Adult Mystery, Thriller, Horror – Editor Critiques

Heart speeding with rage, I knocked on the door of Jessica Brown’s house. When no one responded a second after, I slammed my hand against it. Another second after, I pounded. It was nearing eleven at night, spring air fresh against my fuming face. Jessica Brown was throwing a party that night. I had snuck out of my house after Elena Baldridge texted me, letting me know my best friend Noah Carter was there. Of course, he would. He was the only one in our middle school who had access to booze and drugs, courtesy of his irresponsible parents. I pounded my fist on the door again, harder so I’d be heard through the blasting music. Behind the door, someone called out for Jessica. A minute later, after a peek from the window, she opened the door, eyes wide.

“Rick? What are you doing here?” she asked, blocking the door.

“Where’s Noah?!” I pushed her aside and barged into the stuffy living room full of stoned and drunk seventh and eighth graders. I shouted this time, voice competing with the hammering bass. “Where is he?!”

I’m not sure why she’s enraged at the beginning of the scene. Is she mad because she’s standing outside or is she mad because her friend is there? “Of course, he would” is awkward and I would replace it with “Of course, he was there.” The voice doesn’t sound like a middle schooler which is distracting. This could be an older character looking back on their younger years, but in that case I would make that clear. Readers will probably assume the narrator is female because the first name mentioned is female. I was surprised to find the narrator’s name is Rick. The behavior of these kids seems really mature for being just twelve or thirteen. I don’t know that drunken house parties are common in this age group. There’s not much of a hook here for adult readers. I think you might not be starting at the right place.

“Sir, we’ve got a body!” the sound of his Sergeant’s voice rang through his ears as he raced from the town small police station towards the local cut through less than a mile from the station. As he turned the final corner he spotted one of his young officer’s steading himself against a wooden fence.

“What we got?” Chris asked approaching Wes.

“From the looks of her, she’s been here a while, sir. I checked her pulse just in case but got nothing. I didn’t want to prod and poke around too much before the pathologist got here.”

Chris looked over the fence and down the three-foot drop, towards the tunnel to the body laying face down in a large pool of rainwater. If he hadn’t known better he would have mistaken her for a stolen mannequin.

“Thank you, Wes. I am guessing that was the dog walker Nikki is with?”

Wes nodded “We decided to remove him from the scene as he became quite distressed.”

The writing reads smoothly, which is great, but the first sentence is a little awkward/clunky. I’d get rid of the repetition of “station.” There are a couple typos in the first paragraph (“town small” should be “town’s small” and “steading” should be “steadying”). “I am guessing that was” seems a little unnatural and using a contraction would help. “As he became quite distressed” is also a bit unnatural. I would probably keep reading, but I’d be a bit worried that unnatural dialogue will be a consistent problem.

Agent Jacob Umari was not about to spend another late night going through case files of missing person reports. He was ordered by his superior officer that a total clean out of the old room had to be done. This was asked of him and a team of twelve other officers and case workers five weeks ago. The task was daunting, but worth the dusty shelves causing hay fever in some of the crew. A whole host of files dating back to the early 1800s had been unearthed in countless old boxes, some made of wood laden with dents, scratches and some covered in old spider nests with dried up, but still sticky egg sacks. It was quite serious work, but everyone had to pitch in. Even if that meant some had to work alone late at night like Jacob.
Jacob Kim Umari, in his early thirties, dark raven black haired and soft; caring dark brown eyed third generation Japanese-American. An only child that enjoyed searching for lost dogs and lost toys while growing up. During his five years in the Marines, he honed his skills in searching for missing people no matter if what he found were alive or dead. This would later give him a push toward a career in the right direction. He would study at Boston University for the next four years in Criminal Physiology and from there…a desk job, at least for now, at the Boston FBI headquarters.

It’s not clear what the first two sentences have to do with each other so I recommend adding a clearer transition. The third sentence seems wordy and instead you could add “Five weeks ago” to the beginning of the previous sentence. “Hay fever” is an allergic reaction specifically to autumn pollen, grass, and trees, not dust. “But still sticky” seems unnecessary and adds wordiness.

