|Hi, my name is Ned and these are just my thoughts after reading your story "The Diagnosis" . These are my personal opinions and I am not a professional editor so feel free to use or discard any suggestions. These are just my impressions of what I am reviewing.
TITLE: The title works because it relates directly to the plot but doesn't reveal the complex tale we are about to read. And, of course, it is the diagnosis that leads to the events that unfold.
PLOT: The plot appears deceptively simple - a man who has a terminal diagnosis hires a hitman to kill him so his family can have his insurance money and won't have to endure long months of watching him suffer. He works as an accountant and knows someone unsavory who can help him arrange it. He meets the hitman, but we later realize that we weren't privy to all the details of the arrangement. As the story progresses, we learn more about his life, the dynamics of his marriage and his sorrow over its breakdown. We start to feel sorry for him, even hope he won't go through with it, then we are hit with the twist - he's arranged for his wife to be killed, too. All that nobility of self-sacrifice vanishes in an instant as we learn of the true nature of the hitman's contract. Then, as if one twist weren't enough, we are treated to a final twist - information that, had it been known, would have cancelled all the events that preceded it.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: All of the characters are well-drawn and believable.
The main character, Duncan, appears at first to be a sympathetic and altruistic character, but, as in real life, people are often more complex and less eager to sacrifice for others. He uses the situation to seek revenge and not to save his family from emotional pain as he lets on. In fact, although he professes love for his daughter, he seems to give no thought as to how his actions will affect her. There are some very nice touches that make this character utterly believable, such as his attempts to distract himself with television and even the snippets of Wheel of Fortune that are included. He gets nervous, thinks about locking the door and so, locking out the hitman and calling it off.
The hitman also has us thinking that he's an honorable fellow. He seems to feel sorry for Duncan and offers that perhaps Duncan should think about it for a few more months before going through with it, that he might change his mind. This turns out to be prophetic, though we have no inkling at this point in the story. When it comes to the deed, however, the hitman is all ruthless efficiency and attention to detail, even when it means causing more pain to Duncan in performing his job so that the murder scene raises no questions. In this, he is still behaving honorably, according to his own code. He even carries out the wish of Duncan for his wife to know that he found out about her affair and it is Duncan who is having her killed in revenge.
The other minor characters are well-drawn with a good amount of detail (especially, the waitress) and ring true. We don't get to know the daughter too well, and this is a good decision since she is the true victim of Duncan's scheme, as she may well find the bodies and is left an orphan. Better not to think too much about her.
FAVORITE PART or LINE: Personally, I am a big fan of the "twist at the end" kind of story, the sort that Rod Serling would find worthy. This story provides not one, but two twists. Early on on the story, I suspected that it would turn out that he wasn't terminal and would find out too late, so that twist wasn't as surprising. But even I got suckered in by Duncan's nostalgia for the good days of his marriage and wanting to be close to his wife and never once saw the possibility of his arranging for her to be murdered, too. That was the twist that got me. Then, the news I expected didn't come until after both were killed, and only the hitman knew the truth.
READABILITY-GRAMMAR-PUNCTUATION:The word "the" seems out of place, maybe accidentally left after an edit? "Thinking it was some the stomach flu or an ulcer."
SUGGESTIONS: There was only one spot that made me stop in my reading flow. It is the word "remembered". As in: "...she looked towards the table near the window and remembered the office telephone" and "Remembering the cell phone in her purse" Two remembers and two telephones within a sentence or two of one another. It made me stop, to check I hadn't messed up and started reading the same part again.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: This is a suspenseful story, a true twisted tale that feeds us great details and builds the plot and reveals the characters bit by bit. The reader is never bored but eager to see what happens next.
The first time I read the ending, I wondered why the hitman played the messages - as it seems an unlikely thing for a hitman to do at the scene of the killing. I thought that the message should play so that only the reader knows it was all for nothing. But then, I realized that this is just one more brilliant stroke.
No one in this story gets out unscathed. Duncan is not killed quickly or painlessly as he requested, the wife is not getting away with her affair and pays for it, and the hitman who is all about the job but in an honorable way finds out at the end that the whole reason for hiring him turned out to be untrue. So perhaps, even the hitman walks away from this with some regret, if he has some conscience, perhaps this will bother it? That may just be my personal notion, but somewhat supported by the hitman suggesting Duncan wait. One assumes the hitman usually kills other criminals.
Overall, this is a well-written story with believable characters. It is filled with delicious detail that lends realism and provides some intriguing twists that make the ending as interesting as the beginning. I enjoyed reading The Diagnosis.