look like the pretty young debutante that Sir Adam took to the altar all those years ago. Her face is now full of character, and tinted with pain. A face of distinction. Not the bubbly girl she once was.
Sir Adam certainly hasn’t recognized her, yet. She does tend to avoid him, just in case it finally dawns on him who she reminds him of, but so far so good. As for Ingrid, she was a baby when her parents divorced, and hasn’t seen her mother since—as far as she knows.
And her name isn’t the same as it was then. When she published her first mystery novel, she chose a pseudonym (Stella Slaughter), and she has lived under that name ever since.
Anyway, Stella bought Millstone Manor in order to keep an eye over her daughter Ingrid in secret. She lost all rights to her in the custody battle—but she is still her mother, and, as the years have passed, Stella has grown increasingly worried. Stella knows how horrid Sir Adam can be.
And lately, Stella has heard rumors that Sir Adam is trying to force Ingrid and the Hon. Quinton Feldspar to marry. Not only is Stella aware (for she manages to keep well up in local gossip, for all her aloofness) that Ingrid’s affections are engaged elsewhere, she also suspects that Quinton’s affections are engaged elsewhere as well, and that he is gay. Years of seeing the world in its larger aspects prevent Stella from being shocked at this idea, but she does think it rules him out as a husband for her daughter.
And yet, Sir Adam seems to have some hold over the young man which might yet force him to marry Ingrid. That is very clear to Stella. A total of four young lives would be ruined by this union (Ingrid’s, Eli’s, Quinton’s, and Quinton’s boyfriend’s), and yet… it might happen. And Ingrid is Stella’s daughter. And Stella might just feel that, though she has not been able to be a mother to her little girl for all these years, there is one thing she can do for her.
And that’s it for Stella! By the way, for readers who are looking at this A to Z for the first time, this particular entry is very much tied up with lots of entries that have come before it. To read more of Ingrid’s beloved Eli, check out Eli’s Elusive Engagement. To read more about Ingrid, read Ingrid’s Intended, Inheritance. To read more about Quinton, go to Quinton: A Question, but more or less skip the actual post (in which I challenge my readers to invent Quinton’s backstory and motive) and go down to the Comments section, and read Sue Ranscht’s comment, which is now canon.
Anyway, what do you think of Stella as a murderer? There is, let me pause to note, at least one classic Golden Age mystery in which the killer has essentially Stella’s motivation here. That is, the killer is a secret mother who kills to protect her child from the evil machinations of his (the child is a son, in the story I am thinking of) father. I won’t say what the story is, because that would mean I would spoil it for everyone who hasn’t read it yet. I mention it, though, both to make it clear that I am borrowing from a classic here and to indicate that there is precedent.
Leave a comment, and tell me what you think of Stella as a killer! Would she make a better red herring? How about the second victim? Or, as always, feel free to just say hi!