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 potential murderer is Cecil. Cecil and Sir Adam are old friends… and new enemies.
Cecil and Sir Adam grew up together. Friends since infancy, they went to the same schools as children, and attended Oxford at the same time. After that, they fell somewhat out of touch for a few years, after their marriages, but Cecil’s wife died in childbirth, and Sir Adam, seeing that his old friend was shattered by his loss, let him have a cottage on the estate at a peppercorn rent.
At first, it was fun to have his old friend Cecil around the neighborhood. But then Sir Adam started to take himself terribly seriously, and Cecil never quite adapted to the new tone. Cecil kept thinking of Sir Adam as his old, fun-loving, devil-may-care self. He could never take seriously Sir Adam’s increasingly strident hints that Sir Adam was now, in his own view at least, an important and substantial man, who should be treated accordingly. Sir Adam, at first a regular visitor at Cecil’s cottage, stopped coming quite so often. Then he stopped coming at all.
Cecil has been at the cottage for twenty years now. He has never openly quarreled with Sir Adam, but there is a bitterness now about Cecil’s reminiscences, when he talks to people about the old days, when he and Sir Adam were great friends.
And he talks about those old days a lot. Because Cecil, always a bit of a tippler, has lately become quite a heavy drinker. In his cups, Cecil is very candid (and rather rude) about Sir Adam. Sir Adam As He Was, vs. Sir Adam As He Is Today, is Cecil’s only topic, after about the fifth pint.
And then Sir Adam, though not a frequent visitor at the local pub, did just pop in for a drink at the end of a hot and dusty tramp. And he heard his old friend Cecil, talking about him. In fact, he caught the tail-end of Cecil’s most popular performance, in which he exactly mimics the voice and mannerisms of Sir Adam in his most pompous mode.
The next day, Sir Adam evicted Cecil. “You can have a month, as per your lease. Then—get out!” Sir Adam told him.
Cecil was stunned. He loved his cottage, which he’d practically forgotten didn’t technically belong to him. He tried apologizing—in fact, he felt sort of mean, when he realized that, after all, he’d been living on Sir Adam all the while he’d been insulting him. Pompous ass or no, it struck Cecil as not the right thing to do. But against the iron barrier of Sir Adam’s offended dignity, Cecil’s apologies were of no avail.
Unknown to Cecil, there is another reason besides offended dignity that Sir Adam wants to eject him from the neighborhood. Because Sir Adam has been getting poison-pen letters lately. Wrongly, he believes that they come from Cecil.
For Cecil, then, Sir Adam’s death happened at just the right time. Because under Sir Adam’s will (which he was planning to change but hadn’t yet gotten around to), the cottage is now Cecil’s, along with a modest sum of money.
Yes, it is really an awfully good thing for Cecil, that Sir Adam is dead.
But did he kill Sir Adam to bring this to pass?
And that is it for Cecil! The old friend who is now a dangerous embarrassment is a character I have seen before in classic mystery novels, though I guess he is more likely to be the murder victim than the murderer. And I know I’ve read a couple of stories in which someone is suspected of committing murder to keep possession of a beloved cottage.
What do you think of Cecil? Murderer, or red herring? Also, would he make a good second victim? How would Cecil’s murder change the story?