Murder Mystery – The Ingredients For a Great Whodunit

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A first rate murder mystery story requires the skillful blending of all the essential ingredients necessary to produce a tale which will keep us eagerly turning the page right up the final denouement. By the end of the story, we may quite often feel confident that we have spotted the villain of the piece (It was Miss Scarlet with the Rope in the Conservatory!) only to find that yet again, the wool has been pulled over our eyes and it was in fact Colonel Mustard with the Dagger in the Billiard Room. And on the rare occasions when our deductive skills actually enable us to arrive at the correct solution the satisfaction is immense, we are super sleuths!

So what are some of the basic components that make for a perfect whodunit? Firstly and very obviously, there has to be MURDER, at least one but preferably at least three. Depending on the storyline, these may be by the same method (as with a serial killer) or with completely different weapons and scenarios. The latter is possibly the more interesting, because although the murderer may use different ways of killing, the type of crime should be the same (opportunist or well thought out, for instance) This should enable us to deduce the personality traits of the murderer (always remembering that he or she may well be masking their true nature) and this knowledge is a CLUE to the identity of the guilty party.

CLUES are a vital element of a murder mystery. There are the physical clues – items discovered at the scene of the crime, significant documents found in the victim’s personal effects, muddy shoe prints, lipstick traces on a wine glass, a recent cut on someone’s wrist – the list is endless. And there are the clues that can be picked up by the crime solver by, say, listening to what the protagonist say. Has this man contradicted a previous statement? Did this woman lie about her relationship with the dead man? All small pieces of the jigsaw; which when placed together make the complete picture. Unless of course one or more of them is a RED HERRINGS.

The RED HERRING is a legitimate ploy used by the writers of murder mysteries to get us looking in all the wrong places, and it very often succeeds. Usually, we realize our mistake fairly quickly, often because the person that the red herring caused us to suspect is bumped off; and so we turn our attention to another SUSPECT.

Probably about half a dozen SUSPECTS is the ideal number, all of whom should at the outset appear to have had the motive, means and opportunity to commit the crimes. Usually we have eliminated (rightly or wrongly) all but a couple by the end of the book, at which time the DETECTIVE will reveal what really happened.

As we know, DETECTIVES, in murder mystery fiction can be either male or female and come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, ages and personalities. They can be professionals or gifted amateurs, but they all have one thing in common – they always get their man (or woman.) They must be well nigh infallible. When they point out the significance of some object or remark that has been encountered during the course of the case, we should think ‘Of course, why didn’t I see that?’ And although we probably didn’t see it coming, the ENDING should be SATISFACTORY.

And it is a SATISFACTORY ENDING that keeps us coming back for more. If we feel we haven’t been given all the facts, if some character is introduced late in the story and turns out to be the guilty one or if the villain does not receive appropriate justice, then we are left feeling cheated. The author must play fair with his or her readers.

A good murder mystery story should intrigue us, baffle us, keep us guessing to the very last few pages and ultimately leave us feeling that we have enjoyed every minute and are eager for the next one.

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write by Alvar

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