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Old 01-07-2019, 06:54 AM   #1
latepaul
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Is this a Mystery Trope?

So I've just read "Star Trap" by Simon Brett which is the 3rd Charles Paris mystery. I think it qualifies as a "cosy" mystery because it's light on gruesome details and strong on character, setting and the puzzle element of the plot.

Anyway, I don't read a lot of these but it's a nice change of pace occasionally.

What I noticed, and I think I've noticed this before, is that the main character, Paris, who is an actor not a detective, but who is investigating the crimes, asks a lot of questions (obviously) but no-one seems to notice, or comment on, his inquisitiveness.

I'm wondering if this is a trope, something that mystery fans just accept because it's easier and moves the story along. Otherwise you'd have to constantly come up with reasons why your amateur sleuth is questioning people, or why they don't notice or care.

Is it a trope? or is it bad writing?
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Old 01-07-2019, 07:16 AM   #2
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I enjoyed the Charles Paris books back in the day.

I'm going to think about this some more, but here's my seat of the pants take on it. I think it's undeniably a trope. As you say, without it, no cozy. But I don't think it's necessarily bad writing, or at least not that bad. I think people like to be asked their opinion. It always amazes me how bystanders will answer reporter's questions at a news site, for example, when my own reaction would be to run like the wind, or as windlike as I can manage in my dotage. Or how people are willing to answer polls and so forth. So while it's a little clunky (or maybe a lot clunky), I don't think it goes against basic human nature.
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Old 01-07-2019, 12:36 PM   #3
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I think people like to be asked their opinion. It always amazes me how bystanders will answer reporter's questions at a news site, for example, when my own reaction would be to run like the wind, or as windlike as I can manage in my dotage. Or how people are willing to answer polls and so forth...
But of course, talking to a reporter or pollster is a lot different than answering questions, possibly intrusive or uncomfortable questions, from a dotty old aunt/mystery writer/chef/tennis instructor.

I don't read a lot of mysteries and far fewer of the 'cozy' type, but that always seemed weird to me.

Even Monk (at least a semi-cozy series) made me crazy with this, though there he at least had the plus of having police support.
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Old 01-07-2019, 03:53 PM   #4
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Everything^ is a trope.* Even if the specific one isn't there, you'll find something close.


^ Well, almost everything. I couldn't find your exact example. But it was fun trying!
* Every time I visit that darn site I lose an afternoon.
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:30 AM   #5
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I guess it's a matter of degree.

If someone found a body in my work place you can bet we'd discuss it. But if I started asking my colleagues how long they'd known the deceased and where they were the night before etc, it would seem odd. But then again those things might naturally come up in the conversation.

But the line between those two things, the point at which it feels "off" is hard to pin down. That's why I say it's a matter of degree.

And I can see/imagine that the position of that line changes if you're used to reading such exchanges a lot.

BTW I think I used the wrong word - "convention" is perhaps better than "trope".
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Old 01-08-2019, 06:56 AM   #6
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It's also a mystery trope that if you have six people in an isolated house, and one is murdered, every one of the other five people will turn out to have had a good reason to commit the murder .
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Old 01-08-2019, 07:10 AM   #7
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It's also a mystery trope that if you have six people in an isolated house, and one is murdered, every one of the other five people will turn out to have had a good reason to commit the murder .
Also that another one of them will get killed.
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Old 01-08-2019, 07:14 AM   #8
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And then some ingenious author will have the remote house scenario, but with absolutely no motive on anyone's part; indeed all of them very anxious that the victim should stay alive. And no weapon. And no opportunity for anyone to do it. And then the victim solves the murder.

Maybe I should write that one myself.
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Old 01-08-2019, 09:33 AM   #9
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And don't forget that the woman who runs the small-town food or craft related business is always better at solving crimes than the local police
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Old 01-08-2019, 10:04 AM   #10
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And right at the end we are told that one of the suspects has a twin or is in some other way related to one of the other victims. You know, that 'last bit of info the author withholds' trope. I hate that.

What about the old chestnut about the isolated house being haunted? Or that someone has escaped from a local secure prison/hospital?

(Some of us are working from Cozy tropes, others from more traditional whodunnits.)

Last edited by BookCat; 01-08-2019 at 10:07 AM.
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Old 01-08-2019, 12:00 PM   #11
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One thing I always liked about the Alpine/Emma Lord cozy series is that Emma and Vida are the local newspaper editor and columnist so they actually have a reason to go around asking questions.
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Old 01-11-2019, 02:00 PM   #12
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And there are also some mysteries where the protagonist's lack of formal authority to ask questions is clearly part of the story line - where the protagonist has to cajole or finagle others into answering, or find info out in other ways, like by surveillance. And in some cases, characters will start out talking to the protagonist, but then balk at some point and quit talking, which actually seems to me like something that might happen a lot.

In general, though, I agree with @issybird that I think a lot of people are a lot more willing to say a lot more than one might expect.

I once participated in a workshop for entrepreneurs that put a big emphasis on getting primary marketing input, just by talking to potential customers. The workshop instructors told us that if you just ask, a lot of the time you get answers, and then they sent us out to do that. I was amazed, but it was really true, if you frame yourself as asking for help, and indicate the value that you are going to put on someone's input, and really listen, lots of people will try to help you out. Granted, we were trying to find out if people would like a product, and not gather info about a crime , but still, I was truly amazed by the amount of time people would spend with us, and how much they would tell us.

So, I guess every now and then, I have to suspend disbelief, but a lot less than I used to .
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Old 01-17-2019, 04:30 PM   #13
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One reason why I like the Miss Marple series is because Agatha Christie explains this (quite often, arguably a bit too often) when Miss Marple is planning how she's going to set up her questioning. Of course that series is filled with the mystery tropes mentioned in this thread.
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Old 01-21-2019, 01:43 PM   #14
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What annoys me more than the willingness of people to answer questions is the motive of the amateur sleuth to ask them--to become involved in the investigation. I used to read a lot of cozy series that tended to begin with the amateur having a plausible reason to become involved--as a suspect, a relative or friend of the victim, etc.--but in later books the reason wouldn't make much sense.
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Old 01-21-2019, 03:14 PM   #15
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What annoys me more than the willingness of people to answer questions is the motive of the amateur sleuth to ask them--to become involved in the investigation. I used to read a lot of cozy series that tended to begin with the amateur having a plausible reason to become involved--as a suspect, a relative or friend of the victim, etc.--but in later books the reason wouldn't make much sense.
Hmmm... why did miss Marple get involved in her cases? Just from curiosity? I don't really remember anymore, it's been a while since I read Christie.
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