There is a big difference between solving a mystery and solving a mystery novel. The mystery novel is specifically designed to lead you in the wrong direction until the very end where you kick yourself for not being able to have figured it out before. At least that’s usually how my experiences ends, anyway. I like to think that I’m good at solving puzzles; I keep telling myself that in the hope that one day it’ll be true. But the sad reality is I struggle with puzzles, riddles, mysteries, and even poems, which I consider to be the dastardliest of all puzzles ever. Regardless, I mentioned in one of my previous posts for Agatha Christie’s, Appointment with Death, that solving book mysteries is a game in itself, but I felt the process needed it’s own post. These are a few tricks that I’ve learned along the way that have helped me.
- It is never the person you expect.
While reading the book, keep track of whom the detective and side characters accuse. This is a common strategy used to mislead you into creating assumptions and building false evidence, thus leading you away from the murderer and towards a crowded time-out corner filled with people just like you who were duped. I’ve found that the best way to keep track is to use an index card as your bookmark and write down the names of all the characters. As they are accused, check them off the list. Those who are left are the most likely suspects.
- Look for the person who has the most to gain.
Motives are aplenty and many of them will seem the most likely option; however, this is another way in which Christie will try to lay down false trails and obvious options. Don’t accept the gifted horse. All too often the most crucial clue is hidden in a single obscure sentence. If you miss it, don’t despair; there will be other clues you can piece together as you go. Remember, the person you are looking for is never the obvious choice, so don’t let it distract you. Keep your eye focused on all the characters, not just the ones wrapped in pretty bows.
- Don’t let characters slip into the background.
A crime has been committed; the criminal isn’t going to want people looking at him or her too closely, and that includes you. This goes back to the importance of keeping a list of characters: with Agatha Christie, everyone is a suspect and all too often the one we’re looking for is the one who we are most likely to forget.
- Who can you rule out instantly?
Those who seem to have an iron clad alibi are not always as they seem. If you think it’s impossible for them to have committed the crime, think again. This is Agatha Christie’s most powerful tool for deception. We may see an impossible option, but just wait; that impossible option may not seem as impossible when the detective explains just how the murder was committed and covered up.
Now I should add that it can be difficult to remember to do these things while you read. I have continued to read many mysteries since Appointment with Death, and I am still yet to completely solve one before the end. The reason for that being I forget to follow these rules and someone always falls into obscurity, only to be revealed in the end. So next time you decide to pick up a mystery novel, remember these tips and you just might find yourself reading the end with a look of smug satisfaction on your face after having guessed the culprit before the reveal.
Happy Reading and may the odds be ever in your favor.