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…
“I cannot marry you, Cecil! Not–not when I know–” Mary broke off to sob and gulp for a bit. Finally, she smiled tearfully and continued. “Well, you know what I mean.”
Cecil gave a wild cry of total despair. “But Mary! I know–and I don’t care! D’you hear me? I don’t care!”
“How can you? Are you so depraved? Are you dead to all decency? Do not touch me–I cannot bear it!” And Mary ran from him, directly into some thorn-bushes, which she wallowed in briefly before making her way back to the house.
“Then do I understand that you refuse to state where you were at the time of the murder?” Inspector Crowner asked.
A small, brave smile flickered briefly across Cecil’s face. “You may understand what you like. I shall never tell what I know!”
Inspector Crowner stared. “You do know, sir, that Miss Mary Cavanaugh couldn’t have done it?”
“That’s imposs–I mean, of course not. Of course she couldn’t.”
“I did it.” Cecil’s voice was flat and strained. At once.
“Did what, sir?” Inspector Crowner looked up with some reluctance from his ploughman’s lunch to stare at the wild-eyed young man in front of him.
“The murder. I did the murder. Me.”
“Oh, that.” And Crowner waved his hand as if dismissing the matter.
“Yes. The murder. Me. I did it. Alone. All me.”
“It is a lie!” Came a new voice from the doorway of the inn. Both men looked up to see Mary Cavanaugh standing silhouetted against the strong afternoon sun outside. Her eyes blazed with a strange fire. “Cecil cannot have done it. For it was I, I alone, who did this horrible crime!”
“The murder?” Crowner asked tiredly.
“The murder! I! I confess!”
“Oh. Good. Good!” And Crowner turned his attention back to his lunch.
He thinks she did it. She thinks he did it. Neither of them has any good reason for thinking anything of the sort, but they do it anyway, to add an unnecessary layer of emotional unpleasantness to an otherwise charming mystery. As you can tell, I am slightly tired of this particular trope, though I always like to see it subverted. In an Agatha Christie novel, which I won’t name because it would ruin it, there is an excellent example of a subversion of this trope. In that story, one of the fat-headed lovers really has done it–and I shan’t say more, but loyal Christie fans will understand how deeply I admire the way she uses our expectations as readers to conceal the true criminal.
In one of Dorothy Sayers’ excellent mysteries, Lord Peter Wimsey criticizes Harriet Vane for employing approximately this trope in one of her detective novels.
In the examples above, I have tried to capture what I consider to be the most characteristic examples of this trope. There are other ways for this trope to manifest itself in a text. Want to try your hand at writing a Fat-Headed Lovers scene? It really is fun. Give it a shot, in the comments section! Feel free to borrow Mary, Cecil, and Crowner for the purpose, or to use your own characters! You can also leave a more conventional comment, or just say hi!