I’d rather you pull the reader in closer to Jacob rather than describing how everyone has to pitch in and many people get hay fever. The reader would feel more connected to the story if you focused on a personal connection to the character. Jumping into a description of his appearance and credentials and listing them out is likely to be a bit boring without a stronger hook and may be seen as amateurish by agents/publishers.

“What the fuck, Bishop?”

She could feel the investigator sigh in her head.

“Hello, Aurora. I’m glad you called. I couldn’t make it tonight and send a replacement, my colleague…”

“Yeah, I’m looking at your replacement. It’s gonna take all night explaining what’s going on. Why couldn’t you make it?”

“Because, as I told you before, I’m getting old, and in order for you to keep going, you need someone in their prime on your side.” Aurora said nothing. She watched the swanman that was waiting to meet her on a street corner, getting soaked through by the heavy rain. She had hunched behind the wreckage of a car when she approached and realised that the shape she saw was not Bishop’s, and activated the fetish wound into her hair to talk to the investigator.

“Feel” doesn’t seem to be the right word and had me imagining that the investigator is literally inside her head. “Send” should be “sent” in the third paragraph. “Explaining” should be “to explain” in the fourth paragraph. “As I told you before” is almost always a bad idea in dialogue because it signals to the reader (and especially to agents/editors) that this is “As you know, Bob…” dialogue. It’s not clear if Aurora or the man is getting soaked through by the rain. What is a “swanman”? What do you mean by “fetish wound”? This is too confusing to be mysterious or intriguing.

The bottle of whiskey had saved my life. Now it taunted me, sticking out of the mouth of my purse like a petulant toddler’s tongue. My inner child did more than blow imaginary raspberries. She shouted warnings of what my folks would do if they caught me with it. I’d never set foot on this porch with alcohol in my hand before. But back then I didn’t need to. Now I had all the reason in the world, and I knew my parents wouldn’t say a word.
I sure as hell wanted to toss back a little liquid courage before taking another step. But that would only be putting off the inevitable. Only two choices remained. Turn around and run, or open the door.
How many times had I stood in this very spot? Hundreds? Thousands? But before, standing here meant coming home. Today, it meant leaving. Really leaving.

At first I thought her inner child was blowing raspberries at the bottle, but I think what you mean is the inner child is being even harsher than the bottle. The last line of the first paragraph is a bit awkward and could be cut. By the end of the second paragraph, the opening starts to feel too vague. I think you could give the reader more information to build up more suspense and less mystery (the mystery is leaning towards confusing or overly vague).

When Ava peered skyward, a painful spasm shuddered through her midsection, as if claws had clenched her stomach lining and wrung it out like a washcloth.

A Boeing 787 plunged into low-altitude turbulence…in pieces, with the biggest one in a steep descent toward Ava.

“God, help me.” She crossed herself with three fingers.

Flaming mechanical parts and aviation fragments streamed behind the craft. Bright orange flames engulfed its fuselage, illuminating the twilight like a falling torch. Black smoke billowed behind the damaged nacelles of its twin engines. It plummeted closer, shrinking the distance between them. The airliner’s logo was a blur on its raked wingtips.

“Claws” and “wrung” don’t seem to fit together in the same description. Make sure the descriptions work together to convey a cohesive message. Why doesn’t Ava move if a piece is heading towards her? This comes across like the classic comedy gag where something is going to fall or hit a character and they don’t move. Perhaps it’s too big to get out of the way, but it seems odd to not even try when she has time to cross herself and say a line of dialogue. “Like a falling torch” doesn’t seem necessary to me. Starting with action can work but the reader needs more clarity about why Ava doesn’t move, where she is, and what’s going on in order to feel tension.

