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Liam Sweeny's picture

The Wrong Hammer

By Liam Sweeny in Arrest Us

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What goes on in the mind of a man after committing the most heinous act? Hank Farley's bizarre journey begins when he picks the wrong hammer.


Les Edgerton's picture
Les Edgerton June 7, 2014 - 12:50pm

Creepy, but believable story about a guy's actions and thoughts after he's killed his wife. He decides to drink beer and smoke and contemplate what he'd done. He's feeling a freedom he hasn't felt in a long time and isn't worried much at all about the consequences of his act, exhibiting a fatalism that just feels right.

Liam could have used a bit of a copy edit--a few small spelling and grammar mistakes, but nothing major. There were a few small pov issues as well. I think it would be a bit smoother read and involve the reader deeper into the fictive dream if he'd utilize a close third person throughout, but it vacilates at times between a more formal third and a close third.

I understand this was based on a real event where a guy killed his wife (and kids?) and then simply hung around the house until the police eventually showed up and took him into custody.

This is a particularly vivid account of what the man might have gone through after such a slaying and even though it's a fiction, I'd buy it as totally realistic. What's especially good about it is that the author is working with an emotional subject and does what the best writers do in these kinds of situations--he doesn't create a melodramatic story but instead does the opposite--he lowers the volume and the result is a dramatic story. And a story in which the writer's voice is enjoyable, even though what he's done is despicable in some ways... and jusified in others. What makes it work also is that we see his motivation for killing his wife and it makes perfect sense. In some ways, his act is somewhat laudable. What that says about me is something I perhaps don't want to admit...

A really good story, imo.

Devon Taylor's picture
Devon Taylor from Allentown, PA is reading Doctor Sleep June 7, 2014 - 2:10pm

Great story.  This was a really vivid internal look at the narrator's actions.  He wasn't crazy.  He was just a guy who got pushed too far one day.  I had a little trouble deciphering when he was flashing back to earlier in the day and when it was back to the present.  I liked the subtle way you let us know Susan was dead.  It wasn't a big grandiose moment.  She was just there.  I think the ending was a little sudden, but I enjoyed the fact that you let us assume what was coming next.  The writing itself was pretty solid, aside from a few grammatical and spelling things here and there.  Overall a wonderful read.  Thanks for sharing!

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 8, 2014 - 6:24am



Rico518's picture
Rico518 June 9, 2014 - 8:21pm

Sad but true 

David Siddall's picture
David Siddall June 8, 2014 - 2:15am

Great story that drew me in with every line.

Quite a dispassionate tale, what is going on in that guy's mind? Putting yourself in that situation, what would you do? Go on the run? hide the body? tell her friends Susan's gone away for a few days? (Hope my other half doesn't read this. Might think I'm getting ideas!). But Hank decides just to hang around, wait until the law catches up with him - enjoy his last few days of freedom. Maybe a prison cell is preferable to the sentence Susan has condemned him to over the years.

I like the style, calm, thoughtful, an insight into the characters mind and the slow realisation to the reader, that he is somewhat unhinged - who else would leave a body festering in the room? A masterstroke in revealing what he's done, 'he stepped over Susan'. I read that line again just to make sure, made a real jolt, read the rest of the story a lot closer in case I missed anything.

Like a previous comment I had to check myself during the flasback scenes, making sure where I was, but I think that is due more to the format. But a very enjoyable read, setting just the right tone and length of the piece, Hank doesn't outstay his welcome. I was left wondering how he would cope in prison. Or would Hank make it that far?   

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 10, 2014 - 7:56pm

Thanks, David, I'm trying to think about ways to separate the flash-back scenes.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 10, 2014 - 8:01pm


Yeah, man. We'll never be able to know what was going through the guy's mind. Doubt he'll ever talk about it.

Les, It was just his wife.


Christiemud's picture
Christiemud June 11, 2014 - 1:35am

Thought this was fantastic! A very bleak story about a tortured, desperate man that you managed to make engaging and interesting. 

I was hooked 'til the last word!

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 11, 2014 - 3:34pm

Thanks, Christiemud! Glad you liked it!


Grant Williams's picture
Grant Williams from Wichita, KS is reading Friday June 11, 2014 - 11:37am

good but extremely dark.  I liked seeing the cycle of rage and guilt repeating throughout.  It was compelling without having to change locations or get flashy.  good job.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 11, 2014 - 3:30pm

Thanks, Grant. Much appreciated.

