The Cigarette Case #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. However, today’s trope does not fit neatly into either of these categories. It is…

The Cigarette Case

“No, a thousand times, no! I shan’t allow you to take my fingerprints! I don’t want to muck my fingers. Also? How dare you suspect me? Me? All of this is outrageous, and I shall write a very strong letter of complaint to someone!” Stephenson paused, probably to regain breath.

“Yes yes yes. I understand. Respectable citizens often don’t think it quite nice to help the police. Forget I asked.” Inspector Crowner smiled winningly. “Smoke, sir?” And he held out his highly-polished silver cigarette case.

“Oh. Um. Yes.” And Stephenson took the case, opened it, and selected a cigarette with care. They were all the same, but he selected one carefully anyway. “Thank you.”

No, Stephenson. Thank you. You have just given Inspector Crowner your fingerprints. I sometimes wonder if highly-polished cigarette cases are part of the standard equipment of Scotland Yard, issued to officers so they can collect unofficial fingerprints from recalcitrant suspects.

Of course, other people, less nice than Inspector Crowner, can also use this dodge to get a person’s fingerprints. If a highly-polished cigarette case shows up at a crime scene, with a beautifully clear set of fingerprints on it, that is usually a plant.

Inspector Crowner, by the way, is a recurring character of mine. He was the detective in Alas!, my epic 2015 Murder Mystery A to Z. He has also appeared in print, in the story A Gastleigh Curse, which appeared in Mystery Weekly Magazine, July 2017. Want to know more? Here is my blog post about that.


Have you seen this trope before in something you’ve read? Do you think this isn’t a trope? Do you just want to say hello? Leave a comment!

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  1. If not on a highly polished case, the glass of wine they were handed, etc, make their way into many a tale. So, trope indeed.

    Last night’s NCIS used the new trope: retinal scans. Keeping up with technology.

    • Ha! I was thinking about mentioning the glass variation, actually, because it is quite a common variant.
      As for NCIS… I have no idea what that is. 🙂 TV show? Something Crime Scene Investigation? I am, in some ways, shockingly out of the loop.

  2. Is it entrapment? Is the evidence admissible?
    Visiting from A to Z

    • Hello Anne! I think that it is generally not admissible as evidence, in these books–it is more of a way for the investigators to get on with investigating. You know, check to see if they need to go to the bother of getting official fingerprints from people who don’t want to give them.

  3. Another solid trope. IIRC Poirot did something similar with a blank piece of card, which he claimed was a criminal’s calling card. I also recommend the Red Thumbprint by R. Austin Freeman to your attention

    • Ha! I love The Red Thumb Mark! In fact, I’m crazy about Dr. Thorndyke generally. I think my favorite is The Eye of Osiris. And, of course, in the Red Thumb Mark, fingerprints are very important–or anyway, a thumb print is, and… and people who haven’t read it yet should. The thing about the thumb-o-graph makes me smile every time I think of it.

  4. Loved it. All the best for the rest of A-Z challenge!

  5. I love this trope – especially in stuff like CSI when they offer the suspect a bottle of water for DNA. You just sit there and think “no, you fool!” when it gets them everytime 😆. I rather like Crowner – I’ll have to go read that other post.

    • Yep, me too! Oh, those tricky policemen!
      I am glad you like Crowner; I like him a bunch, too. I’ve even dressed up as him for my 2015 A to Z, which is a complete murder mystery novelette, with Crowner as the investigator.

  6. The cigarette case, but also the whiskey tumbler. I think I’ve seen the tumbler much more often. The cigarette case sounds original in comparison 😉

  7. Ah yes, we do like a good cigarette case 🙂

  8. I’m sure the Inspector would find another trick if the suspect was not a smoker! But they do pretty much all smoke in Golden Age fiction.

  9. Totally a trope!

    You see it with drink glasses, too. “Oh here, let me take that drink from you,” and the next thing you know, someone has your fingerprints.

  10. Ah the good old days before entrapment was an issue – I rather miss them.

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