If you count forward from the summer solstice, and
backward from the fall equinox, we are right smack in the middle of the
Labor Day notwithstanding, there is no reason to let go of summer until
the leaves begin to change, and we’ve indulged in a few more mystery
novels. Interspersed with mind-enhancing non-fiction, I am presently
enjoying another Michael Connelly thriller.
Former Governor Bill Weld, who often received memos from me on various
policy issues, told me I should write a book. Not, he advised, a
political memoir, but a novel – a mystery novel. He then wrote two
himself, to set an example.
O.K. I’ll start by sharing an outline of my proposed book with you, for
your summer reading experience.
It was, of course, a dark and stormy night. The body was propped upright
behind the steering wheel of the parked car, as if the woman had just
pulled over; long blonde hair fell softly around her head, which rested
against the rim of the open driver’s side window. To the first
responders, there seemed to be no visible sign of injury: no blood on
her face or clothing, which was untorn, no defensive wounds on her hands
which rested on her lap.
Detective Harry Busch and his partner Lenny Bristle arrived and circled
the automobile looking for clues. Maybe, someone offered, she had a
heart attack. "Or not," said Lenny. "Maybe her death is related to the
cellphone jammed in her left ear."
Sure enough, when they lifted her hair, the tip of the phone was
visible; the rest of it was deeply buried. Lenny might not have noticed
it if it were not ringing, a cheerful little ditty that a bystander
identified as the theme from Dora the Explorer, which her grandchildren
watched when she babysat. "Makes me crazy" said Mrs. Marbles. "Ovah and
ovah, Dora, Dora, Dora the explorah." Mrs. Marbles, obviously, was from
When the medical examiner arrived he too thought the cause of death was
the cellphone in the brain. But who would do such a thing, and why?
Pause here as we fully understand why, even if we ourselves might not be
capable of murder.
It was not an easy case to solve; there were thousands of suspects.
Harry and Lenny began with visits to neighborhood body shops in an
attempt to identify someone who might have already been hit by a
cellphone driver and was therefore a superior candidate for phone rage
the next time he saw one. People were taken in for questioning after
co-workers remember them threatening to chase down the next driver they
see go through a red light while talking on a phone. Too many suspects
denied having acted but seemed to want to congratulate whoever did.
In an interesting plot twist, the probe expands to including the two
detectives. Lenny Bristle had been cut off that evening by a blonde on a
cellphone, apparently oblivious to the fact of his existence or anything
else. We learn that Harry’s real name is Hieronymous, after the painter,
and it seems that every time he sees someone talking on a cellphone,
never mind while driving, he wants to scream. But these are red
herrings. The perpetrator, you may already have guessed, is Mrs.
Marbles, a woman with little patience for a lot of things including the
Dora theme, and with a motive. The dead woman, just that afternoon, had
driven – again – through the barrier held up by the street crossing
guard at her grandchildren’s grade school, this time narrowly missing
her namesake, little Jane.
When stopped by a nearby policeman, who got her attention by shooting
out her tires (there was no other way), the driver indignantly explained
that she was having a very important conversation about the sale at
Macy’s, formerly known as Filene’s. "There’s no law against talking on
the phone" she huffed. Mrs. Marbles called several politicians, who
agreed that, yes, there wasn’t. So she took the law into her own hands.
As she explained to Harry and Lenny when they, reluctantly, arrested
her, "I didn’t think it would hurt her – I assumed the phone, meeting no
resistance, would go in one ear and out the other."
It was hard to find jurors who hadn’t themselves been cut off by
cellphone drivers and seen the vacant look in their eyes as they drove
an unattended car. I may leave the ending unresolved; should Mrs.
Marbles go to jail?
As in Agatha Christie’s "Murder on the Orient Express"; I would have had
several people commit the crime but that’s hard to do with a cellphone
stabbing. I wish to state that I do not believe violence is a way to
settle anything (which is why we have fantasy). And I would normally not
support intrusive laws but would wait until a cellphone driver injured
or killed someone before taking his phone and car, then sending him to
jail for a very long time.
But we don’t even do that with drunk drivers who main and kill; it will
never happen with cellphone drivers either.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.