David James Keaton's picture
David James Keaton from "the water" is reading Kill Kill Faster Faster by Joel Rose June 11, 2014 - 3:27pm

Fun bleak story. It's all pretty attached to bad cop Hank, and some of the sentences threw me a bit like "the razor felt cold. he shaved every morning. except this one," which makes me think he's not shaving? (easy fixes though) And lots of "he walked, he rummaged, he sat," etc., but those are easy to consolidate so not so many "He's" start paragraphs. But some great lines counter this, like "Too drunk for irony." Ha, thank, Christ, right? And there are surprises, too.
But the main thing for me is this hammer that is promised. When a story is slowed down this far with every action and motion, I have simple desires and that is that every object becomes interesting. And with a title like this, I wanted to hear all about the hammer - not hammer metaphors, not hints of hammers, not a guy named 'Hammer,' but like in The Iliad where Homer stops the action mid-beating to tell you all about the history of the weapon before the blow, I wanted hammer details (even more than character details), and as a story of small, detailed moments/movements and many objects - hammers, "wrong" nails, rosaries - I think the story deliveres on this promise. Satisfying read.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 11, 2014 - 3:33pm

Thanks, David. Yeah, I'm going to clean up some of the clutter after the contest.  

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 12, 2014 - 2:48am

Very nice.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 12, 2014 - 7:33am

Thanks, Seb!


Rico'sGyrl's picture
Rico'sGyrl June 12, 2014 - 7:17am

This was a very well written story, excellent job as always Liam !!

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 12, 2014 - 7:34am

Glad you enjoyed it!


Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 13, 2014 - 5:49pm

Hey Liam,

Couple of inconsistancies leap out early on : "No, his real shield", followed by "Not a real shield for not a real cop." Also, some words in bold, (change tracking, perhaps?) : little things, really, but do pay attention as you don't want people to get distracted!

Good solid story, but to max it, you could work a little more on the irritations, and a little more on the moment Hank snaps. Also, we kind of need to know - one blow? Did he strike out in rage, and unexpectedly kill her, or did he strike until she was definitely dead?

As an ex-cop, you could have him muse on what people normally do in this situation (attempt to hide the evidence, attempt to make a run for it) and then also why there was no point in him doing so...

But as I said, good strong piece.



Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 13, 2014 - 5:59pm

Thanks, Liam. I'll probably turn this into a larger piece, so I can get into more detail on the murder itself. The real shield/fake shield came from the copy shields cops sometimes order to use in place of the real ones, which are a bitch to replace. I should have looked at a way to express that without detracting from the mood of the piece.

As far as the details, I should have put more into it. I was just hyper-focused on his mindset.

Thanks for the input, Liam!


Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) June 16, 2014 - 7:47am

I think you’ve achieved what you set out to do here, and done it well. This is a nice slow-burner of a story that is more character or mood driven piece. It’s well written for the most part, though as Liam has pointed out, it needs a sweep in places. The voice is consistent, and the character of Hank is believable and sympathetic. In taking us through his motivations, and showing some of his regret too, you make a far more rounded character, and that’s a good thing.

There were some things I wasn’t as keen on, but before I go through those, I want to say that this gets a thumbs up from me. Any issues I have with this are purely subjective, and mostly a matter of personal taste. You’ve had overwhelmingly positive comments, and while I may be able to give you a contrasting view in places, it’s for you to decide how much weight you want to give my comments (if any at all).

I’ve realised in my comments that I often cover the same ground. For me plot is the key component and I like to read pieces with a lot of tension and conflict. What you do here is clever, picking up shortly after the murder, but not revealing that fact at first. Introducing the flashbacks leading up to the murder is a good way of playing with linearity. You don’t necessarily follow ‘the rules’, and that’s a good thing.

The downside of that is there is very little tension within the story. Your decision to concentrate on the aftermath takes away from the drama of the situation. I understand why you’ve done it, and it’s a fresher take on the typical spousal murder story. It is hard to interest a reader in a protagonist when all he’s doing is shaving, or drinking beer. That you manage to keep interest is testament to how well that protagonist comes over; first enjoying his freedom, then slowly allowing his regret to seep through.

