Who couldn’t do it but did!

Although plot holes still bug me, they have been supplanted at the top of my list of irritations by clumsy exposition. It might be because of the amount of mystery dramas I have read and watched that I know now what to look out for, but sometimes it is just so obvious who the murderer is. Unlike the real world where anyone could have done it, we are limited to the suspects in the novel. By dropping into conversation for no need (the characters would already know) someone was an Olympic standard penthalon competitor it gives a big hint they might be the person who swam the river, killed Mr Black with a sword then rode off on a horse. I exaggerate, but you know what I mean. It is a hard balance between giving the reader enough information so they don’t feel cheated that they couldn’t have solved it (new characters appearing in the last five pages, deus ex machina) and not signposting the person so blatantly that there is no mystery.

Originally posted 15.04.11

On Saturday before my injury woes, I finally went to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. The play was excellently performed, well written and thoroughly enjoyable, and yet a week later I am bothered, not because of the solution, but because of the loose ends and plot holes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Agatha Christie, she is one of the best whodunit writers ever and I can’t normally fault her works on analysis afterwards, but three or four points bother me about The Mousetrap. As requested at the end of each performance, I will not reveal the solution so cannot elaborate.

In the whodunit genre, tying up the plot so that it is believable is vital. Suspension of disbelief goes a long way but, ironically, you can’t get away with murder. There are over six billion people in the world so some crazy stuff has happened. A brother and sister separated when young have married later in life unaware of their relationship. There have been serial killers of pretty much every colour, creed, gender, class etc. Children have killed their parents, parents have killed their children, someone has even been killed by a falling icicle which has then melted leading police to believe the victim was stabbed to death. All these things can happen, but people cannot physically be in two places at once, they cannot walk through walls, professional hitmen do not cover all their tracks then forget to wear gloves.

The rise of the Internet and mobile phones has made whodunits much harder to write. Information is much more freely available and communicating between places far easier. DNA analysis, amongst many new police procedures, makes catching criminals easier so the modern whodunit needs to cover off many more potential plot holes.

Is this why the crime thriller has taken over from the whodunit? Because it is easier to write four gun fights and car chases than work out how the murder got into the fourth floor bathroom and left no clues for the police but enough for your detective? Maybe, but I know which type I prefer: a plot which has had a little thought put into it.

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