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And His Future Was Doomed*

16 February 2016

From author Margot Kinberg:

Some crime plots are structured so that the murder (or the first murder) is discovered right away. That’s got the advantage of inviting the reader’s interest from the very beginning of the story. Other plots, though, build up, at least a little, to the murder. In those stories, we get to know the victim before she or he is killed.

Once you’ve read enough crime fiction, you can even start to get a sense of who the victim is likely to be. That’s because authors frequently offer little hints, so that readers know a character is doomed. I’m not talking here of the stereotypical ‘person goes alone into basement’ sort of hint. Rather, the author sets the victim up, and the savvy crime reader can sometimes sense it.

Agatha Christie used those clues in several of her stories. For instance, in The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Ruth Van Aldin Kettering. Daughter of an American millionaire, she is unhappily married to Derek Kettering. She decides to take the famous Blue Train to Nice for a holiday (or at least, that’s what she tells her father. Really, she has other plans). Against her father’s advice, Ruth takes with her a valuable ruby necklace that contains a famous stone, Heart of Fire. All of the personal drama in Ruth’s life, plus the fact that she has that priceless necklace, sets Ruth up neatly to be the doomed victim in this novel, and so she is. Hercule Poirot is aboard the same train, and helps to find out who killed the victim and why. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death on the Nile!

. . . .

Very often (‘though certainly not always!), when a fictional character goes missing, that person ends up being a victim. So, even though it’s hardly foolproof, crime fiction fans often take a disappearance as a clue that a particular character is not long for the world. And that’s exactly what happens in Anthony Bidulka’s Amuse Bouche. Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets a new client in the form of wealthy businessman Harold Chavell, whose fiancé Tom Osborn has disappeared. Chavell believes that Osborn may be following the itinerary (a trip through France) that the two had planned for their honeymoon, so he asks Quant to follow the same itinerary to try to find Osborn. During the trip, Quant gets a note that says Osborn doesn’t want to be found. That’s enough for Chavell to call off the search. After Quant returns to Saskatoon, though, Osborn’s body is discovered in a local lake. Chavell, naturally enough, is suspected of the murder, and he asks Quant to find out the truth and clear his name.

Link to the rest at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

Here’s a link to Margot Kinberg’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Fiction Fundamentals

14 Comments to “And His Future Was Doomed*”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing my post!

    • An interesting read as I’m working on a mystery novel.

      • “Pist! The body was her long lost twin sister and she ran off with the plumber!”

        Yes, me makes them up as me goes … 😉

      • Someone here (I think) once mentioned that “Midsomer Murders” always just picked the most unlikeable person to kill. I started looking out for that, since I was catching the early seasons on Netflix. In later seasons it was true. Made it not-so-interesting to watch.

        But then on Margot Kinberg’s site someone suggested the plot worked that way so you don’t mourn, but rather focus on the puzzle. The problem to me is that if victim is too unlikeable then you don’t care as much who killed them; you assume someone was bound to off them eventually. And if the victim is just someone carrying the idiot ball, it’s difficult to get invested.

        At the very least if you’re going to go the “unpleasant person is killed” route, have them killed in the most interesting way possible 🙂

      • I’m working on a mystery, too! 😀

        Although mine is not a murder mystery. I suppose I’m crossing genres with a vengeance: a mystery in a fantasy world telling a story of redemption.

      • Thank you 🙂

    • Thanks for writing a great post, Margot.

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