The Killer From The (Almost) Beyond #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. For example…

The Killer From The (Almost) Beyond, or, The Dying Murderer

As the priest was leaving the dying woman’s room, he gestured for Crowner to follow him.

“I have much that I am to tell you, Inspector. She–has made a confession, to God, and now, she instructs, I am to tell you.”

Crowner looked at the priest in deep annoyance. “But Father! That is absolutely the dreariest way possible to end a murder mystery!”

The priest was surprised at this outburst. “Surely–surely! You cannot know already what I have to tell you?”

“Yes yes yes. Of course I know. She did it. Somehow, she got up from her death-bed, on five separate occasions, and murdered all five victims. She did it, of course, for some terribly noble reason that, however, you are not permitted to divulge.”

The priest bowed his head.

Crowner continued. “Poor woman–you are about to remark–her sin is heavy–but she has paid for it.”

The priest bowed his head again.

“She’s probably secretly someone’s mother. Is that it?”

The priest began to bow his head again–and then froze, and eyed Crowner reproachfully. “I must not answer that question.”

Crowner smiled. “Of course not, Father. Of course not.”

Ah, the dying old woman upstairs. An object, when the characters remember, of pity–poor faithful soul! Little do they know that it is she who has been doing all that stabbing or poisoning or whatnot. For, of course, the most noble of reasons. These reasons will probably be gently implied in the final chapter, without actually being stated.

Of course, it is also possible that, in order to shield the killer (or the person she thinks is the killer), she has made a false deathbed confession.

Either way, the dying woman upstairs wants watching. As a reader, you should immediately suspect her–of shenanigans, if not of the murder itself. The writer rather expects you not even to consider her as a possible on your list of suspects–she is so old, and so almost-dead, and she bears it all so nobly. Really, you’d have to be some kind of monster to suspect such a sweet, feeble old lady! Therefore: suspect her. Never lose sight of her. She is in the book for a reason.

Of course, if she is ever seriously suspected, she probably hasn’t done it. Probably. Still, she may very well be calmly lying on an important clue, to hide it from the detectives. Shenanigans.


What do you think of the Killer From The Almost-Beyond? Besides, I mean, that I had to stretch it a bit to make this one begin with K? Would you like to use her (or, of course, him–but the examples I am thinking of all have a woman in the part) in a scene of your own? Do you just want to say hello? Leave a comment, please!

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  1. Inspector Crowner was cornered. The Coma Ward’s six patents had cut off every exit. The stood still, each one brandishing a shiny scalpel, aimed towards the Inspector. His mind racing for a way out of this, he noticed the shadow peeking from down the hallway.

    “You can come out now, Matron. I can see you there,” Crowner stood straighter, every part of the puzzle coming together in a perfect fit.

    All six feet-two inches of the Matron shuffled onto the main floor. No scalpel for her. She wielded a syringe; an enormously long needle was affixed to it. Whatever vile mixture she intended to use was ready in its chamber.

    “Inspector, oh how I despise you,” she said matter-of-factually. “You came oh so close to ruining our plans. Now, it is time for YOU to get a rest you so…deathly need.”

    Deadly chuckles wafted through the ward. The scalpels, and their handlers, moved closer still, boxing him in the corner.

    “Pardon, Matron. There is one thing that I haven’t quite pieced together. Would you indulge me.”

    She nodded. “Go on. It won’t do you any good, but ask.”

    “Ahem,” Crowner straightened his wardrobe which had gone askew during the initial struggle. “Yes, well, these fine people abetted you in the murders of the Hospitals administration. One for each of you?”

    She nodded, pressing the plunger on the syringe slightly. Liquid flowed up and then dribbled down.

    “I found the empty container of Baclofen. I had the dickens of a time researching this drug; it is not at all common here. Mr. Osmon,” he turned to the gentleman to his left. “Osmon. Turkish?”

    The man nodded. Crowner noticed his scalpel start to quiver a bit.

    “This is a common, thought wildly misused, drug in your country. Too much, and it appears the victim is brain dead, first being sent into a deep coma. A lighter dose weakens the muscles in a healthy person and becomes a depressant for the central nervous system. Just enough, and patients who shouldn’t be able to walk around can and do. They can also murder.”

    Matron smiled wide. Her tongue slithered out; she licked her lips. “Well done, Inspector. Well done. Time is running out for you. Ask your question. Now.”

    “The one thing that I still have not pinned down is very simple: Why? There are so many conflicting factual evidence details. The contradictions are astounding.”

    “So, ‘Why?’ is your consummate question?”

    He nodded. “Yes. Yes, it is.”

    The Matron laughed uproariously.

    She started to advance on him, the others parting to give her access.

    “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

  2. Hey Stuart! Good work, again. It kind of reminds me of a board-game I played recently, called, appropriately enough, Coma Ward. Cool game–and of course, a Coma Ward is a great setting for deathbed shenanigans!

  3. You always have to watch the ones you should suspect the least. I kind of like the idea of turning the trope on it’s head. Having all of the experienced mystery readers nodding wisely and explaining how it has to be her, and then having her just be a sweet little old lady who had nothing to do with any of it 😉

  4. You never know with the old lady. There was a Christie short story where she did it, for noble reasons. Then there was an irritating, interfering nosy Parker of an old lady in her room, staring down at the street below, in Kerry Greenwood’s novel Dead Man’s Chest. She is the victim, though. I won’t give any spoilers, but I have to say I found the ending of that novel even more annoying than the old lady.

  5. I haven’t read the Phryne Fisher books, either, but watched the series. It is well done and enjoyable, and definitely worth checking out. I will say, though, that Phryne has a tendency to get herself into trouble by stupid impetuosity, which is one of my pet peeves. There’s another trope for you: “No Stupidity, no Plot, so I guess the genius had better be stupid.” You probably already have a cleverer phrase to sum that up!

    • Yes!!! Yes!!! I hate that, too! It is maddening!!!!! It seems that just thinking of it has sent me on some sort of exclamation point rampage!!
      Deep breath. Calmness. I am in a calm green thingummy surrounded by rabbits. But not, like, creepily surrounded.
      They are just around.

      Right. I am now in a better place to think about that particular trope. And I have to tell you that I don’t actually have that on my list–yet. I may have to try to include it now, though, because it is a trope that really bugs me.

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