The Patched-Up Quarrel #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, it is always well to beware of…

The Patched-Up Quarrel

“There was, I think, something of a disagreement between you and Sir Gawdawful, Mrs. Vance. Something about your youngest son Philip? He wants to marry the daughter of your local G.P., I think. A charming girl, I understand, but apparently Sir Gawdawful didn’t approve.”

Mrs. Vance opened her blue eyes wide. “Oh, but Inspector!” She said with a little laugh. “We had all that out months ago! Sir Gawdawful wasn’t such a bear as people said, only you had to know how to manage him.” She looked demurely at Crowner. “I think I can say without vanity that I did know how.”

“Then he wasn’t seriously considering cutting Philip out of his will if the marriage took place?”

“Oh no–he’d never do that! He was awfully fond of Philip, really. Only–it was his way, you know. He liked for everyone to be just a teensy bit afraid of him, the naughty man!”

Mrs. Vance (who, in this example, I imagine to be the widow of Sir Gawdawful’s younger brother) probably didn’t really change Sir Gawdawful’s mind about disinheriting her son. It is more likely, if the two of them really did stop quarreling about the matter weeks or months before Sir Gawdawful’s murder, that Mrs. Vance changed–or, rather, that she appeared to change–her own opinion on the matter. Perhaps she suddenly seemed to agree with Sir Gawdawful that the match was unsuitable; perhaps she affected to believe that the romance wasn’t really serious. One can almost hear her describing it, with a knowing smile, as a “boy-and-girl affair, too terribly sweet, but of course it won’t last.”

At any rate, somehow Mrs. Vance patched up the quarrel between herself and the murdered man–and now, she’s probably telling lies about it. This woman, in fact, wants watching. Possibly, she seemed to yield her position all those months ago to buy time. To buy time for what? Did she hope that Sir Gawdawful would come round on his own? Did she even hope that Sir Gawdawful would change his own mind on the matter merely to be contradictory? Or was she buying time until an opportunity for a little quiet homicide should arise?

Anyway, always watch out for those characters in a mystery novel who, after a bitter disagreement, are suddenly on good terms again with the victim, for reasons that don’t quite make sense. The bitter disagreement may have happened only days before the death, or it may have happened twenty years ago–if the reconciliation seems a bit stretched or phony, it probably is.

On a related note, don’t trust those people who do not bear a grudge when they ought to. Remember, you are reading a mystery novel, and not a hagiography. Saintly forbearance is always to be suspected. The illegitimate son who is now employed as his father’s secretary, and who seems quietly grateful to be so employed, should be watched especially closely.


What do you think of The Patched-Up Quarrel? Is it a trope? Have you encountered it, or something like it, in a mystery novel? Leave me a comment!


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  1. I’ve seen it in mystery shows more than read it, but it’s out there.

    “Well, old bean, I’ve hated your guts since before I met you. But you did me a solid by passing the peas at the right time, so all is well between us.

    Oh, this gun? That knife? The poison sticking out of my pocket? Trifles. Nothing to worry your head over. Here, let me adjust your walking stick as we go down these very steep stairs.”

  2. It is a sad necessity of the mystery genre that everyone must be unpleasant, vindictive, and dishonest about everything all the time. Assume the worst of everyone! Except that, of course, pea-passing really is legitimate grounds for forgiving all. Who doesn’t love a well-passed pea?

  3. Definitely a trope! Don’t trust the quiet, apparently decent character who does not seem to have a grudge. They are invariably the killer!

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