The tropes of the murder mystery genre are familiar and widely parodied.
My personal favorite is the remote island location: barren and desolate, bordered by a wild blue sea, too sparse to have any hiding places and too far from the mainland to swim to, with a single, unimposing house. The perfect place for a murder.
My debut novel, The Eighth Detective, is a book all about murder mysteries and their tropes. It centers around a reclusive author, Grant McAllister, and a quick-witted young editor, Julia Hart, who meets with him to discuss reprinting some of his old stories, which have been unavailable for nearly thirty years. While Julia works hard to decode their secrets, which may or may not lead back to a murder, several of Grant’s short stories are reproduced in the novel in full.
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I sprinkled them liberally with tropes. Remote locations; country houses; characters distinguished only by their eccentricities; families ruled over by grumbling figureheads; bodies discovered in toilets, attics, and beds that don’t belong to them; poisoned drinks and disappearing weapons. But it wasn’t until I came to write them that I started to consider how these things became tropes in the first place, or why so many authors returned to them so often. What struck me was how useful they all are from the point of view of plotting. Each one offers a shortcut through pages and pages of narrative convolutions.
Take the remote location, for example. It may be atmospheric, but what’s more important is the use it has to the story. Our murder mystery needs to present the reader with a limited list of suspects, along with the promise that one of them will later be exposed as a murderer. We need to assure the reader that the crime couldn’t have been committed by a passing stranger. But there’s no need to tie ourselves in knots trying to justify this confected situation, when geography compels it. That’s the beauty of the remote location, bucolic or otherwise. The trope acts as a narrative shortcut.
Link to the rest at CrimeReads