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. And here we go!
The Ill-Assorted Gathering, Or, Why Has He Brought Us Here?
Sir Gawdawful smiled malevolently (it wouldn’t have been his smile otherwise) at his guests. “I do hope we shall have a happy family Christmas,” he said.
There was silence in the great room. The Forthrights scowled at the Gastlies, who glared right back, neither branch of the family able to forget the dispute over grandmother’s tea service.
Hope Beresford refused to meet the eye of young Steven Forthright, who had jilted her in favour of her former best friend, Molly Cambers, now drooping on Steven’s arm in the character of Mrs. Steven Forthright. Hope had sworn, when she’d received the wedding invitation, that she would never speak to either of them again, and so far she’d stuck to that.
In a corner, the widow Barnaby silently blamed everyone present for the death twenty years before of her husband. In another corner, Fred Barnaby, son of the widow Barnaby, wondered for the thousandth time if his mother had really pushed his old man over that cliff, or if, perhaps… but it was unthinkable. It could not, surely, have been twinkle-eyed old Mr. Wentworth, now occupying a third corner and smiling gently at all that went on around him.
In that third corner, twinkle-eyed Mr. Wentworth was inwardly shaking with hidden terror. Why had he been invited to this family party? Did Sir Gawdawful know Mr. Wentworth’s terrible secret? Who had been that silent figure Mr. Wentworth had glimpsed among the trees all those years ago, when he’d… but he would not remember that. Better not admit it, even to oneself.
Prowling outside, not invited to the party (though he was a member of the family, in blood if not in name), Eddie, the gardener, and Sir Gawdawful’s illegitimate son, watched from the darkness, hating the warmth and light of the gathering within. “Happy Christmas indeed,” he muttered. “I’ll give ’em happy.” And he picked up a fair-sized rock and weighed it thoughtfully in his hand.
In the kitchen, the cook, Mrs. Trimble, prepared the spicy curry Sir Gawdawful had requested for that night’s dinner, muttering maledictions as she did so.
In the bright drawing room, Molly Forthright looked about her in dawning terror. “Why, Steven? Oh, why has he brought us here?”
Why indeed? Several possibilities spring to mind. One possibility that does not suggest itself is that Sir Gawdawful merely wants to have a happy family Christmas. But here are some more likely reasons for this ill-assorted gathering:
- Sir Gawdawful may have changed his will. Or, rather, he may be about to change it. Say at midnight. If this is the case, the family solicitor may be present at the party. Then again, Sir Gawdawful may have already done that part, and he can just use two handy servants as witnesses. Anyway, if this is the case, most of the people at this party will be disinherited… unless the awful old man dies before midnight, of course.
- Sir Gawdawful may wish to kill one of his guests. Say, the rightful heir to the Gawdawful property, for some complicated reason that Sir Gawdawful and only Sir Gawdawful knows about. Or maybe he just really dislikes one of his relations (more than he dislikes the rest of them). Anyway, since his relations are all quarreling with one another, there will be lots of suspects available when one of ’em gets a knife in the back.
- Sir Gawdawful may wish to blackmail one or more of his guests. Mr. Wentworth, for example.
- Sir Gawdawful may wish to reveal someone’s terrible secret. Again, in the example above, Mr. Wentworth is a good bet for this role.
- Sir Gawdawful may want to solve a past crime. Sorry Mr. Wentworth, but I’m afraid you’re for it in this example also. Unless, of course, Sir Gawdawful dies before he can carry out his scheme…
Mixing and matching is encouraged here. For example, Mr. Wentworth may believe that Sir Gawdawful means to expose him, whereas really Sir Gawdawful has designs upon the life of Steven Forthright. This will make everything nice and convoluted when the murder finally happens.
Can you think of other reasons for the Ill-Assorted Gathering? Have you met this trope in something you’ve read? Do you want to write your own Ill-Assorted Gathering scene (it really is fun, making up a dangerously quarrelsome family)? Do you just want to say hello? Leave a comment!
And may I draw your attention, dear reader, to the fact that, in Occult Detective Quarterly #3, Simon Wake makes his first appearance? If you like Atherton’s Magic Vapour (and please say that you do! It will make me happy!), you would probably enjoy Simon Wake as well. I will also point out that ODQ is a small literary magazine that will cease to exist if people do not buy copies of it. Also? It is a really wonderful publication, full of high-quality stories and artwork. With these graceful hints, I’ll just leave you with a couple of links…
The Amazon Page where you can purchase Occult Detective Quarterly #3 (which has, I promise, a story by yours truly in it, though this fact is not actually mentioned in the description)