Doom of the Borrowed Signature Garment #AtoZChallenge: Mystery Tropes

Hello, and welcome to my 2019 A to Z Challenge! This year, I am giving you my personal list of  Golden Age Mystery Tropes. Particularly clue-tropes, and also those tropes that an experienced mystery reader finds herself using to solve the mystery without reference to the actual clues. For example, this one…

The Doom of the Borrowed Signature Garment

On the doorstep, Phyllis shivered.

“Oh! It is cold!” She looked into the darkness in mounting dismay. “And I’ve simply got to get home. Oh dear!”

“Do borrow this. It is quite warm.” Lady Grace immediately removed her lustrous blue cloak–the one covered in a mad design of peacocks and earwigs. To everyone in her large social circle, that cloak was so much a part of Lady Grace’s identity that, had it strolled somehow into a salon on its own, people would have addressed it as “Lady Grace” and talked to it quite comfortably. Now, it was covering Phyllis’s bony shoulders.

“Oh!” Phyllis stroked the beautiful cloak, and made pleased clucking sounds. “Oh! It’s so lovely. Thank you! I will return it tomorrow. Of course.”

And Phyllis made her way down the dark road towards her cottage, still making clucking noises. We could see that cloak for quite a long time before the darkness swallowed Phyllis’s tiny frame entirely. And, I shiveringly reflected, anyone who didn’t know better would think it was Lady Grace, walking alone on that lonely road after dark.

Of course, Phyllis, you won’t return that cloak tomorrow. Because you’re going to be murdered before then. Probably somewhere on that dark and lonely road along which you are walking now. And the worst part is, the killing will have nothing to do with you. Someone is going to mistake you for Lady Grace, because you are in her highly distinctive cloak.

You see, Phyllis, to the author, you are not really very important. In fact, you’ve been inserted into this story to be murdered by mistake. The author does not want to kill Lady Grace. S/he does want to make it very clear, however, that Lady Grace is in peril. In fact, the author wants to write a murder mystery with Lady Grace as the victim without actually killing Lady Grace. That, or s/he is being even more sneaky. There is at least one book (that I can actually name, this time, but don’t want to, because spoilers) in which the seeming target of the assassination attempts is actually the killer, and the one who was seemingly killed by mistake is actually the killer’s intended victim. Um. If you see what I mean.

Anyway, The Doom of the Borrowed Signature Garment is a fun trope. You will often find it combined with the trope Lower-Class Look-Alike, which will be my L this month.


Have you seen this trope before in something you’ve read? Do you agree/disagree with my definition? Do you just want to say hello? Please leave a comment!

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  1. I don’t even know why people in murder mysteries keep lending their garnments to other people. they should know that’s just spelling disaster.

    You know, I’m thinking that these tropes are so obvious that I dont’ even know why an author (of mysteries nonethelss) woudl bother useing them. But I suppose that if used well and cleverly they can still be very effective.

  2. Your installments are delightfully entertaining! “…peacocks and earwigs” indeed. I wish I’d written that line. I’m still laughing.

  3. Oh I love this one – this is a classic. There was a great example of this in Agatha Christie’s Poirot

  4. OR…the lent garment is an alibi, and Lady Grace will be doing the/a dirty deed. Devious minds are afoot.

  5. What a fun theme! I love tropes, folk or literary 🙂 And yes, I have seen this trope before, but I can’t remember where…

    The Multicolored Diary

  6. Yes, there was a Poirot novel with exactly that trope, ie the supposed mistake when all the time the killer knew exactly what they were doing and pretended to be the planned victim.

    What a delightful theme! I am a great fan of whodunnits and yes, that trope is familiar!

    E Is For Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction, and Eowyn

    • Yes, the Poirot novel is the one I was thinking of! But I don’t want to say which, because that really would spoil the story for people who haven’t read it.

      I am glad you like my theme! Also whodunnits! Thanks for visiting!

  7. Of course, I knew I wasn’t going to spoil it for others! But the trope of the signature garment is common. She just gave it a twist.

  8. Don’t forget the possibility that the cloak – with or without Phyllis inside it – will be worn by the murderer on purpose to frame Lady Grace. Everyone will swear that they saw Lady Grace entering the groundskeeper’s cottage at 10:30 on Thursday evening, and Grummidge was found dead at 11:05.
    Black and White: D is for Dragon

  9. Ah-ha, another fun one. And another one that I miss. I don’t do with harking back to the good old days, but these tropes did make old mysteries such fun to read.

  10. I did find that trope used correctly where it resulted in mis-identifying someone. It was a good twist in a novel I read recently.

    But yes, good trope!

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