“Kora’s sacred blood runs through my veins, and thanks to my mercy, you, my children, will never know death.” I heard, more or less, the same words from Father all my life. They have been a part of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I never had a reason not to believe in Father’s worlds. The Goddess Kora came down from Mount Ferren to live among men. She saw virtue and strength in Father when he was only a boy. She blessed him with the gift of immortality before She left this World, with the promise that one day She will return to make him Her general in the Great Storm. We live by Her promise. I try to believe in Father, but as I sit in this uncomfortable chair, listening to his sermon, I can’t help to notice his trembling hands, his vague eyes that are fixated on the ceiling and his worlds that sound like slurs. If Kora doesn’t come back soon, what kind of general he will be?

There’s too much setup information without a compelling hook. This feels like generic fantasy (I’m pretty sure it’s not a thriller as was indicated on the form). I recommend putting more focus on the character and less focus on the backstory. The blessing from the Goddess Kora is a bit boring to read about so early and without any other context. Being immortal could be interesting as a hook but needs to be conveyed without so much focus on backstory and with more connection to the character or a demonstration of how you implement the idea in a cool way. There are typos in the fourth and both of the last two sentences.

Marvell Lake, New York

11:45 P.M. October 25. The Greenhouse
The volatile mixture ignited and a tendril of smoke spiraled upward. Withering at the opening burst, the flash of flame sputtered then bloomed. Tongues of orange light flickered and cast an eerie glow upon the transparent walls. Fire spread quickly to the body and its tangle of limbs sprawled on the concrete floor.

Thick, acrid smell of burnt plastic and vegetation eclipsed the stench of flammable liquids. Choking black smoke began to fill the room. The scorching heat crescendoed, intense as sunlamps turned on high.

Beads of perspiration bloomed on Jessamine’s forehead, her face flashing hot. Assured that the fire was sustained, she cut toward the exit and escaped through the open door of the greenhouse.

Jessamine crossed the lawn, paused, and faced the direction of the inferno. She sucked in a steadying breath and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth.

The vibe of the first paragraph feels like a fantasy novel rather than a mystery. Rather than coming across as chemistry, it comes across as potion making. Comparing heat to sunlamps seems unnecessary to me since it doesn’t enhance the reader’s understanding. The tone of this moment isn’t clear. I’m not sure if Jessamine is doing something good or bad, if her intentions are positive or negative, and I feel like I can’t visualize what’s occurring. I think you’re trying too hard to word things artistically and it’s getting in the way of clarity.

His speech held the crowd captivated. No matter how inspiring his words, however, I still couldn’t forgive him.

“I’m certain my brother’s alive,” Reverend Sutton said. His voice became louder to compete with helicopters overhead.

He stood on the South Carolina side of Lake Ellington and pointed toward the water. “I’m told we have two to three hundred here at the campgrounds today. Thank you, all, for spending your Good Friday at this rally. God wants – no He requires – us to keep searching for my brother. We’ll find Vance! By working together!”

The crowd hung on each word.

I think being a bit more specific in the first paragraph would strengthen the hook. Even something as simple as “Reverend Sutton’s speech” rather than “his speech” makes “I still couldn’t forgive him” much more compelling (because it implies a reverend did something wrong). Where is the narrator in relation to the crowd and Reverend Sutton? I’d like to have a better sense of his location and perhaps a bit more grounding in his body/senses. His speech doesn’t seem very captivating, not enough to make the crowd hang “on each word.”

Bootsy Anderson kicked off his shoes and waded into the water. The lake muck cushioned his feet as he eased his way in. When he was up to his chest, he rested his plastic travel mug on the water’s surface and let his feet drift upwards until he was floating on his back. He had always been good at floating. He tipped the mug to his mouth and sucked the brandy through his teeth so that it wouldn’t spill into his nose.

He tried to focus on the stars, the weightless sensation of floating, the fruity burn of the liquor on his lips. Meditation, they called it.

Michelle had agreed to meet him after work but she had left when an hour had passed and he hadn’t shown up. It was a sad routine, and there was a part of him that had been relieved when she had asked him for a divorce in July. Now they could both move on, her to something better, and him to a place where he didn’t have to disappoint her all the time.

