Mystery tropes

I watch quite a few British/Canadian/Australian mysteries on television, so much so that I’ve been keeping a list of tropes. A lot of mystery programs (Midsomer Murders, Death in Paradise, Father Brown, Murder She Hoped, even the Kiwi series Brokenwood Mysteries) have similar settings for murder.

For example, there’s the one at the flying school, the one at the dance competition, the one with chefs in a restaurant, the one with the amateur theatre group. People get murdered when checking into health spas, joining hunting parties, and (gulp) attending author book signings. Sometimes there’s an unusual arrangement assumed to be a motive: the breakup of the band, the tontine (where whoever hasn’t died inherits everything), the dinner to which everyone was invited individually.

Back in the fourth grade, I gave up cursive writing and pens, only using either when it was required. I am trying now to revive both, with a fountain pen, a lovely journal given me by a friend, and mystery plots and ideas. Here’s the first page of tropes (please bear with my handwriting, obviously):

What this creates is a treasure trove of settings and/or a list of what to either imitate or avoid when writing a story. For me, it’s helpful to see the patterns. Many of these seem designed to limit the number of possible suspects. For example, if you have a murder at a music festival, there could be thousands of suspects. How does your detective narrow down? If one of the organizers is killed, they will tend to cast their gaze on the other organizers rather than attendees. This may or may not work, but it allows a lot of people to go home.

Since this is not how I write my mysteries, which sort of grow organically, it’s interesting to see how mysteries can be mass-produced through the recycling of settings.

Luckily, I don’t think that boarded-up operating theatre, the National Gallery, or pneumatic railway are likely to appear on the list any time soon. But about those 19th century health spas . . .