Eli’s Elusive Engagement #AtoZChallenge 2022 Murder Motives

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 suspect is Eli, who would like very much to marry Sir Adam’s daughter Ingrid.

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Eli is an up-and-coming young barrister. He is handsome, charming, witty, and madly in love with Ingrid (Sir Adam’s daughter from his first marriage), who is likewise in love with him. He has lots of medals to show that he did well in the War, but is very reluctant to talk about it. He is well-groomed. He has excellent table manners. He is even unfailingly polite to his awful prospective father-in-law. What I am getting at is, he is perfect son-in-law material.

Ingrid and Eli say that they are engaged. They say it often. They repeat it with what Sir Adam considers tiresome insistence. He is really quite sick of the subject, but, for some reason that he finds unfathomable, the two young people refuse to let it alone.

Because according to Sir Adam, they are not engaged at all. Not even slightly. No suggestion of an engagement can exist between them, in Sir Adam’s mind. And, as Ingrid is legally Sir Adam’s ward (an outcome of the very bitter divorce proceedings between Sir Adam and Ingrid’s mother), he can withhold his consent to her marriage until she’s 21. Ingrid is now 19, and would really like to marry her Eli now, please.

When Eli corners Sir Adam and asks why he is opposed to the engagement, Sir Adam waffles. He says Ingrid is too young. He makes vague noises about unsuitability of temperament. He won’t just come out and say that he opposes the engagement because Eli is Jewish. But it is definitely because Eli is Jewish.

Sir Adam has also selected a man from among the local aristocracy that he would much rather see Ingrid engaged to. The man has no positive characteristics, but Sir Adam has noticed that he isn’t Jewish, which is good enough for Sir Adam. Now, this man is, with Sir Adam’s consent and encouragement, constantly haunting Ingrid with his unwanted attentions. He is always hanging around Clutterbuck Court, and is often invited to tea, dinner, luncheon, and “just a cozy family evening together by the fire.” Meanwhile, Eli has to see Ingrid in secret, from his strategic position at the local Inn.

As you can imagine, this situation is quite painful for Eli. He loves Ingrid, and knows he’d be a good husband to her. It is also extremely painful for Ingrid, who not only can’t marry her beloved, but is also being subjected to unwanted attentions and a lot of pressure from her father. It is just a horrid situation generally, and Eli can’t stay at the local Inn forever. He does have a job, after all.

Would Eli kill to marry his beloved?

***

And here’s another character that is, I think, an obvious red herring. No-one wants to read a novel in which the dashing young romantic hero is the killer. Indeed, if I were writing this as a story, I think I would have just found my amateur investigator. The brilliant young barrister, romantically entangled in the mystery and falsely suspected of the crime, would make a great sleuth. And I know I’ve read more than one brilliant young barrister in the role of amateur detective in Golden Age stories.

Of course, I don’t think most actual Golden Age mystery stories would cast a Jew in the role of romantic hero in this way. Bigotry is a big blight on the genre, and it just wouldn’t have happened. Some Golden Age writers do have sympathetic portrayals of Jews in their stories, and there are even a couple of marriages between Jews and Christians in some classics of the genre. But there is also a whole lot of very nasty bigotry in some Golden Age writers (I’m looking at you, Anthony Berkeley!), and I cannot think of a single example of a Jewish romantic lead in any Golden Age story (if you can, let me know in the comments!).

Anyway, I feel that, in this narrative, Eli is a better amateur sleuth than real suspect. There could be the classic complication where he thinks she did it and she thinks he did it, but then they realize that neither of them did it, and all is sunshine once more. Although I actually sort of hate that trope, and I make fun of it in this post.

I am kind of attracted by the idea of this other man being the real guilty party, though. You know, the one Sir Adam wants Ingrid to marry, who seems to have the run of the house. We’ll call him the Hon. Quinton Feldspar, just in case I need a Q.

What do you think, readers? Can you imagine any remotely satisfying story in which Eli turns out to be guilty? Or the second victim?

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8 Comments

  1. I like the idea of the “ classic complication where he thinks she did it and she thinks he did it, but then they realize that neither of them did it, and all is sunshine once more. ” I think you could not make Eli a villain.

    • Yes, the lovers-who-suspect-each-other thing is an interesting trope, but one I get slightly tired of. In all but the most skilled hands, it ends up feeling like the author looked the thing up in some secret mystery novel guidebook, realized it was time to initiate this particular trope, and then jammed it in, usually in a clumsy and improbable way.
      I agree that Eli is not really villain material.

  2. I agree he’s not a reasonable suspect, and I would rebel against the idea of him being the second victim — unless the murderer turned out to be Quinton. But even then, it seems to me that Quinton would never have killed Sir Adam because he’s the only person on Quinton’s side in the who-should-Ingrid-marry drama. Which brings me to a different possibility: Ingrid’s mother as prime suspect. Bitter divorce, lost custody of her daughter, and Sir Adam — the cad — is trying to force her beloved Ingrid into a loveless marriage to an apparently aristocratic loser. If so, one can only hope Quinton will become the second victim.

    • I would also rebel against Eli being the second victim, but I do tend to be a bit of a sucker for happy endings, romance-wise. In fact, to sell me on Eli’s death in this context, a writer would have to work very, very hard. And if I were writing the story, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t kill him off.
      Well-spotted! Ingrid’s mother would indeed make an excellent suspect. 🙂
      I have been trying, when possible, to plant the suspects I could cover in the future in the posts I write. It makes this feel more like a community of people and less like a random list, if the stories are interconnected.

  3. Yup, total agreement that we cannot destroy this picture of perfect love, by making either of them the murderer, or by making either of them a subsequent victim. (I don’t think we can call it “second victim” any more. Surely the body count is higher than that by now?) It might be a plausible outcome in Real Life, but this is not a gritty, dark, modern “realistic” mystery: this is Golden. Therefore, if Ingrid and Eli do not end up free to marry and live happily ever after by the end, I will throw the book across the room!
    Of course, it might be possible that Eli is not, in fact, perfect, is only after Ingrid for the money, is the real murderer, and Ingrid escapes marriage to a villain by the skin of her teeth when Eli’s subterfuges are discovered. But that would be very sad, and we don’t want that. I agree he’s much better as the amateur detective.

    • I, too, would probably throw the book across the room. I think I’ve actually done that, once or twice, though I can’t remember what book or books provoked this reaction in me. I also can’t remember if I then went across the room, retrieved the book, and, slightly shamefacedly, kept reading it. Probably I did? Anyway, I don’t see any books cluttering up the floor of my house right now, and I am a very poor housekeeper, so it seems likely that I finished them.
      I also agree that, in Real Life, this situation might well be way more complex than it would be in a book (or at least in the type of book I am going for here). Also, in Real Life, and in the grittier sort of fiction, people aren’t magically shielded from death just by being a romantic lead. And it would be very dramatic if Eli turned out to be a villain, after all! And, as you point out, sad. Poor Ingrid! No, all in all, I also like him as our romantic young amateur detective.

  4. I agree. I much prefer Eli as a sleauth than as a murderer. And come on! The young couple who’s suffered a lot shoudl get a reward in the end, or I’m warning you, I wont read the book Or worse, I’ll read it, so I’ll be able to write a scathing review 😉

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – Enter the New Woman

    • I agree entirely! Though as it happens, I don’t think I’ve ever written a review for a book I didn’t like… or, come to that, of a book I did like. But I thoroughly agree with the spirit of your remark. There are certain people that it is just Not Okay to kill off in a story.

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