I get what you mean about him resting his travel mug on the water’s surface but it confused me for a moment. The ability to drink while floating seems really impressive and is hard for me to visualize (but I sink like a stone). I’m confused about whether he knows and/or how he knows that Michelle waited an hour before she left. Did she tell him she was leaving? I’m confused about how this is their routine. If they’re getting divorced, why would they be meeting in a routine manner after work? The last line shows creativity and promise. Strong voice. This kept my attention throughout but I’m not including the full excerpt.

Dinner with a cannibal.
Jessica knocked softly on the door to apartment 102. The smell of the dim hallway is attempting to be cabbage, but suffering from an undertone of burnt popcorn and dirty gym socks. She held her breath, hoping her client’s rooms would not smell as bad as the rest of this building.
She hears the locks disengaging on the other side of the door right away and frowns. Most of her clientele are either too weak or too reluctant to answer the door immediately, especially the first time. She knows from the neighborhood, and the condition of the apartments that he can’t afford a nurse and she made the request that no one else is involved in their dealings today. Maybe an unexpected relative?

I like the first line/title, but I recommend adding more tension or foreshadowing or something to keep the reader engaged. “Is attempting to be cabbage” sounds really odd and unnatural to me. “Rooms” seems odd. I think “apartment” would seem more natural. “The locks disengaging on the other side of the door” is very wordy and could be cut down to just “the lock turned” or something similar. I initially thought that “can’t afford a nurse” was implying that she is a nurse and is afraid this client won’t pay her, but that might just be me.

Tonight, she would die.

Perhaps she had dreamt it. But the signs of its coming were already in passing. Like a wave ready to crash against rocks, it would not be denied. She would lose everything. Her past. Her future. Everything. The reality had yet to sink in its entirety, but there were already the beginnings of a stir in her. She could not deny the inevitable. It called for her. And so she closed her eyes to shut it out.

Under the covered entrance of a nameless corner store, she was thinking. It was an accusation only rarely attributed to her, and it was almost always accompanied by a most cynical form of laughter. Nevertheless, she was lost in thought, and her mind was fixated on one particularly disturbing vision, one that she had dreamt of for as long as she could remember. It was not so much a word of warning, but rather an inclination of certainty. Alone and in the rain that fell fiercely, she would die a most painful of deaths. And she would welcome it with open arms.

The hook is intriguing but it wears out its welcome quickly and starts to feel redundant/repetitive. The second paragraph says “Perhaps she had dreamt it” but the third paragraph says “she had dreamt of for as long as she could remember.” “Perhaps” seems to imply more doubt than there actually is that she’s dreamt this. Overall, I like the hook, but I think these paragraphs could be condensed so that there is less of a sense that you’re being intentionally vague.

Jenny, watched through the raindrop as he approached. The raindrop itself worked like a microscope only backward. The object – the man approaching – was infinitely smaller through the tiny water bubble than he was in real life. But that wasn’t why she didn’t see him.

Her world had grown so large around her, she longed for littleness – to be small – to not be seen – to disappear. The death of her brother, then such a short time later, her mother, the move to this stupid one-horse-town with her workaholic father, and now the nightly curfews enforced by the mayor all worked together to make Jenny want to disappear. She longed for sameness – for normalcy – for anything but this. To shrink to nothing, like David Warrington, who now, only meters from the spot under the perch, where she could watch the world but not get wet or be seen, seemed to be. But he was not small, nor was he far.

The first line implies that she’s watching the man approach, but then the last line of the first paragraph states she didn’t see him. This is jarring.

I like how you’re using the raindrop, but the second paragraph dumps a lot of information on the reader and it’s not disguised enough to not feel like an info-dump. You could try describing her wanting to disappear without giving the reason as to why until the reader has been given something to invest in or to be intrigued by.

Neither the violent speed nor the throbbing sound of the propellers did anything to break up the milky whiteness. They only seemed to add to the serenity, a rhythmic womb for the crew of the B29 Silverplate Super Fortress Bomber as it made its way towards its target on that fateful December day in the year Nineteen Hundred and Forty Five.

