Today we welcome the writing team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer to Book Club Friday. Mary and Eric published several short John the Lord Chamberlain stories in mystery anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to One For Sorrow, their first novel about John. Eight books have now appeared, most recently Eight For Eternity. John's latest adventure, Nine For The Devil, will be published in March 2012. More details of this series and Mary and Eric’s other fiction can be found on their website. -- AP
ONE AND ONE MAKE CLUE
It's long been my contention much can be gathered about a person's life and character by observing what's on their bookcase, the contents of their waste basket, handbag, or wallet, and items on the household's shopping list.
Similarly, writers of mystery novels often utilise lists in various nefarious ways.
One of the commonest moves is to hide clues in clear sight in what I term the Poe's Purloined Letter method.
Readers, always examine lists closely.
Well, here are a few examples with titles footnoted to avoid spoilers, so if the description given doesn't ring a bell don't check the title!
In one adventure Sherlock Holmes specifically declares his hope the contents of a pocket "might help me to form a conclusion". As indeed they do, because the list includes three items revealing the intended crime, while others show the motive. (1) In another Holmes adventure the making of certain lists forms part of the plot. (2)
Descriptions of a setting may also serve mysterious purposes.
For example, in an Agatha Christie work the description of a particular room provides two clues in one location: a specific item that will play a role in the solution (though people under a certain age may not immediately grasp its part when it is explained) and the actual arrangement of these items. (3)
Just to be awkward, the clue-as-item-in-a-list method does not always apply.
For example, a Dorothy L. Sayers novel offers a list on which, given the situation described, an expected item does not appear. (4) In another work she carries out a particularly clever bit of business whereby a location is deduced by comparing a list of the original contents of a pocket and an extra item mysteriously found in it later. In the same novel an inventory is
mentioned and one item is somewhat out of the ordinary given its location -- as the author in fact points out to the reader. (5)
So, readers, next time you see a list, take note. Meantime, another useful thing about lists in mysteries is you can also write blogs about them...
(1) Silver Blaze
(2) The Stock-Broker's Clerk
(3) The Mysterious Affair At Styles
(4) Five Red Herrings
(5) Both in Murder Must Advertise
Thanks for stopping by today, Mary! I’ll never look at a shopping list the same way again. What about you, readers? -- AP