A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Monday, January 31, 2011


Hubby and I have just sat through another episode of one of our classic UK TV detective series. Hugely popular, well written, always attracting top stars as guest actors. But half an hour into the episode, we turned to each other – on opposing sofas – and smiled knowingly.

“It was the mother who did it,” I said.

“Of course,” Hubby replied, nodding in complete agreement. “Another classic example of the Joss Ackland theory.”

I suppose I’d better explain this family joke :).

We watched a BBC spy/murder drama some years ago. It was an excellent play, but there were only a couple of “known” names in it. One was Joss Ackland, the famous British actor. I don’t know if he’s as well known across the world, though he had a starring role in one of the Lethal Weapon films.

Which fits in with my topic rather well!

He was the villain in the play we watched, as well. There were red herrings, there was a complex and challenging plot – but we suspected him all along! After all, we reasoned, why would a famous, well-respected, stage and film actor join the cast for a small cameo role with a few throwaway lines? Why would the BBC spend their budget (and my licence money) on such a grand aristocrat of the acting world, just to fill in the background during the detective’s machinations?

And of course, we were right. In the years since, we’ve watched plenty of dramas and our theory holds well across most of them *haha*. I may well be getting better at spotting the murderer, and this theory may have no more scientific basis than always choosing the jockey with the red cap on race day (which a betting friend of mine actually does), but it’s fun for us to follow!

Now, in a book, we may play a “reverse” red herring more successfully. Our characters aren’t already known to the reader, carrying expectation of a major role, associated with fame and familiarity. We can create a distant cousin who suddenly turns out to be the long-lost sister who’s named prominently in the will, or a small, quiet, nerdy person who turns out to be the maniacal slash murderer (if we so wished *cough*). Or that person who's acting suspiciously, but then we're led to believe he's innocent, but then oh look, he’s acting suspiciously again and we’ve been fooled, he *is* the murderer after all, but then …

Well, hopefully you get my point. We’re not held back by the Joss Ackland theory. And thank goodness!

Do you have your own family “theories” when you’re watching / reading mystery? Who’s *your* Star to Suspect?


Toni Anderson said...

Ha ha ha! I've used the "Joss Ackland' theory a time or two myself. But boy did I laugh when you said “It was the mother who did it.”
No comment!!

I think in writing you have a completely different set of rules/ tools compared to the visual arts--like you say. But wouldn't you love to see a movie where Joss (for example) plays the part of a cabby who doesn't 'do it'? Now that would throw us.

Clare London said...

Excellent idea Toni. Oh for a BBC drama budget that could stand the fee - or a generous star who just wanted a stress-free bit part :).

Chrissy Munder said...

*Nods* We've used that same argument at our house. That one "name" does stand out in the unknown crowd. LOL.

There are time when you can spot it in a novel as well. Right about the time we get that niggly feeling of "just what purpose does this character being here have"... That's when we say "Aha!"

It's a good reminder to give that character purpose other than the obvious.

MaureenAMiller said...

Your theory is spot on, Clare.

In my family, we swear my mother has some mathematical formula to calculate "who did it". She NEVER fails. We all look at her like, "How did you do that?". I may just have to solicit her magic formula and post it here.

Anonymous said...

Easy question in Germany. Here (at least for many people) the answer would be "Der Mörder ist immer der Gärtner", i.e. "the murderer is always the gardener". Not because of any reasoning, but because that's the title and subject of a song by Reinhard Mey, a popular German singer/songwriter. In this particular song a number of people in an English country house are killed one by one - and according to the song it was always the gardener.

Of course, right at the end it turns out that the killer had been the butler all along, so maybe this method of guessing the murderer isn't particularly reliable...

Marcelle Dubé said...

I'm a terrible one to ask, as I never really know who did it in a television show. It's pathetic how easily I can be fooled by waving hands distracting me...

Jenre said...

I'll have to start applying your Joss Ackland theory because I'm terrible at guessing the murderer in TV shows.

This of course follows on into my mystery reading. To the extent where if I do guess the murderer ahead of time, then I'm generally disappointed rather than feeling smug about it :).

Chris said...

I'm also terrible at guessing the murderer in books, usually. I'm ok with that. Of course, if it's so obvious that I feel that author's pummeling me about the head with it, I get frustrated.

Chris said...

D'oh - clicked too soon. :)

Like the book I'm reading now. The detective's new love interest has an identical twin that he's not mentioned to the detective because he's ashamed of his twin's rude behavior. So it seems pretty obvious that the detective's going to have to suspect his love interest, not knowing about the twin... Which fits nicely with this song by the Magnetic Fields.

Clare London said...

Chrissy - you're right of course! Part of the fun and challenge of writing is trying to balance that, so your villain isn't some guy appearing suddenly from the clouds in the epilogue to take responsibility, yet isn't introduced so obviously there's a big arrow pointing "look at this one!" over his head :).

Maureen - your mum sounds like a true Sherlock Holmes! Maybe she's secretly *writing* all these series... LOL.

Liade - this made me laugh out loud :). What a great story that makes.

Marcelle - hey, don't worry, it's people like us the programmes *need*. If everyone guessed up front, who'd watch to the end? ! LOL

Jenre - this made me laugh as well, because I'm the same. In fact, if I do guess right, it's either a bad programme/book, or a complete fluke, or ... my theory! :)

Chris - I love the twins theory :). Sounds like there's a lot of delicious mixed-up angst ahead before the final curtain... :).

Shirley Wells said...

Too true. I've used the Joss Ackland theory myself.

Then you get the typecasting. Sometimes, hubby and I nod knowingly at each other and say "He's always the baddie...he'll be the murderer." It takes away all the fun. ;)

Wynter Daniels said...

Since my sister-in-law was a detective with our police force for many years, we no longer play whodunit games or watch mysteries with her. She always beats us at figuring out who is the guilty party.

Elise Warner said...

Type casting. Certain actors always play villains and rarely heros in television and motion pictures. To prove they can excel in other parts, they take on roles in theatre and often prove they can be cast against type. Mysteries-well it's up to us and our characters to keep the reader guessing.

J Wachowski said...

Ahhh...a variation on the famous Star Trek "red shirt." (The unknown guy beaming down with the away team, wearing the red shirt--always a dead man.)

I always wonder if the directors give away secrets unconsciously? Or consciously--shifting the focus to the "why" of the mystery instead of the "who?"

It seems like many of the TV crime mysteries make the "why" the final payoff of the mystery--as opposed to the, perhaps old-fashioned, "who-payoff?"

Clare London said...

Oooh Shirley and Elise - typecasting, exactly! Isn't that just the way? We were watching Tom Cruise in a film the other night and said how much better we thought he was as a villain than a hero LOL. But stars - and their agents - presumably have a different idea :). I *love* it when somone casts against type, that can really make a story fresh.

Wynter - what a laugh that rueful image gave me :). I can quite see she has "insider knowledge" and I certainly wouldn't want to guess against her.

J- interesting thought, actually. I'd like to think that directors want to fool and/or challenge us, but sometimes I wonder if they think they have to give us clues so we "get" it. And I think mysteries fall quite neatly into "who" or "why" ones (that's a blog idea for a future month LOL).

Julie Moffett said...

Great post, Clare! My hubby usually guesses who did it in the first five minutes. It drives me nuts. I'm fairly good about figuring it out early, but FIVE minutes!? Sheesh! Now I watch alone or he has to promise to keep his mouth shut! Ha!!

Clare London said...

*haha* Julie, I don't think I'd let mine in the room if he was like that, because I know he'd smirk away every time the villain came on screen :). But luckily my hubby hasn't got the patience to sit through them anyway!

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