It’s a shame that Susan isn’t given quite the same treatment as Hank. We get to see more than one side of Hank, but Susan remains only a stereotype. She is there as antagonist only, to nag Hank into his life’s mistakes and to push him to commit the crime. Having him lay down by her side and hold her hand should be a moment rich with emotion, but there is nothing in Susan’s portrayal as being deserving of this. I read the story and feel like Susan deserves her fate (not that anyone truly deserves to have their head caved in). The flashbacks are only of her being a nagging shrew. I’d like to see more of a hint of how she used to be a devoted wife, and not just a devoted mother. Their relationship has obviously deteriorated since the car accident, but it must have been strong at some point.

There is good craft on display here, and I think what you do, you do very well. Hank could easily have been written as a typical women-hating slob, but instead you give him layers. With each layer he becomes more real. I’d like to see more plot, but I’m well aware I’m more than likely in the vast minority here.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 16, 2014 - 10:45am

Hey Adam,

Thank you for that feedback. And I think you're right. As for Susan being far more of a sympathetic character than she appears to Hank's view. I can easily think of ways now where I could have added touches of humanity in her; features of how she's dressed, the memories certain things on her person could have triggered.

I also think that in Hank's routines, here and there I could have slipped in things about the better parts of his life with her. Especially their life before the car accident.

All in all, I realize this could have been a longer piece. And if I have that chance, I'll give it some more length. I just have to be careful with knowing what to put in and what to leave out.

Thank you for the feedback. Truly.



Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers June 16, 2014 - 9:37pm

What you have here is very good, well-written with the exception of some typos...gotta hate 'em. But it's not a story. You have part of story. There's Hank, who's basically a slob who doesn't care about anything other than smoking and drinking, and then you have his nagging wife. Two terrible people headed for a collision with a hammer. There's no tension, or emotion, and that makes me as a reader not care for Hank as a character. I'm not saying I have to like Hank, or even cheer for him, but I have to care about him, and there's nothing there to care about. The car accident concerning their daughter is probably a great catalyst to build that level of care and emotion. You don't have to make him a 'good guy', you just have to give the reader a solid reason to give a damn about him and his decision, whether it's good or bad. 

We never see a pleasant side of Susan, so she comes off as a cardboard stock character that deserves to have her skull bashed in. Like I said, Hank doesn't have to be hero to make this story work, you just have to make us care about what happens to him, and a great way to do that is by giving us a tiny glimpse of the way things used to be for Hank and Susan. Why did they get married in the first place? What was the thing that that kept them together? What drove them apart? Build the tension with emotion. I realize bringing all of that in would probably kill the word count, so you cut the fat and work for a balance between what he just did to Susan, and why he doesn't care about anyone else but himself. 

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 17, 2014 - 9:41am

Thank you for your feedback, Bob. I've gotten some other commenters that said I should breath a little "life" into Susan. I already have a few things in mind for when the contest is over. Little things, telling details. I do want to keep it in the "immediate Hank", so I'll have to do some juggling.



Jimmy M.'s picture
Jimmy M. from New England June 17, 2014 - 12:36pm

Hey Liam,

Thanks again for checking out my own story--I thought I'd do the same.

Anyway, criticism is not easy for me to dish out, but I feel like there are some significant changes that could make this from a good story to a great story. Before that, though, I'd like to go over the strong points of the story:

  • The premise in itself-- Although I didn't catch the premise until the end of the story, I thought it was a really great idea. While crime usually puts corrupt police officers in a different light (I think of moles for the mob, embezzlers, mostly related to the work they do), you really went and showed a personal side to corruption and evil in law enforcement that I myself haven't experienced a lot in fiction. So kudos for that.
  • The character of Hank in general--besides what I've previously alluded to, Hank is just an interesting character--he isn't the cop that comes home to a wife that worries where he's been all night. He's a failure, a crook, yet with a side that we can all relate to.

