Friday, October 14, 2011

The Case of the Memento Mori Murderer: Exploring possible interaction between Della Street and Hamilton Burger

Currently I’m in the middle of working on my second multi-chapter Perry mystery, The Case of the Memento Mori Murderer. The plot of this one involves Perry having been abducted by a vengeful madman and the others racing against time to save him, in between scenes of Perry at odds with his abductors. I’m approaching the climax now, and I’m excited to introduce the final, shocking twists.

It’s been quite a bit different working on this story as opposed to its predecessor. For that story, The Persecuted Prosecutor, I had a definite outline and plan all the way along. By contrast, with this story I have a vague outline and am feeling my way in the dark, so to speak. It’s reminiscent of the mystery series I wrote for the anime Yu-Gi-Oh!, the stories of which were generally written on the fly, based on vague concepts in my mind. Sometimes the only things tying the events together were several firm ideas for scenes throughout the story. I don’t particularly like writing that way; I was thrilled when I had a concrete outline for The Persecuted Prosecutor. But when a story comes to me in a particular way, I have to write it in that way. Attempting otherwise only results in forcing it and it doesn’t help.

In this case, the ideas I had for certain points in the story were the basic concept, a scene where Mr. Burger is attacked while investigating, and the importance of a locket found in Perry’s apartment, dropped by one of the abductors. As I’ve felt my way along I’ve connected each element and am now weaving together the solution of the mystery.

I’ll confess, the big draw for me about working on this story was to have the door opened for character interaction the likes of which was rarely seen on the series. Hamilton Burger and Lieutenant Tragg team up with Della and Paul during the search, and there has been some emphasis on Hamilton and Della conversing.

Hamilton, gravely concerned about Perry’s safety, brings in a good number of his staff to work on the case in the middle of the night. He is planning to go out and search on his own, but is intercepted by Della arriving and hoping that there has been some news. Realizing that Hamilton is going to actively investigate in the city, she wants to go along. Of course he protests. But knowing that she will only go off on her own if he refuses, he decides that it would be safer for her to just come with him.

There have been scenes of their interaction since meeting in Perry's apartment in chapter 2. It’s been interesting trying to determine how they will respond to and behave around each other. Such scenes between them were something scarcely seen on the television series. It seems that Hamilton mainly interacted with Della upon the occasional questioning of her as a witness or by calling the office and reaching her, whereupon the conversation would be heard from Della’s point-of-view or told to Perry by her after the fact. Then there is the infamous and intense episode The Weary Watchdog, in which Della is being charged as an accessory. I haven’t seen this episode in years, but I should have the chance in a few weeks. Meanwhile, however, I remember none of the details of what happened. I have been trying to find out if Hamilton showed visible regret about prosecuting Della, as he did Paul Drake, but I haven’t had any success on that front. The characters make brief reference to this disaster during the story, in a way that should not violate whatever exchanges they may have had during the episode.

I am not certain how Hamilton sees Della. Perhaps it’s mainly as Perry’s girl Friday. From what I’ve seen, when speaking with her he is very polite. He almost charges her with a crime in an early episode (#12, I believe), but Perry convinces him not to because she was acting under his orders. Hamilton then wants to charge Perry, and in that instance, if I remember right, he had valid reasons.

Della seems to like him alright, despite displeasure over the times when she was called as a witness. She never gives much indication of her thoughts concerning him, but from her attitude she appears to be somewhat amused and perhaps even gently, platonically fond of him. To my surprise she even referred to him by his first name once (although he wasn’t present at the time). Paul, on the other hand, did not seem to like him in season 1, based on Paul’s attitude and several comments he made, and I am unsure if his opinion ever lightened. (Although he was amused in the final episode when Hamilton was so awkward about the dinner invitation-slash-apology.)

In the story their interaction is polite, with Hamilton switching between addressing her as Della or Miss Street depending on what sort of audience they have. (He would probably call her Miss Street all the time if it were not for him saying Della in the final episode.) She has always called him Mr. Burger. But there is an indication that they are friends on some level, their different positions in the justice system notwithstanding.

I believe the most challenging scene to work out was in chapter 7, where Hamilton has been attacked and Della and the others search for and eventually find him.

Della’s behavior throughout both stories has been an interesting challenge, likely deserving of a post by itself. She manages to keep so calm and collected on the series. I believe we only see her afraid a handful of times. But in my stories she has to be visibly panicked, horrified, and worried at various points while not going out of character. In The Persecuted Prosecutor there is a threat against Perry. In this current story, a different threat is present and Perry is in immediate danger of his life. As she says, it’s something she’s feared for a long time and now it’s actually happening. As time goes on she becomes all the more obviously afraid for Perry’s safety. And then thrown into that is Mr. Burger going missing and being discovered hurt.

Of course Della is horrified by this. Even if she didn’t like Mr. Burger, she would not want him harmed. And I believe she does like him, which the stories reflect. But I was concerned over achieving the proper balance of her concern over Perry and her concern over Hamilton. I didn’t want it to look like she was more worried for Hamilton, yet I also didn’t want it look like she wasn’t worried enough. Not to mention I was wondering (and still am, to be honest) if someone would think that with that scene, and their interaction in the story in general, I was attempting to set them up romantically. I would never do that; Della is meant to be with Perry, as far as I’m concerned—even though I don’t actively ship them as a couple. But I find the idea of her and Mr. Burger interacting to be fascinating and I like the thought that they are friends.

Perry himself also has presented a bit of a challenge in this story, as his abductor taunts and pushes him to the point where he is absolutely outraged at the treatment of his friends. An angry Perry is something only occasionally glimpsed in the series, and when he's mad, watch out! It has been interesting and intense, as well as heart-breaking, to write Perry's fury and his helplessness to stop what's going on outside of his prison.

I am hoping to write more for Paul in the future chapters, and stories. But his dialogue and thoughts don’t come to me as easily as those for Perry, Della, and Hamilton, or even Lieutenant Tragg. For some reason, of the main five, Paul’s mind is the most difficult for me to get into. Nevertheless, I like what I have written for him and feel I’ve done it well.

Another surprise about this story is that Lieutenant Anderson is a supporting character later on. I had nothing against Andy, but I had no desire to write for him because I preferred to keep my stories in an era of the original five. Strangely enough, it was seeing Wesley Lau portray Mr. Fallon in his first Perry appearance that made me fond enough of him and of Andy to fully welcome him as part of the cast. While I don’t want to elevate him to the same status Tragg holds, I decided that I do want him around. (And I feel horribly guilty that I wasn’t aware Wesley Lau also passed away on an August 30th. Expect a belated memorial post for him soon.) It’s possible—probable, honestly—that Lieutenant Drumm will eventually appear in a story as well, although likely not this one. While I’m discovering more and more that I really don’t like season 9, I do like him.

Overall, while this story is more challenging than The Persecuted Prosecutor on a number of levels, I also find it even more rewarding. I have a better handle on the characters and am continuing to learn about them. I’m expanding monologue sections and delving more into their thoughts. And I’m pressing forward to a twist climax that I don’t think the readers have guessed yet. I’m eager to see what will happen next.

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