I am incredibly good at figuring out the plots of crime novels. So good that you would expect I would be done with crime novels by now, bored by the expected ending, the obvious resolution. But I’m not. Each novel is a new challenge I’m more than happy to dive into.
It starts like this: a crime takes place; there is a murder, the majority of the time, although not always, and the suspects start lining up: the gardener, the doctor, the widow, the best friend.
I reach page 20, and I pick up my own metaphorical tools: a looking glass, my leather-bound notebook with a pencil that never needs sharpening, my collection of poisons and newspaper clippings, and my metaphorical hat, because all detectives need a hat.
I collect evidence scattered amongst the pages, in between the lines, I read the dialogues with suspicion but without rushing to conclusions of any sort, because rushed conclusions and personal suspicions are the enemies of good detective work.
I pick at the facts, carefully, gathering them in bullet points: this line connects to that line, that little detail seems nonchalant, but I am not missing the chalance in it, that’s for sure.
I put myself in the author’s shoes, skin, mind. Now, why did they write this? Why was that included? Is it important or a mere diverging maneuver?
By page 30 I know it, because I am very good at this job. I take a note, scribble it hastily on the sidelines of the page: that one is the murderer/robber/criminal. For sure. I know exactly what happened, no doubt.
By page 50 I start to wonder if there is something I might have missed, that is what a good detective does: never take anything for granted, shape their conclusions to fit new developments, account for recently acquired knowledge.
Now, I’m starting to dislike that character for some reason, but that doesn’t mean they are the culprit. I wish they were, but they are probably unlikable on purpose to stump me, to lead me off my path and make me follow the wrong tracks. I am not (mis)led by such amateurish ways. Not me.
Page 70 comes along, and I start patronising the detective on the page; if they are a professional detective, I become annoyed: how can they not see it, when it is right in front of their eyes? If they are an amateur — like me, except I’m so much better at this — I understand their struggle, but I am still judging them, you’re the main character after all, why are you taking so long to figure this out? It’s clear as day.
By page 90, my assigned criminal turns out not to be the culprit.
I mean, clearly there is a misunderstanding? But no, wait! Of course it isn’t, and I knew it from the beginning! It isn’t because it is obviously…that other person.
Yes, I let myself be led slightly astray, but deep down I actually thought my first suspicion seemed too obvious to be the right one, so obviously the guilty party was my suspect number two, well, my suspect number one because deep down I knew they were *it* all along.
Here the doubt starts to settle, of course. What if I’m wrong again? What if suspect number two, who was all along suspect number one, isn’t the culprit after all? I cannot let doubt poison my intellect, I must get back on track. So I gather my clues, and I go to bed because I need to rest a moment to reset my brain, and I wake up with a new understanding of things.
No, it’s not suspect one or two, after all. But I know who did it, I am absolutely sure. I’m that good.
It’s page 100 by now and the book is almost 300 pages long, but I already have it all figured out, or maybe not all, but certainly who committed the crime.
Cue to suspect number three. Maybe I did not suspect them from the very beginning, but my intuition was poking the back of my mind, it was there all along. It’s them. It has to be.
Except that now they’re also dead or were not who everyone thought they were, or they have an amazing alibi, and it seems I was — not wrong, I wouldn’t call it wrong — just led astray once more, it happens even to the best of us for sure.
I pick up my pencil and erase that suspect from the sidelines, I straighten myself up and pretend like it never happened. Because, really, it didn’t, pretty much.
I resort to being more careful, taking baby steps, trying not to come to rushed conclusions every 20 pages, even though it is OBVIOUS that the culprit is…oh, it turns out, no of course it isn’t, I didn’t really mean to name that name, was just playing with the possibility without actually really believing in it.
Of course, there are other suspicions, my pencil touches the sidelines again, but without authentic energy, just a possibility that I erase and change for another, it’s nothing really, I’m so much better than this…
And then, there is it! The great reveal! The criminal caught in the act, going on an emotional rant that they would have done it again, and I sit back, book in my hand, pencil in the other, a petulant smile on my face.
I knew it. I knew exactly, from page one, who it was. It was them. Obviously.
I shut the book, and stare at the back cover. I turn it over and examine the front cover, consider the story once again.
I get up and inspect the other crime novels on my TBR shelf, which one I’m going to pick up next, and absolutely slay in finding the criminal.
There is no time to waste, so I pick another novel straight away, I let myself be immersed in the story, the small details.
I will be careful this time, gather all relevant evidence before I start scribbling.
It’s page 20, and I already know it.
In my heart but, most importantly, in this amazing clever brain of mine, I already have it all figured out, laid out before me, and plain as day: that’s the criminal.
I take note on the sidelines again, sit back with a smug smile on my face, waiting for the characters on the page to figure it out by themselves.
Damn, I’m really good at this.
Do you believe solving/not solving the mystery changes the way you experience and regard a book? Here is a great post about it!