Now to the tough part. I apologize if I seem harsh, and please don't take offense, as I am only saying this to hopefully help you create an even better story. Here it goes:

  • Continuation-- I almost had to read the story twice to understand where you were bringing the reader's attention, especially at the beginning, where it seems to jump around between the shield and then Hank, and then the TV and Hank's friend that gets maybe a sentence of screen time.
  • Susan-- While there were many parts of Susan that I liked, and she obviously is incendiary enough to make me want to bash her head in too, she just doesn't seem to have much depth; there really wasn't anything to her besides constantly nagging her husband.
  • Time jumps--While I enjoy your use of flashbacks, I found it confusing when you would switch without a moments notice. In my own writing, I prefer to use some form of miscellaneous punctuation (usually dashes or asterisks) to show a scene break. I think you were trying to do that with an extra blank line, but it just didn't work well for me.
  • Basic spelling and grammar-- spelling and grammar just needs a quick once over, nothing huge. I would suggest using some synonyms though to mix it up. Like "shield", for instance. I feel that you could replace some of its uses with "badge" or some other synonym (ID comes to mind). With mixing it up, I wouldn't mind seeing less pronouns, at least for Hank, though you are justified in your frequent use of pronouns, as Hank is really the only character that lasts the duration of the story
  • Flat/ vague parts of Hank-- although you mention Hank has friends, you don't go into too much detail. You describe his face as being pockmarked when he's shaving, but at no other time. Pockmarks are an extremely obvious facial feature, so maybe that could play more into his description. In terms of character, I'm still not entirely sure whether he was a cop, or still is a cop. I know you were trying to explain that on the first page, but I didn't get it. Was he a dirty cop? Some more detail would help there.
  • Use of symbols--I think I understand that the shield is supposed to be that last remaining remnant of his past, but you just use it to start the story, and then let it disappear for the most part. For the nails (and the hammer), I'm still not really sure why he decided to use the "good" nails finally, if he has no sympathy for just killing his wife. Or does he? The symbol of the picture just confuses me, honestly.
  • Beth-- Honestly, you might just want to leave Beth out of this--you could almost read the entire story without her and still get the same impact. I distinctly remember an article on this website a while back discussing how having a dead child in a story has become sort of a trope. It just seems like an excuse to make things dramatically sad by including her. If she is indeed crucial to the story, you'd really have to make her memorable.

That's all I can think of now. I apologize once again if any of this offends you, as purposefully insulting your art is not my objective. And while I suggest these things, you are obviously the writer here, and free to use your discretion with my comments.


Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 17, 2014 - 1:43pm

Thank you, James.



J.R. Maston's picture
J.R. Maston June 18, 2014 - 4:21pm

Great, compelling story.  Loved the pace... not too quick to feel emotion, not dragging.  You really did a great job of highlighting the fact that there are two sides to every story, but that we often can't see that.  Susan's harping, the narrator's laziness... that's a mirror for almost every side of every argument in a marriage, and I like the fact that the narrator doesn't really come to realize that until its too late.  The picture of his daughter, and especially the act of falling and cracking, is a great microcosm of the marriage and maybe where everything started to go wrong.  Good cop details, too... the familiar knock, the fakey badge, that all lends so much realism to the story.  The only part that threw me off was the flashbacks.  They seemed too jarring, there was nothing separating them from the linear narrative.  Maybe throw them into italics?  Or break the paragraphs in such a way that the reader knows they are previous, and not part of the "now."  Also, you do a good job of hiding Susan's fate for a bit, more hinting at it.  It would be awesome to stretch that out for as long as possible... make the reader wonder what the hell happened to her until, maybe, the picture falls off the window?  The longer that moment stretches, the more mystery gets thrown into the story.  Great write, Liam.  Eerie and strikingly familiar... something the reader could totally picture happening.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 18, 2014 - 4:39pm

Thanks, J.R.

I really need to separate the switches from past to present, but I don't want it to be too noticeablre, just enough. I was thinking, to keep in his mind-frame, something like

... the past ...

It might work. And it would be subtle. I'm thinking of trying it.

Thanks for the feedback!



Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep June 19, 2014 - 10:49am

For me, this story was solid throughout. Hank felt real to me. Real enough to be in a Stephen King novel, and he's a master (IMO) of this sort of character. I envy your skill at characterization.

An even, brooding narrative, you peel back the sheet on his motivations with ease. Everything felt natural to me.


- I saw some typos. Nothing one more copyediting pass wouldn't catch.

- I like the idea that he blames this on her. That it's her fault. It really shows the rationalization process we all go through when we do something we shouldn't.

- Maybe take a look at the number of sentences (or maybe just paragraphs) that begin with "He." Despite that this is written 3rd person, I will say that it felt very much like a first person narrative. That tells me that, wow, you were very effective at letting me get inside Hank's head. First person narratives also tend to start a lot of sentences with "I," so perhaps it's just a function of that. The narrative flowed well to me, and nothing tripped me up here.

