It’s a mystery

I love reading mysteries. I fondly remember my mother sharing Agatha Christie books with me when I was a teenager. That’s how I got my start.

Mostly, when I’m reading, I’m just along for the ride. I don’t catch the clues. Someone’s nervous tick doesn’t strike me as remarkable. Ditto for missing buttons and such. Can I tell if someone is lying? No, I can’t. At the end, when the culprit is revealed, I’m surprised. (Which really is the point of it being a mystery, isn’t it?)

I’ve read all of the Agatha Christie books — over 80 — and only guessed “whodunit” in one of them. And that’s “guessed,” not “figured out.” Mostly though, I never guess correctly or figure it out.

I had a little bit better record when watching the TV series Murder, She Wrote, with Angela Lansbury. Sometimes the clue was so in your (my) face that even I didn’t miss it. But usually the clues just zipped right over my head.

Now, the TV series Columbo had a totally different angle. The audience knew who did it from the very beginning. We knew, but Columbo didn’t. The question was not “whodunit” but “how is he going to figure it out?” Even if I missed the beginning of a Columbo mystery, all I had to do was see who Columbo was bothering the most to know who the murderer was. That would be the person for whom Columbo always had “just one more question.”

In books, though, I can count on one hand and have fingers left over for the number of times I’ve correctly guessed whodunit in 40 years of reading murder mysteries. This year, for some reason, I took a different tact on a couple of books. After I decided that all the characters had been introduced and without trying to guess the motive, I asked myself “Which one of these characters, as they are presented so far, is least likely to be the murderer?” Twice now, the character I identified turned out to be the murderer. Still, I can’t say that I suspected them, only that I identified them as the person who I thought would be last on the suspect list or maybe not on the suspect list at all.

It’s a good thing I’m not a detective.


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