Ghosts #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…



“Did you see anyone on the Old Cemetery Road last night?”

“No-one…livin’, Inspector. No-one as’d interest you. Oh no.” And Old Mrs. Crabbe cackled inanely and rocked back and forth.

“You saw a dead man? Do you mean the victim?”

“I don’t mean your victim, anyhow. I saw someone all in luminous white standing at the Old Cemetery gate–and when I looked again, he’d gone.”

“A ghost.” Inspector Gubbins was disgusted. “You think you saw a ghost.” He turned to Constable Watt. “We’ll get nothing useful here, Constable. Old woman’s mad, that’s all. Mad!”

Of course, Inspector Gubbins is wrong. He just got something very useful indeed. Old Mrs. Crabbe thinks she saw a ghost. Well, she’s wrong–but she did see something. Probably the killer. Or the victim. Or a witness. Anyway, she saw someone, and it wasn’t a ghost, and that someone was lurking in the critical area at the critical time. It isn’t Mrs. Crabbe’s fault that she’s ghost-minded; that is the way the author decided that she should be, and now she can’t help herself. She just assumes that people who are lurking about cemetery gates in the middle of the night dressed in white (or anyway, in light-coloured) clothing are ghosts. And when I put it that way, it sounds kind of reasonable.

Inspector Gubbins is, pretty obviously, not our main detective in this story. He is the bumbling policeman that the real detective will show up. The real detective will give Mrs. Crabbe’s story polite attention, to the horror and disgust of any friends he’s brought with him to the interview. He will then turn to them and say something like, “Not at all, my dear chap. I consider Mrs. Crabbe’s testimony to be most important.” That is all he’ll say, until he’s ready to tell all.


Have you encountered this trope in anything you’ve read? Or something kind of like this trope, only different? Tell me all about it in the comments section! You can also just say hello.

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  1. Jinkies. Are you suggesting that all of Scooby Doo’s Ghost (and other assorted bumps in the night) are not real supernatural beings????

    I must take myself to bed with a cold compress.

    Tale Spinning

  2. High five! My G word is also Ghost!

  3. Oh, yes, I’ve come across this trope many times. When it’s Poirot, of course, he simply smiles a little and leaves it at that. Or says, “I think it’s very interesting, don’t you?” and when the idiot detective says no, he leaves it there until his major reveal. You’d think more of those detectives would ask him why he thinks it’s interesting, wouldn’t you? But that would spoil the grand reveal!

    I have read a Ray Bradbury novel that begins in a cemetery at midnight on Halloween and wasn’t a ghost story! It was instead a whodunnit set in 1950s Hollywood.

    H Is For Harry Harrison and Barbara Hambly

    • Yes, I know. Ask more questions of the smug man with the mustache, people!!! Of course, he wouldn’t answer ’em anyway, because, as you say, it would ruin the grand reveal, but at least we, the readers, would feel like someone had done the sensible thing.
      The Bradbury sounds fascinating!

  4. I think it was Death Is A Lonely Business. The narrator is based on Bradbury himself and it includes a character who is clearly inspired by Ray Harryhausen, who was a dear friend of Bradbury’s. Great fun! 🙂

  5. Excactly so. And I believe you did just that a couple of years ago 😉

    • Eeek! That is true–and I hadn’t made that connection until just now! Of course, in that, there is also a real ghost… 🙂 Thanks for remembering, Sarah! I can’t tell you how flattered I am that you remember it!

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