The Bedroom Shuffle #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…

The Bedroom Shuffle

Sir Gawdawful looked round his dinner table with a malevolent eye. “Arthur,” he croaked, “I am putting you in my room tonight. Frederick, you shall sleep in the excessively haunted Blue Room. Sir Bentham shall have the Queen Anne suite. I myself shall take the Tower Room. My dear,” he turned to his wife, “you shall sleep in the stables. I hope that is acceptable to all of you.”

Well, it wasn’t, but Sir Gawdawful was a very, very rich man, and so we all humoured his little eccentricities.

Again, this is a half-clue, half-meta-clue trope. That is, the detective will learn about the Bedroom Shuffle in the course of the investigation, but it won’t mean to him/her what it means to us, the experienced mystery readers. What it means to us, of course, is that Sir Gawdawful is expecting to be murdered, and would rather that it happened to someone else. That, or he is being even more devious, and wishes for it to appear that he is expecting to be murdered, because really he plans to murder someone else–probably Arthur. If Arthur is murdered, the reader who knows will look for someone who did not know the bedrooms had been swapped, or directly at Sir Gawdawful himself, as the likely killer. If Sir Gawdawful is murdered, the knowledgeable reader should look very carefully at everyone who did know about the switcheroo.

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Have you encountered this trope in something you’ve read? Do you think it is really a trope? Do you dispute my interpretation? Have you seen this trope play out some other way? Please let me know in the Comments section! It is also totally acceptable just to say hello!

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14 Comments

  1. Yes, I’ve encountered this trope on stories a number of times. The wrong person, wrong place, and the target safely elsewhere…for the nonce. It pops up a lot on various TV shows, and some movies, as well.

  2. You know I can’t think of an example at the moment from what I’ve read, but it’s really ringing a bell… will have to mull…

    Just for the stables, I rather hope Sir Gawdawful does get bumped off.

  3. Oh, wow, what an amazing site you’ve got! Not to mention you’ve chosen quite the creative theme for your BloggingFromAZ project! In answer to your question, yes. What pops into mind immediately is Helen Stoner in the Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Speckled Band, how her stepfather moves her into her sister’s room. Hmm, though that doesn’t quite fit, now that I think of it. There’s Uncle Silas, by Sheridan Le Fanu, where Maude gets moved…only that doesn’t quite fit either. I know I’ve seen a few Hercule Poirots where this came into play, although the titles of those mysteries are escaping me.

    • Hello, and welcome to Atherton’s Magic Vapour! And you’re right, that The Speckled Band doesn’t quite fit. He moves her in there to murder her, because that is the room that is set up for murdering step-daughters. Hm… as for Uncle Silas, I have tried to read it. I have liked other things by Le Fanu, and I gave Uncle Silas a really good try. But… I just couldn’t.

      This does, I think, happen in several Hercule Poirot stories, but I have to admit that I can’t give chapter and verse for this trope, either. I’ve seen it, and its variants, around a lot in the mystery novels I’ve read. But, as to which ones–nope. No idea.

  4. Ngaire Marsh has some Bedroom Shuffles.

    And I’m trying to think of who I read last/this year who fits the pattern.

  5. You know? I don’t think I’d have ever thought to this trope, but you are right. I adore those stories set in far away mansion with so many rooms (and bedrooms). Who can ever know what may happen in the heat of th enight?

  6. Whilst I cannot name a single example of it, I was nodding away in recognition as I read your post.

    Oh & I love you calling him Sir Gawdawful. This is going to be fun 🙂

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