Questions You Shouldn’t Know Enough To Ask #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.

Today, however, I am, once again, going to address the hopeful fictional murderer. He keeps, in fiction, getting caught–and often simply because he will not learn from his many fictional predecessors. You, oh prospective fictional murderer, cannot help but utter…

Questions You Shouldn’t Know Enough To Ask

“There was,” said Crowner, eying Mr. Sneer speculatively, “a lovely set of fingerprints on the gun.”

“But Inspector! How can that be–when the killer wore gloves?” Asked Mr. Sneer, his mouth operating just fatal seconds ahead of his brain.

Mr. Sneer, I despair of you. You are very easily tricked. This is only slightly more intelligent than the classic trope “But I wore gloves,” beloved of Old-Time Radio detective shows and other shorter-format detective stories because it wraps up the case so very efficiently.

Let us turn away from this depressing spectacle and examine another error of the same sort.

“What I don’t understand,” complained Mr. Sneak, with the air of a man with a deep and genuine grievance, “is this–why was the body found in the rosebushes, when the murder was committed in the summer house?”

Mr. Sneak, you have my sympathy. It must be very annoying, when one has committed a perfectly simple murder in one place, to hear that the body of one’s victim has been discovered elsewhere. It must be very tempting to ask questions about it. But–you mustn’t, you know. You really mustn’t. If you want your involvement to remain a mystery to the authorities, you must, I am afraid, accept a certain level of doubt and mystification on your own part.


Can you think of other fatal questions a murderer might ask? Is this a trope? Have you seen it in something you’ve read? Do you just want to say hello? Leave a comment!

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  1. What Is the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow?

  2. They say you don’t have to be smart to be come a criminal, only if you prefer not to get caught. The ones that keep getting caught because they are incapable of switching their MO definitely belong in jail, for their own safety.

  3. “I assure you, Inspector,” declared Mr Snipe firmly, “That I have a dozen witnesses to swear that I was playing darts in the pub between 6:30 and 9:54. So you see, I couldn’t possibly have been in the conservatory when Lady Dahlia was killed.” People are always making statements or asking questions about the Important Time Period, when they have no right to know which time period is the important one.

    Mr Scrimp waggled his finger archly at the inspector and asked playfully, “But how do you suppose a simple man like me could possibly have gotten hold of an obscure poison like iocane powder?” But the real question is: how did Mr Scrimp know that iocane powder was the cause of death? People are always betraying that they know more than they should about the particular injuries or cause of death.

    • YESSSS! Two palpable hits! Anne, you have it exactly. In fact, reading your comment caused me to groan hollowly, because these are such key examples of the sort of thing I mean, and because I feel that I ought to have thought of them.
      But it was, you know, a good hollow groan. That’s a thing, right?

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