Excellent Mimics #AtoZChallenge 2019: 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 Excellent Mimic

“Odd about old Addison. Seems a dull chap, but he has all sorts of unexpected talents. He’s a first-rate bridge player, a fine boxer, a dab hand with an embroidery needle, and an excellent mimic.”

Watch out, readers! We have an excellent mimic in our story! That phone call that seems to establish that the dead man was alive at 10 P.M.? That was the work of the excellent mimic. The voice calling for help from the bottom of the cliff? Probably the excellent mimic. The man with his back turned, but whose voice was heard quite distinctly? Excellent mimic! He is here, there, everywhere, confusing things. 

The excellent mimic may be the killer (this is quite likely). S/he may be protecting someone, someone who may or may not have done it (see Fat-Headed Lovers, tomorrow’s post!). Someone may have tricked him into making, say, a phony phone call (you know, “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if you called up so-and-so, pretending to be Bob?”–this is the sort of thing that appeals to the simple sense of humour of the excellent mimic), and now he will not admit that he did it, for fear of being suspected himself. He is certainly, for one reason or another, not on the side of the investigators. He also knows quite a lot more than he is admitting.

An excellent mimic is like Chekhov’s Gun: it really has got to go off. The phrase “excellent mimic” makes a promise to the reader (a promise that the author probably hopes the reader won’t pick up on, until later, when the detective says, “after all, you dolt, we all knew he was an excellent mimic;” it is a promise nonetheless).

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Have you encountered this trope in something you’ve read? Do you think it isn’t a trope? Can you think of other, similar tropes? Do you just want to say hello? Please leave a comment!

Oh! And! If you’re into tropes, and want to explore a great big jungle of tropes, why not visit tvtropes.org? If you’ve never seen the site before, I strongly recommend having a look. 

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12 Comments

  1. Agatha Christie used variations of this trope, for example in “After the Funeral” where the detection was not based on the villain being noted as an excellent mimic but rather she was undone by her using the mirror image.

    Following along from A to Z

  2. Ha! Not only a trope, but also a formulaic phrase that works as a clue. Love it. 🙂

    The Multicolored Diary

  3. Hi Mel:
    Would the more current technical side work as an excellent mimic?

    Computer sequencing and splicing of the person’s actual voice but placed in different order? Other types of new software? The whole AI gaining consciousness, the creator using her/his voice for the AI?

    Stuart
    Tale Spinning
    https://stuartnager.wordpress.com/

    • Stuart! Another excellent hi-tech equivalent! Huzzah! Also? AI! That is v. interesting, if the creator uses his/her voice for the AI, is that mimicry? Hm… I think that issue verges on the philosophical.

  4. Really well written and interesting theme. Interestingly this year I am also talking about tropes or Cliches in Bollywood.

    • Hello, and welcome to Atherton’s Magic Vapour! And I noticed a certain similarity in our themes, too! I will definitely be stopping by your site again, because Bollywood is something I am interested in, but know almost nothing about.

  5. Oh yes, another one of those items dropped into plain sight that those of us with that sort of bent *know* must mean something. I love it, also love Stu’s take on the more modern day version of this.

  6. I’ve seen this done in many stories, though I think I’ve ‘seen’ it in films and series, morte than ‘read’ it in books.
    The voice coming from behind a close door is so obvious that every time I see it I know that’s a fake.

    • It certainly is easier to convey in a film than in a book. And yeah, the voice behind the closed door is totally obvious. Of course, in real life, I’d fall for it every time–because, I mean, you don’t expect mimics.

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