- As far as the past/present stuff, I'll just say that I did have to do double-takes each time you did it to make sure this wasn't turning into a zombie story. I had to ask myself each time whether Hank was hallucinating his wife talking to him, or whether it was in the past. Others have already brought this up. Extra line between sections or italics may clarify where we are. Then again, he's in a state of shock/confusion, so the reader having to work through it with him isn't all bad either...

- I sorta hate to suggest this, but I would take a look at whether you need to add some more detail to the actual killing event itself and/or her physical state afterwards. The reason I bring this up is because what Hank did is truly horrible, and the reader might need to feel a little more of that blood. I don't like to picture death with a hammer. But maybe that's why it might need to be in there.

- I think there's a more powerful closing sentence in there somewhere. I like that he looks at Susan, but maybe something that ties it back to your beginning. I thought the shield was a powerful image in the beginning--a symbol of how far he's fallen.

Anyway, I hope this feedback helps. It was depressing, but I enjoyed reading your story! Thank you for writing it and sharing it with others.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 19, 2014 - 1:27pm

Thanks, Ethan!

Yeah, I really have to figure out a good way to handle the flashback. I don't want to go full scene breaks, because some of them are just a paragraph, but I need to do something.

I also like your suggestion of putting a little more detail in her fatal injuries. That'll actually be a good fix.

Thanks for the feedback!



Rob H.'s picture
Rob H. June 20, 2014 - 11:18am

A great story, with a definite King vibe to it.  The present to past and back thing was a little confusing at first, but not a big problem. A first rate tale all around.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 20, 2014 - 12:03pm

Thank you, Rob. I'm glad you enjoyed it.



Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. June 21, 2014 - 9:05pm


I really liked your story. I really can't think of any critiques, it was just a blast to read. I especially liked the kind of garbled timeline. I felt it kind of preserved the tension by knowing what happens but not how it happened and what the consequences will be making your ending almost like a double climax. Really clever. In a way Hank almost kind of reminds of Begbie from Trainspotting. Clearly he's nowhere near that psychotic, his is more of the quiet type of murderous rage, but they seem to share that "blame the bitch" logic like when Begbie assaulted his pregnant wife or girlfriend or whatever and started thinking how she better not have made him kill their baby or else he'd kill her. I found that little similarity particularly amusing. Overall, really great sort of black humor. I liked it a lot.


Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 22, 2014 - 8:15am

Thanks, Aud. I'm glad you enjoyed it!



Bob in Columbia's picture
Bob in Columbia June 25, 2014 - 5:36pm

   I liked reading "The Wrong Hammer."  It read smoothly and clearly.  Sure there were a couple of points to quibble with, but they were not major for me.
   The author and I must look for different things in a story.  I have a bias for stories that reveal something new about a character under pressure - makes me a bit of a mismatch for his regular audience.
   A drawback for me was that I didn't get a rising emotion reading the story.  As someone else remarked, Susan's a bit of a stereotype and, to be frank, so was Hank.  The reveal that Susan's body lay on the floor was nicely done, but there was no suspense remaining for the rest of the story.
  I enjoyed the journalistic aspects of the writing.  Thanks for sharing.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 26, 2014 - 12:22pm

Thanks, Bob.



Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine July 6, 2014 - 10:06pm

Really disturbing. This is a well written piece that seems to be a play on the darkest of "what-if" scenarios of unhappily married couples. We get a lot of hints early on that Susan is dead and that Hank doesn't seemed to mind. The story is more about a man finally getting to relax, rather than the actual murder of his wife. The part about the couple being happy together as young lovers makes wonder what could have happened to make him think nothing of killing Susan. Even if he can't stand her now, there seems like there could still be nagging memories of how things used to be that might make living with her even harder. I see that you have gotten a lot of feedback here and I'm not sure I can offer anything new. I think that your story was interesting and although it could have delved deeper into the thoughts and feelings of the main character, you did a nice job showing how a man, pushed to his limits might react in his last minutes of freedom.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball July 8, 2014 - 1:33pm

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it.




Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 16, 2014 - 11:01am


I gave this a thumbs up.

Like the angle of telling the story from the perspective of a person who has done a bad thing, but is not necessarily a bad person.

It is dark, but I like dark.

It's just a good overall character study and the story is very visual.

Good job.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball July 24, 2014 - 8:12am

Hey thanks, Dylan. I'm glad you liked it!