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.
Today’s trope is, I’d say, half and half. Excellent in coffee, it is also useful both to the investigators in the story and to us the readers. It is, in fact, that familiar figure…
The Violent Altercator
“My dear chap,” drawled Philip, “it’s no earthly use. You simply must face facts. We all saw Alfred horsewhip Sir Gawdawful; he did it quite in public. Of course, he took care that no-one saw what he did later, but…” Philip shrugged. “One makes inferences.”
“Then you really think,” said Cecil, “that Alfred came back later and shot Sir Gawdawful?”
Philip laughed. “What else can one think? I’m sorry for the fellow, of course. Sir Gawdawful was a cad, and no doubt asked for what he got. Still, you know…shooting a man in the back…” Philip’s lips tightened. “No, Alfred had better take what’s coming to him.”
Alfred didn’t do it. Probably. I can think of but one semi-counterexample (it is by Gladys Mitchell), and even that does not quite fit. Anyway, Alfred is probably innocent. Usually, in Golden Age mysteries, the man who has a violent altercation with the victim hours before said victim is murdered does not come back and shoot the victim in the back. Hm. That was, looking at the thing squarely, a doozy of a sentence, with lots of victims in it. Ahem.
Anyway, there will be lots of people in the book who will assume that Alfred is guilty of the murder, but he isn’t. He got out all his aggression in that horse-whipping or fist-fight. Some investigating genius will probably point out that there is a fundamental psychological difference between punching someone and shooting that someone in the back. Especially, the genius will emphasize, in the back. That, says the genius, is the act of a physical coward. And the genius is, no doubt, correct. Anyway, s/he is probably correct for the purposes of the book.
For our purposes, Alfred is innocent (almost always) because he is the obvious suspect. He is probably the first person to be suspected, which means (again, almost always) that he’s innocent.
Can you, dear readers, think of a Golden Age mystery novel in which the violent altercator is guilty after all? Do you think this is a trope? Do you think “altercator” is a word (my spell-check says it isn’t; I say it perfectly well could be, and darned well ought to be; Google only returns about 20,000 hits for “Altercator,” most of which seem to treat it as a Latin word requiring translation)? Would you just like to say hello? Leave a comment!