This was the Pacific Theatre of World War II. Somewhere off the coast of Japan, where far below, an American Mahan-class Destroyer tracked its path, staying within range for just a few minutes more before the B29 sped away out of range of all radio contact.

In the Destroyer’s signal communications room, a young radio Specialist, barely out of his teens, kept a close eye on both the radar console and an ear out for the expected incoming message.

I don’t understand the first line. It’s not clear why sound would have the potential to break up whiteness (which is visual, not auditory). “That fateful day” is a cliché that’s best avoided. The second sentence of the second paragraph is a sentence fragment and is a bit awkward to read. I think you’re trying too hard to sound “writerly” and it’s creating emotional disconnect.

“Watch out,” Joey Castiglio yelled, running up the steps of the library to catch Carmela Santos as her head was about to hit the pavement.
“Ouch,” Carmela cried, leaning against the library railing.
Joey gathered textbooks that had spilled out of her book bag.
Carmela startled at her bruised knees. The last semester of college wasn’t the time to scrape them, especially when they were to be prominently displayed at the end of the month in a yearbook photo layout. As the president of the student art association and editor of their newsletter at Dowd College high up in the Catskills, she was a presence on campus.

We don’t know who these characters are so there is no drama for the reader in Carmela potentially hitting her head or getting skinned knees. It’s not clear whether Joey actually caught her or not. I’m assuming that he does based on what happens next, but “running up the steps TO catch” doesn’t mean he actually succeeded. Having skinned knees in a yearbook photo feels like low stakes and could feel a bit like you’re forcing stakes where there really aren’t any.

Rather than jumping into this minor issue, I would give the reader more time to attach to one of these characters or I would start with a more interesting conflict.

Not sleeping for three days in a row is a bitch, I thought. Especially when I have to hold an overweight man’s thick neck in a vice grip, so he can’t focus enough to reach my Glock and put a hole in my perfect body. And after all those trips to the gym. Fat chance, I thought. No way was I going to let that happen.

I felt my eyelids droop again. Where’s that damn adrenalin when you need it? Life truly isn’t fair. Only last night, I was watching a show on Discovery channel… or was it the Science channel…? About US Rangers who train to operate for long periods without any sleep. I can’t do that. I suppose I can, but I don’t want to. Because when I don’t sleep, I become one mean sonofabitch to the nicest people around. And, as the man struggling to breathe inspite of my chokehold was about to find out, I can be a real mean sonofabitch to people who make it their mission to kill me.

You’re developing a voice, which is great, but it’s not quite there yet. The second paragraph starts to feel like rambling rather quickly and gets dull.

“I thought” is unnecessary since this is first person. At first I thought “And after all those trips to the gym” was the character complaining that he couldn’t overpower the guy, but that might just be me. I think you’re going for a casual vibe with a guy who is used to violence, but he seems to talk about himself a bit too much (perfect body, trips the gym, becoming mean when he doesn’t sleep) and it feels unnatural.

Eden faced the stream of light in the window and knew she had to kill him. It was the only way for them to escape. She did not know when. She did not know how. But as sure as thunder followed lightning, it would happen. The only other way is…“Doctor Cooper. Are You Listening?” Bruce Palmer said in a rising voice.
Eden’s head snapped back. Eyes fluttered. “I…I’m sorry.” Seated two feet across from him were those dark insistent eyes sweeping over her like a metal detector on a beach. Probing. She shifted sideways in the chair. Tugged the hem of her skirt down. It would take timing, planning, preparation.

“Faced the stream of light” isn’t adding anything and cutting it would give the first sentence more pop. I do like the hook you’re going for there. “The only other way IS” should be “the only other way WAS.”

