First Page Critique: Beware the Wolf

By Jordan Dane
Please enjoy Beware the Wolf, an anonymous submission for critiquing, My thoughts are on the flip side.

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Hoards of onlookers pushed and shoved to the front as they congregated behind the yellow tape, all hoped to see the mutilated body. Police huddled, compared clues, and discussed the who, the how, and the why of the crime. They may work and eventually answer who and how, but the why will always be a mystery.

Derek Mitchell reached for the tape, ducked below it and entered the crime scene. He waved a moth from his face as he stepped around the temporary lights.

“Hey.” A scowling officer pointed at him.

He held up his ID. “I have authorization to be here,” he said in a low voice. The man retreated.

He turned his head, and studied every detail of the park. Hours before the killing, children played on the slides and swing sets feet from where the body now lay. Oak trees and crepe myrtles surrounded the area, which provided ample cover for the attacker to wait for a victim. The location would indicate a random murder. Only, he knew this victim wasn’t random. The why is what he needed to understand in order to stop future killings.

Uniformed officers searched the flora with flashlights looking for clues, bagging every gum wrapper and lollipop stick, while two detectives stepped back from the corpse and waved the medical examiner forward.

He arrived too late. He needed to examine the body and area before the authorities arrival to detect fragile clues. He approached the examiner. “I need a few minutes to examine the evidence.”

The man nodded and walked back to his van.

He took a deep breath and raised the crimson stained sheet. It appeared to be a wild animal attack. The skull peeked through deep gouges of skin and muscle. The throat open, exposed the larynx, which was the source of blood that now seeped into the ground. Eyes, wide, stared into nothingness.

A shiver ran down his spine. To the human eye, a dog or wild animal killed her. Only he knew the truth. One of his people killed her.

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Critique

The author sets a dark tone from the start – a crime scene with a dead body—but the punch of the last couple of paragraphs might work better if their essence were moved to the front of this scene to put the reader right into the action as seen through the eyes of a different kind of detective. Derek could be looking right down at the body and gathering “clues” in his own way.

With Derek walking up to the crime scene—and with the scene description so generic without details—these parts could always be described later during the course of the next narratives, if they are still important to the scene. Readers of crime fiction are familiar with aspects of a crime scene. To write it so generally is almost like waving a red flag that the author is glossing over details they may not be as familiar with. This sentence is a good example of too generic with POV problems: Police huddled, compared clues, and discussed the who, the how, and the why of the crime. Derek would not know what’s in the heads of the police or what they’d been discussing, so this reads like a bit of author intrusion.

If the author clues the reader in from the beginning that Derek isn’t quite human, he/she can build in his “abilities” to read a crime scene like a wolf. Derek could sense the fear from the crowd as he searches the bystanders. (Killer sometimes watch the cops work at scenes where they killed.) He could search the faces through the eyes of a predator at night, for example.

Sniffing the air, he could be drawn to the smell of blood and the splatter before he even sees the body. He might overhear snippets of distant conversations between the human detectives mixed with chatter from the crowd, since he has wolf instincts. Don’t go too crazy with this. That could slow the pace. Tease the reader with the set up, but leave more for later. For now, the author should “think” and “react” like a feral wolf. Since dogs/wolves can recognize scents off specific animals, does he have the same ability? Does he “mark his territory”? (Just kidding, but you get the idea.) Use your imagination on what his instincts are and why he’s a cop working “special cases.”

Another point – the author describes the park, right down to the oak trees and crepe myrtles as making “good cover.” Trees and shrubs could be cover, but why mention the variety? This reads like the author is using Derek’s POV to set the scene in a manner that would not be natural for a cop. It’s forced.

I’m also not sure how Derek would know from the start that the victim wasn’t a random kill. He’d have to establish a relationship between the vic and the killer, which is typical cop procedure that is backtracked after more is known about the victim’s life and a timeline of her activities that led up to the killing. But the first step in any investigation is to ID the victim, which isn’t mentioned here either.

If the attacker hid behind cover and waited for any victim to show up, that’s random, yet Derek seems to have an unexplained reason for knowing this wasn’t a random act of violence. Rather than spell all this out in the first 350 words, the author might focus on Derek’s instincts and his ability to read a crime scene in his feral way and leave the details/clues of the case to be discovered later. The intriguing part would be Derek, his instincts and abilities, and the conflict he faces being an outsider to both worlds—as a cop who isn’t human.

The author mentions that Derek “arrived too late,” but I would venture an opinion that he could detect far more than the average human who needs specific evidence to build a case. He wouldn’t need a human ME’s opinion of what happened and fragile clues would be his specialty. Is Derek trying to stay ahead of the cops to wield his kind’s brand of justice? Does he keep secrets to that end? Or does he work with human cops to keep the peace? Derek is the ultimate “lone wolf” cop.

There is definitely enough here to make me turn the pages. There are inherent conflicts in this scenario of an outsider cop working his own cases, sometimes at odds with humans and perceived as betraying his own kind. Plus he’d be tracking a killer with greater abilities to evade pursuit—a classic outsider theme that could be fascinating to explore. Good job of conceiving this plot, character, and conflict!

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