Polly’s Poison Pen Problem #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 Polly. Polly is an old lady who lives in a little rose-smothered cottage in the village of Clutterbuck Parva. And she has a rather dangerous secret.

***

Polly has a problem. She knows it is a problem. She really wishes she’d never started writing those wicked anonymous letters. But now that she has started, she finds it impossible to stop. It is such fun to have a little secret. It has quite given her a new lease on life. Still, she does wish she’d selected some less scandalous hobby.

The first time she did it, it was really an attempt to help. That poor Timkin man! Well, someone had to interfere, didn’t they? Didn’t he need to know what his wife got up to when he was away from home? Wicked woman!

And it was awfully gratifying, really, to see how her little note had touched the lives of the Timkin household. The day before her letter, they both looked–well, not happy, exactly, but satisfied. Smug, almost. Complacent.

Well, she changed all that. Timkin got a worried look, and then his wife started looking worried, and soon even the family dog was going around looking distrait. All because of little old Miss Polly, whom everyone pitied and ignored! For the first time in 30 years, Polly felt powerful. She’d made something happen. She’d touched the life of another human being. Her touch had been that of the Destroyer (for soon the Timkin divorce was the talk of the village), but no matter. Something in the world was different now, and it was because of her.

For a time, it was enough.

And then she noticed that the new barmaid at the Clutterbuck Arms was an awfully pretty young lady. And that the landlord existed in this attractive young person’s vicinity. This was in itself suspicious. That he never seemed to take any particular notice of the girl was also an obvious sign that they were concealing–well, if not An Affair, then at least a Sordid Intrigue! His poor wife, thought Miss Polly! She must be told!

Miss Polly told her, in a little note. When nothing happened, she sent another little note, worded a bit more strongly than before. Really, Miss Polly was annoyed at the woman’s inaction. It almost amounted, she said in her second message, to Approval of This Wicked State of Affairs. Really, the woman was little better than a Brothel-Keeper. She wrote that in her note, too. She closed by saying that the whole village knew of the matter, and was talking of it behind her back. Which wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. Or true at all. But, Miss Polly felt, the village really ought to be talking about it. Laxness Everywhere. Miss Polly quietly deplored this.

Eventually, the new barmaid went away–was sent away, Miss Polly rather thought. And Miss Polly felt a warm and secret glee spread all over her. A thing had happened–and only she knew why!

After that, she was hooked. She tried to stop, she really did. But… it was so satisfying. And, after knowing the dark thrill of poison-pen writing, everything else in her life seemed duller and drearier than ever. It wasn’t as if she’d asked to be an old lady with no-one to care for her. The world, she felt, owed her a little amusement. And if she could get her amusement by Exposing Sin–well, really, she was doing the Lord’s work, was she not?

But lately the fact that there is a poison pen writer in the village has become common knowledge. It is even in the hands of the police (though why they should be interested in the matter, Miss Polly cannot imagine). So Miss Polly has had to be really rather clever about how she sends her little love-notes. She never slips them into the local postbox. Someone might see her, and remember. No, she sends her letters from the nearest big town, on Market Day always, when lots of the locals would be doing their shopping there. No-one notices little Miss Polly, slinking up to a nice, anonymous postbox.

Or no-one but Sir Adam.

Shortly before Sir Adam’s death, Miss Polly had just dropped several little notes into the box–when she turned–and saw Sir Adam, looking at her. Not, she thought, as if he suspected anything, but–well, it was terribly awkward.

For you see, one of the letters was addressed to Sir Adam himself.

And he would see the postmark.

And he would remember seeing her by the postbox.

And then… well, Miss Polly rather thought he would put two and two together.

Really, it is an awfully good thing, for Miss Polly, that Sir Adam died when he did.

Could Miss Polly have slipped poison into his whiskey to save herself from public shame?

***

And that’s it for Polly! What do you think, readers? Would she make a good murderer in a book? Or is she better as a red herring? Or, of course, as a second victim?

I always like it when mystery novels have a poison pen writer in them. It adds an extra layer of tension, and is an excellent way to establish an atmosphere of suspicion even before the first murder is committed. Because right away, you know that one of the normal, kindly-seeming characters in the village (or whatever setting you have) is secretly seething with malice and hate. And that makes you look at every character with different eyes.

My favorite poison pen mystery novel has got to be Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, by the way. I think it is my favorite Miss Marple story.

Anyway, tell me what you think of Miss Polly as a murderer! Or! Feel free to just say hi! I love hearing from people!

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6 Comments

  1. I like that you observed the motive behind poor wicked Miss Polly : “Polly felt powerful. She’d made something happen.” I feel there should be consequences.

    I enjoyed Agatha Christie’s “The Moving Finger”

    • I, too, feel that consequences are in order. It isn’t nice to write poison pen letters, it really isn’t.
      The most interesting character in The Moving Finger (or one of them) is, I think, the Vicar’s wife, who feels sorry for the poison pen writer. Actually, now that I think of it, that particular book is sort of stuffed with interesting characters. That’s probably why I like it so much.

  2. I could see her as the murderess if Sir Adam, upon receiving the letter, invited her to visit. He might supply a plausible reason for having her visit, but she would be more intrigued by the boldness of being in the same room with him, with the intention of doing him in before he spread the word about her poison pen — which she would rig as an actual poison pen for the occasion.

    Or, if another of her letter recipients happened to be the murderer who puts two and two together by finding both her note to Sir Adam and some evidence Sir Adam had figured it out while the murderer is planting the poison, she might easily — and without regret — become the second victim.

    • Ooh! Good! I especially love the poison pen thing. Perfect!
      And yes, that would be an excellent reason to have her the second victim. The murderer could have revenge, and, if s/he made Miss Polly’s death look like a suicide…

  3. Yup, Polly is an A-1 suspect in my opinion. After all, if she’s already writing with a poison pen, why not just extend the metaphor and consider Sir Adam’s murder as another little statement written in poison? She already feels entitled to take the punishment of sin into her own hands, in secret and with malice aforethought; she already takes pride in her ability to be a rather clever in her administration of her poison; she already takes pleasure in stirring things up from the shadows. However, if she is not the murderer, I certainly hope she’s a subsequent victim!

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