Stella Slaughter’s Secret Sentiment #AtoZChallenge 2022 Murder Motives

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!

 

 

Bookmark the permalink.

8 Comments

  1. I find Stella to be a knowledgeable and credible suspect. Her motivations are strong and her dislike and distrust of Sir Adam come from intimate knowledge of the horrid man he truly is.

    Perhaps she sends Sir Adam a note asking his blessing in setting her current WIP on Clutterbuck Estate. She acknowledges she is also considering another estate down the road, but assures him that if she chooses Clutterbuck Estate, he will be the hero of the tale. She goes on to include enough flattery, admiration, and respect for him and his property (plus a generous percentage of the profits from the book’s sale) that Sir Adam quite takes to the idea. He invites her to visit for a tour of the mansion and grounds. She agrees, but wears a veil because she is “in mourning for a beloved aunt”.

    While she is there, a bottle of the highest end whiskey is delivered by the local liquor merchant. It apparently comes as a thankful tribute from a man whose name Sir Adam does not recognize, but is actually the name of a minor red herring from Sylvia’s first murder mystery.

    At the end of the tour, Sir Adam offers Sylvia a whiskey and soda from an already opened bottle to celebrate the possibility of their new agreement. Sylvia suggests this venture is so certain to succeed that it deserves a toast from the new bottle. Not wanting to lose out to the estate down the road, Sir Adam opens the new bottle.

    As they sip, Sylvia feigns an oncoming faint and asks if it might be possible to accompany the drink with a little refreshment. While Sir Adam’s attention is occupied giving instructions to a servant, Sylvia uncorks a tiny flask of poison and pours it into the bottle before he has an opportunity to mark the level.

    The stage is set. Sir Adam’s nightly whiskey comes from the other bottle until it is finished, and he has no reason to fear when it comes time for the next glass from the new bottle.

    In the event someone later recognizes the name of the second bottle’s sender, Sylvia might succeed at convincing the investigators that she is being framed — as long as they don’t uncover her true identity. But I don’t see her as becoming a second victim.

    • Okay, this is all splendid. A very complete vision of the scene and how it might work out. I love the inclusion of the minor red herring from one of Stella’s mysteries–that is an excellent touch. And of course the shenanigans with the bottle. Also the veil, and the beloved aunt. Great details. And yeah, she does seem like a plausible murderer!

  2. Although I admire Stella’s motivations, and although in general the mystery writer tends to be a better red herring than perpetrator, I think Stella is very plausible. I can definitely see her making this one grand sacrifice for the daughter who knows not how deep and pure is a mother’s love, and while her mystery-writing knowledge will make her a clever and competent killer, she is also prepared to take the risk that she will, in fact, be found out. So I say stick her right up near the top of the list.
    The only real question is, if Eli is our amateur detective, and if he learns the murder’s identity and motive, will he actually pretend not to have solved the case in order to allow Sylvia to escape punishment and perhaps even, in time, reveal herself to her daughter?

    • Yes, I agree that Stella seems like a plausible killer. The only reason a writer might not select her as the killer is that she is too sympathetic, but as you point out, her act can be made into a grand sacrifice, so that should work, really.
      I love your point about Eli. What would he do? An awkward position! The classic thing, of course, is to either give the sympathetic killer a head start to flee justice or to allow her to take poison. But, I mean, she’s his mother-in-law-to-be. A difficult position. I don’t know what the etiquette books would suggest!

    • I agree about Eli’s dilemma. Might that be complicated or supported by Ingrid’s feelings about her father? And how does she feel about the mother she has been denied all these years? Will Stella’s true identity ever be revealed to her? If Eli shares what he learns with Ingrid during his investigation, and then she finds out Stella is her mother, might Stella try to dissuade Eli from sharing what he knows with the police?

      What if the good Doctor, who might know all about these relationships simply because of Doctor/patient confidentiality, is grateful Sir Adam (who has been blackmailing him, too) is dead, honestly believes this can now be a happy-ever-after story for them all. All he has to do is state the official cause of death was not poison, but Sir Adam’s terminal disease. Would anyone question him?

      • I think that once people begin to suspect that Sir Adam was murdered, it is too late for Dr. Daniel to step in with a death certificate and end the matter. But it would be interesting if he tried to do that… hm…

      • In the alternate universe in which Dr Daniel fudges the death certificate, we have no book about any of it, because no one even realizes there’s a mystery to be solved! lol

        • Hahaha! Well, my intention was to present it throughout as an assumed murder prior to any doctor’s determination of cause of death or perhaps while lab results are delayed. Both the police and amateur investigations begin, with a solid case growing against Stella. Then, near the end of the book, the doctor, having learned poison was the cause, is compelled by his compassion for Stella, Ingrid, and Eli — as well as his own relief Sir Adam is dead — to create a knowingly false death certificate to indicate the cause of death was Sir Adam’s terminal disease. Only the doctor and the readers are aware of this, and the murder is dismissed.

          Would you feel cheated by such an end? Or would the novelty of such treatment start a trend in the murder mystery genre. lol?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.