Hello, and welcome to my 2022 A to Z Challenge! For a detailed explanation of my theme this year, see my theme reveal. But basically, I am exploring classic mystery novel murder motives, by making up a victim (Sir Adam Bracegirdle Clutterbuck) and then coming up with 26 characters who wanted to kill him. It is part genre exploration and part world-building exercise.
Today’s character is Bruce. Or is he? Read on to find out!
Bruce Galsworthy is Sir Adam’s secretary. He is also a man with a secret. In fact, he isn’t Bruce Galsworthy at all. His real name is Anthony Camber. He was in a foxhole with the real Bruce Galsworthy when they came under heavy shelling. Bruce died, and Anthony Camber lost a leg. Just before he passed out from the pain, Anthony managed to crawl over to Bruce and take his identity disc and papers, and to transfer his own disc and papers to Bruce’s corpse. Because Anthony knew that Bruce was alone in the world, and would be easy to replace. And Anthony was, at that time, very eager to start again.
For years, Bruce has prospered. Nothing has ever made him think his position at all tenuous. He has never run into a single old familiar face except in his nightmares. No-one has ever even suggested that he might not really be Bruce Galsworthy.
And then, one day, quite casually, Sir Adam called him “Anthony.”
Bruce was so shocked to hear his old name that he didn’t even try to bluff it out. He sank down onto a chair and said nothing for several moments, while the darkness flowed and receded around him. When he came to, Sir Adam was standing there, staring down at him with a peculiar expression, a smile that wasn’t a smile, and a stiff brandy ready in his hand.
Ever since that day, Sir Adam has taken to asking Bruce to do things for him, “though I know it isn’t part of your regular duties, Anth—ah, forgive me, Bruce.” Many of the things Sir Adam asks him to do in this way are degrading and shameful things—carrying messages, for example, to certain married ladies of the neighborhood who ought to know better, but don’t. If asked in the normal way, without that name between them, Bruce would have refused. And probably resigned. But now he just does what is asked of him, sullenly but swiftly.
Because, if Anthony Camber ever bobs up out of the mists, there is a murder charge waiting for him.
Bruce has wished Sir Adam dead for years now. The question is, did he want Sir Adam dead badly enough to kill him?
And that’s it for Bruce! If he is the murderer, he is motivated by fear and a desire for safety. And a character who is being blackmailed is quite a common murder suspect in books.
I notice that, with this entry, I have committed to a post-WWI setting.
Would Bruce make a satisfying murderer in a book, or is he better as a red herring? And, if Bruce turned out to be the second victim in a mystery novel, how would that change the story? Would he make a good second victim?
Well, if you’ve already murdered one, does it make much difference if you murder two? Although I could see Bruce becoming a victim if he manages to dig up something on Sir Adam to try and escape being under his thumb.
I like your idea, Sue! Bruce really would make an interesting second victim, and if he is the second victim, the mystery then focuses on their relationship, so Sir Adam’s private papers, the blackmailing thing, and whatever other business Bruce handles for Sir Adam. I especially like your notion of Bruce digging up some information against Sir Adam defensively, only to be murdered because that information proves dangerous to some third party.
That is why I think the question about the second victim is so interesting, really–because of the shift in focus the second victim so often causes in the investigation.
I like Bruce a lot bette rthan Annabelle, I have to say. I’m quite intirgued by his mysterious past. In what what is he invovled in a murdeer? did he commit it? In which case, he might as well commit another. But he waited years! So, maybe he didn’t commit the other murder?
The Old Shelter – Enter the New Woman
Yes, this is an excellent point. Why would Bruce commit murder now? He has a kind of motive, but the whole waiting-years thing seems unlikely unless there was some more immediate trigger.
As for the other murder, I think that, in a story, Bruce’s guilt or innocence would depend on whether he was a hero or a villain. Or just part of the background.
If he is a heroic figure, then either he didn’t commit that first murder (“I was falsely accused, but I could not speak because I was protecting my fragile young sister, who I assumed, possibly incorrectly, was the actual murderer” or something like that) or it was a heroic sort of murder, though still, like, illegal (“yes, I killed the swine, and I would do it again! His vile human-fish experiments had to be stopped!”).
If he is a villainous figure, then he probably did do that first murder, and for some horribly vile reason, too.
Point 1. Okay, here’s the deal: don’t blackmail people. It’s really just a terrible idea, because then they want to kill you. And do you really want your world populated with people who want to kill you?
Point 2. BUT in this book, Bruce will be a red herring because blackmailers are too obvious. See point 1.
Point 1: I know! I always wonder about people in books, who never seem to think that their blackmailing will come back to bite them. And now I am wondering about the real-life statistics on the murder rate of blackmailers. Hard data to collect, though, because most people would really rather not admit to being blackmailed. That’s kind of the point. I guess it would sometimes come up in trials, though. I guess what we really can’t know is how many blackmailers don’t get murdered…
Point 2: I agree. Though possibly the way the information was presented would matter here. For example, for most of the book, we could believe that Bruce had been just an incredibly devoted private secretary, willing even to do degrading chores for his beloved employer. Then, late in the book, someone discovers that Bruce hated Sir Adam, and the relationship is re-examined. That… might work? I don’t know.
One of the big questions is did Anthony actually commit the murder of which he was accused, and if so how did he end up in the fox hole rather than in a cell? And how did Sir Adam find out? And why would Anthony suddenly go in for the kill after just toeing the line for so long? So many questions!
He’d make a great red herring or a second victim – he has lots of possibilities, especially if he’s been keeping a record of all the things he’s done for Sir Adam.
Tasha’s Thinkings: YouTube – What They Don’t Tell You (and free fiction)
Yes, this is key! I imagine him enlisting in the hopes of disappearing into the fog of war, but that is just one possibility. As for whether he did that first murder or not, see my remarks to JazzFeathers above: it would probably come down to what sort of role he fills in the story, whether he is a heroic character or a villainous one.
And yes, the central question here really is: why would he commit this murder now? There seems, in his case, to be no pressure that hasn’t already been there for years.
The record is a fabulous idea! That is exactly what he needs to be second-victim fodder.