Neurodivergence and Mystery
by M. C. Tuggle
One of the themes I keep returning to in my writing is the disconnect between modern norms and human needs. The resulting clash is hard on everyone, but especially so for autistic individuals. Both work and educational norms require people to sit all day, which is pure agony for someone bursting with energy and curiosity, whose natural instinct is to ramble and explore the world around them.
Similarly, a society that’s scrapped traditional codes of behavior is a nightmare for those who seek the comfort of structure and proper protocol, standards that once guided and sheltered individuals in potentially awkward interactions. this has critically eroded social connections. And that’s a tragedy, because the loss of connections impairs individual development.
That’s the driving theme in my novelette “Absence of Evidence“, now in the latest issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine. The protagonist, Treka Dunn, is a former combat nurse who can fix anything from shrapnel wounds to barracks plumbing. Now the chief medical examiner at the Gilead, Missouri, county morgue, she faces budget cuts, a growing backlog, and family pressures. So when her cursory exam of Davis Washburn’s body reveals no evidence of foul play, she’s ready to move on to her next corpse.
But Ron Washburn, the victim’s son, is convinced his father was poisoned. Ron, who is autistic, struggles to convince Treka and Officer Jerry Simms, who investigated Washburn’s death. Treka agrees to run a toxicology test, which reveals–nothing. When she tries to explain her findings to Ron, he mentions a seemingly insignificant detail that Treka can’t explain – and she realizes a murderer is about to get away with the perfect crime.
My primary motivation in researching and writing this story is that I love offbeat characters, a challenging mystery, and juicy technical details. But another thing that inspired this story is my experience with InReach a service agency that provides assistance to folks with learning disabilities. My wife and I support this organization. InReach’s annual luncheons, which give sponsors the opportunity to meet the people their donations aid, have deeply moved us.
So the character Ron Washburn is based in part on the life experiences of several of the InReach clients we’ve met. I can only hope the character I’ve drawn reflects the dignity, sense of purpose, and pride of those clients. Treka Dunn is the protagonist of “Absence of Evidence,” but Ron Washburn is the driving force behind Treka’s quest for justice.
In fact, “Absence of Evidence” reinforces the theme of social and individual integrity in its interplay of characters and plot. The murderer is a sociopath disconnected from human relationships, while the three main characters reflect the unity of a healthy personality — Treka Dunn is the mind, Officer Jerry Simms the body, and Ron Washburn, the spirit. All three are unique individuals who aid and sustain each other. And that’s the kind of people we all aspire to be.
M. C. Tuggle lives and writes in Charlotte, North Carolina. His fantasy, science fiction, and mystery short stories have appeared in several publications, including Mystery Weekly, Hexagon, and Metaphorosis. He blogs on all things literary at https://mctuggle.com/
I want to thank M. C. Tuggle for his guest post. Please be sure to go to his excellent site!