I’ve been spending watching and reading some murder mystery stories with my kiddo. Doesn’t it seem sooooo easy at times to spot the “killer”?
So let me be systematic and provide some plot devices that will help you solve mysteries.
Very few things can outmatch the thrill of a bone-chilling, coldblooded murder mystery, especially on a rainy evening. We dig into the best of crime and detective fiction and unravel vocabulary that brings alive twisted plots and tropes – and help readers understand whodunnit and how.
- Crime Fiction vs Detective Fiction CRIME FICTION:
A broad overarching genre, it is used to describe any work of fiction that details an act of a crime being commit ted. It does not necessarily require the presence of a detective for its execution – it may even be a fictional autobiography of criminals and their thrilling escapades.
This is a narrower categor y with a strong focus on detectives. Irrespective of whether they have been thrust into the role accidentally or not, the detective is expected to expose the guilty party and their evil machinations by the end.
Any piece of circumstantial, testimonial evidence or a plot development that directly or accidentally ‘proves’ a particular person was elsewhere at the time of the crime. Of ten, the culprits are shown to depend on testimonies of the cast to vindicate their innocence, while the detectives must break them down. Think of a culprit who moves the hands of all the clocks in a house to falsify the time of death, or someone who stores a corpse in a freezer and then ‘discovers’ it at a convenient time – estimating the time of death by checking for rigor mortis will be inaccurate and provide the perpetrator an alibi.
Suppose a group of people see a person plummet to death from the seventh f loor of a highrise building, but they see no one else on the balcony. Adding two and two together, they conclude that the person committed suicide. However, they may have failed to notice the wily trick or setup the real culprit used to disguise the murder as a suicide. A trick, then, is a crafty, elaborate mechanism that allows a criminal to commit their deeds while fooling investigators and witnesses alike.
4. RED HERRING:
The criminal understands that the detective is closing in on them. Their escape plans have long failed, and the façade cannot be maintained any longer. As a last resort, they hit upon the devious plan of leaving false, misleading hints that will implicate innocent members of the cast, and allow themselves to make a getaway. These false clues or hints are red herrings.
Funnily enough, if an over-perceptive detective misinterprets a clue and is led to a wrong solution without the culprit’s interference, it can also qualify as a red herring.
5. DYING MESSAGE:
A particularly favourite t rope among mystery authors, this can take different forms: a scrawl on the floor, a bloodied piece of paper with letters/codes, or the direction in which their fingers point.
Dying messages of fer various plot possibilities: a murderer may decide to alter the message if they spot it, the investigators may misinterpret it, or a character may decide not to reveal the meaning of the message, even if they realise it.
6. FALSE/ FAKE SOLUTION:
This is a scenario where detectives show off their knowledge by presenting different solutions to the crime for the readers and the characters – usually all variations except the correct one. While this is usually a humorous trope, in special circumstances, this can be cleverly used by a private eye to lull the criminal into a false sense of security, leading them to make a mistake, leaving damning evidence.
7. IMPOSSIBLE CRIME:
This is an oxymoron really, since a crime once commit ted is clearly possible. Yet, it is used to describe an outré crime that, at first glance, seems absolutely impossible. Think of a theft at a bank vault with the latest foolproof anti-burglary traps or a train-jacking where a compartment disappears between two stations.
8. LOCKED ROOM:
I f an author decides to have a character killed in a room with all the entry points closed, know then that they have been sacrificed at the altar of one of the most fiendish literary devices ever invented. A locked room scenario (in other words, a hermetically-sealed chamber) is a sinister situation in which a crime is successfully commit ted at a scene with absolutely no means of entry or egress.
The size and scale of the locked room may vary – it could even be an island cut off from the outside world, where it’s evident that only one of the occupants could have committed the crime. Devising a successful locked-room stratagem requires special care, inspired imagination and special attention to detail. No wonder this device has a place of pride among the best crime fiction.
9. UNRELIABLE NARRATOR:
Authors bestow unique powers to this figure – they may distort facts, hide details or manipulate events subtly while maintaining the façade of being an impartial chronicler of what eventually transpires.
10. RULE NO.
Never trust a narrator unless you want to be nastily shocked later. This trope is rarely used with transparency. Hints about the unreliable nature of a narrator, usually presented in the first person, can appear as imperceptible revelations about their state of mind, the words they may have spoken or even mannerisms, behavioural itches and character traits.
A great example of this is Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story In a Bamboo Grove (one of the inspirations behind Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon) where witnesses provide equally sincere, but contradictory, first-hand accounts of a murder – later dubbed the Rashomon effect. Akutagawa’s story lets readers decide for themselves the authenticity of the incident.
So super sleuths, now as a bonus, here are a series of games that you could play during your next dinner party.
Here are some mystery games that you may want to incorporate into your murder mystery party.
- Sour Grapes of Wrath: This free murder mystery game includes an almost 70-page file that includes planning instructions, party invitations, costume suggestions, name tags, rules, secret clues, maps, accusation sheets, suspect dossiers, and the solution.
- Free Murder Mystery Game for Tweens: This free murder mystery game is targeted towards kids who are 10-12 year old but I think it would also work well for an adult murder mystery party. This free kit includes a master plot spreadsheet as well as a list of characters. Each guest has it’s very own printable party invitation as well as instructions. Props including a sign and birth certificate are also included for free.
- The Little Engine That Could Kill: This free murder mystery game includes parts for 8 players to figure out who murdered a passenger on the express train from India to Portugal. In-depth profiles are included for each character.
- The Romanian Uranium Mystery: Here’s a very detailed murder mystery game that includes a scripted show, as well as an improved show, that’s set around your dinner party.
- Way Out West: Here’s a free murder mystery game that includes the set-up, characters, script, clues, and more. You’ll need to subscribe to their free newsletter for the complete package.
- Jazz Age Jeopardy: Here’s a murder mystery that’s set in a 1920’s jazz club in New York City. The free PDF file includes an introduction, instructions, party guidebook, character sheets, clue cards, and voting sheets. Up to 15 people can play this one.
- Butler Kicks the Bucket: Download free murder mystery character cards and play the free Butler Kicks the Bucket murder mystery. There are enough cards for up to 15 players.
- Mafia Party Game: A fun detective style murder mystery game that’s for 7-24 players.
- Murder, She Wrote: This is a free printable that you can use to help Angela Landsbury solve crimes while binging Murder, She Wrote on Netflix. You’ll have to guess who the murder was, the motive, and the details of the killer. This murder mystery game can be played by yourself or with a whole group of friends gathered around the TV.
- The Murder Mystery: This is a casino themed murder mystery party game that includes character profiles and clues. Sample emails and invitation wording is included as well.
- The Business of Murder: This murder mystery game has everything you need to throw a very detailed murder mystery. Clues and invitations are all included in one convenient download. This game is for 7-8 players.
- Murder at the Ugly Sweater Party: This is a 50-page PDF that includes host instructions, guest instructions, game clues party materials, forensic reports, and investigative sheets.
Check out my related post: Has the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle been solved?