The second paragraph reads as if a pair of eyes are sitting in a chair (some people won’t mind this, but many editors will hate this wording). The metal detector simile is unnecessary and doesn’t suite the vibe you’re trying to create. I also recommend easing off on physical movements (head snapped back, eyes fluttering, eyes sweeping, shifted sideways, tugged the hem of her skirt) as it can weaken and lengthen the scene without adding value.

We are magnificent. Well, at least I am.

Only I could coax a senator’s daughter into a dark secluded hallway without her suspecting a thing.
Control—that’s what separates the greats from the low level scum.

With one glance I could have captured her gaze, with another, hazed her mind and I would have complete control. Every action—every thought would bend at my will. But where’s the fun in that?

Instead, I liked the challenge. But that wasn’t my only intention—I wanted her parents to know that she chose death, because her daddy didn’t give us that option.

I feel so in the dark that I’m not sure what to be intrigued about. What does control have to do with coaxing her into the alley? Who is the “we” in the first sentence? I’m not sure if the second paragraph is describing manipulation or psychic powers. I think there’s potential here but it’s vague to a point of confusing rather than intriguing.

Hungry, so hungry that I had stooped to the point of digging through dumpsters looking for my next meal. I found a pizza box that still had a couple slices in it. It didn’t matter to me that the outside of the box had soaked up some unknown liquid, it was pizza and I ate good that night. With my treasure in hand I sat down behind the dumpster to eat. It wasn’t a table at a gourmet Italian restaurant or even the Pizza Pit but it was good and it was mine. After I ate my pizza, it was time to find somewhere to stay for the night. As I started to stand, my foot hit a bottle and sent it ringing across the asphalt of the ally. A voice came from the other side of my dinner booth. “Who’s there, come out from behind there!”

It’s clear that the character is very hungry and willing to eat anything, but that point could have been conveyed in a couple sentences. It’s redundant but also feels as if you’re belaboring your point.

Assuming this character is homeless, I recommend researching homelessness and how people experiencing homelessness usually find food and shelter so you can add more realism. I’m getting a YA rather than adult vibe.


If Konnie Langston could have changed one thing, she would have ignored her dog’s repeated attempts to pull her off the road into the weeds, and continued with her run. Her life would have remained secure, scheduled, predictable. The sense of being safe and in control would have remained.
But Konnie had already learned she couldn’t change the past.

Chapter 1

Thwap. Thwap. Thwap. Thwap.

Her well-worn Nikes slapped the hot asphalt as she ran along the old, forgotten highway the locals now called Pine Ridge Road. Humidity wrapped around her like a wet quilt. Sweat ran down her forehead into her eyes, dripped from her nose, slithered down her back, soaked her T-shirt and sports bra and the waistband of her shorts. Even her scalp and thighs were sweating. The back of her neck sizzled like oil in a frying pan.
It was ridiculous to go for a run in the middle of a Southern August afternoon, but the punishing, sauna-like conditions distracted her (a bit) from thinking about her frustrating morning. She chanted to herself in time with her footfalls. I. Love. My. Job. I. Love. My. Job.
Usually, she did. Helping people get their lives back on track, repairing relationships, helping them work through trauma and heal old wounds…nothing brought her more fulfillment than being a therapist. But every now and then she would get a client like Richard Long. When they first met for his initial assessment months ago, he had introduced himself with a salesman’s toothy smile, and a lingering handshake.
“Call me Dick,” he’d said.
Oh, wouldn’t I love to, Konnie thought now, grinding her teeth.

You have a nice voice and strong transitions between telling and showing, but some polishing would be helpful.

I like the idea of the prologue hook but it doesn’t feel cohesive. “Could have changed one thing” usually refers to something ongoing rather than a single event so the sentence was jarring. The second and third sentences are describing the same thing so the third feels redundant. The conclusion that she can’t change the past feels irrelevant since everyone knows that they can’t change the past and speculating on changing “one thing” is a thought experiment, not a literal attempt to change things.

The writing is much smoother in chapter one. The first full paragraph (describing her being hot/sweaty) feels as if it could be cut down by two or three sentences as it starts to get redundant. But nice job! It kept my attention.