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, the experienced mystery reader will always sit up and take notice when she encounters…
The Respectable Family Solicitor
I looked round at the guests that my uncle had invited to this odd Christmas gathering. My eyes met briefly those of old Taverner, the respectable family solicitor who dealt with all the affairs of our disreputable family. I smiled, remembering how the old boy’d handled that breach of promise case for me all those years ago–and then I stopped smiling–for why was the fellow here now? Why had Uncle invited Taverner? They were not friends. Uncle didn’t care much for Taverner, and, of course, no-one could possibly care for Uncle. No, mutual esteem was basically out.
Then why was the fellow here?
When you have the family solicitor at a family party, it generally means one of two things. Either the wicked old uncle is about to draft a new Will or he’s just discovered that old Taverner’s been robbing him blind and plans to expose him. It can, of course, mean other things as well, but I generally at least start with these two possibilities in mind and see if they are supported by the text.
Why else, dear readers, might a respectable family solicitor be invited to a family party in a mystery novel? Please assume for purposes of this discussion that the solicitor is not on terms of friendship with the family. Also? Have you encountered any solicitors, mysteriously present at a family gathering, in any mystery novels you’ve read lately? Also? Hello! Leave a comment!
I’d be betting on the change of will. Of course, then he could be around to read the new will out loud when Uncle drops dead of poisoned punch or chokes on the disgusting food he loves and everyone else hates, as he gleefully tosses i5 into his mouth after making the announcement.
Yes, it is always convenient to have the family solicitor already on hand when there is to be a murder. Then you don’t have to send for him. It saves time, really.
Oh! Splendid thought! I would love to read a mystery novel where an obsessively tidy killer got the family solicitor there before the murder just so he’d be around to read the will. This is not sarcastic. I’d actually absolutely love to read a story like that. Especially if the presence of the family solicitor was the psychological clue that revealed the identity of the killer.
Thanks, Sue! I love this idea. 🙂
Taverner could be there to take revenge on the entire family for the way he has been treated all these years, as well as the deadly outcome of that “breach of promise” case which has haunted him all these years.
He’s old, sick and knows his time is limited, and decides to take as many of this horrid family with him into death.
Ooh, the breach of promise case! You’re right, it ought to form an important part of the background. It is mentioned in such a casual way, almost off-handedly–as all really important things in murder mysteries tend to be.
In your example, I’d love to know by what devious means Taverner acquired an invitation to this party.
It’s always the changing the will shortly before death. That happened in my family. We’ll never know if he really wanted to change it or if someone persuaded him (though there’s no evidence of foul play in his passing; he was in his late 80s)…
Anyway, having the solicitor at a part is suspicious.
Oh wow! How unsettling! And I bet it was no fun whatsoever. It is remarkable how things that are fun to read about are just no fun at all when they actually happen.
Mr Entwhistle – The Abernethie family’s solicitor from Death at a Funeral by Christie. I’ll remember him as an example until the day I die because I LOVE the name Entwhistle. Made me giggle every time I read it (I was pretty young at the time to be fair!)
Good call! And Entwhistle is a fabulous name. If you like mysteries with oddly-named characters, by the way, and if you haven’t read Michael Innes, I can recommend him. His naming does get a bit madly improbable, but so do his madcap-comedy mysteries, so it all sort of fits.