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1\. Tabulated Clues

  • A good device for the use of the Detective Story Writer is a list or catalog of clues, evidences, or suspects. A distinct tabulation serves to lay the conditions of the story clearly before the reader, and arouses his curiosity as to their meaning and consequences. Of course, if need be, the clues may be misleading; but if done properly, that, too, is a legitimate device.
  • Wilkie Collins appreciated the use of this tabulation, and thus summed up the opening situation in "The Moonstone":
  • > "Follow me carefully, Betteredge; and count me off on your fingers, if it will help you," says Mr. Franklin, with a certain pleasure in showing how clear-headed he could be, which reminded me wonderfully of old times when he was a boy. "Question the first: Was the Colonel's Diamond the object of a conspiracy in India? Question the second: Has the conspiracy followed the Colonel's Diamond to England? Question the third: Did the Colonel know the conspiracy followed the Diamond; and has he purposely left a legacy of trouble and danger to his sister, through the innocent medium of his sister's child?"
  • And much later in the story he again uses this device, purposely to mislead the reader:
  • > "As to the person, or persons, by whom the crime was committed: It is known (1) that the Indians had an interest in possessing themselves of the Diamond.
  • (2) It is at least probable that the man looking like an Indian, whom Octavius Guy saw at the window of the cab speaking to the man dressed like a mechanic, was one of the three Hindoo conspirators. (3) It is certain that this same man, dressed like a mechanic, was seen keeping Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite in view all through the evening of the twenty-sixth, and was found in the bedroom (before Mr. Ablewhite was shown into it) under circumstances which lead to the suspicion that he was examining the room. (4) A morsel of torn gold thread was picked up in the bedroom, which persons expert in such matters declared to be of Indian manufacture and to be a species of gold thread not known in England.
  • (5) On the morning of the twenty-seventh, three men, answering to the description of the three Indians, were observed in lower Thames Street were traced to the Tower Wharf, and were seen to leave London by the steamer bound for Rotterdam.
  • >
  • > "There is here moral, if not legal, evidence that the murder was committed by the Indians."
  • Notice how cleverly he makes it seem certain that the crime was committed by the Indians. In a long and somewhat rambling tale like "The Moonstone," a concise summary of evidence now and then is exceedingly effective.
  • Anna Katharine Green frequently makes use of listed statistics. In "That Affair Next Door," the heroine, who is doing detective work, makes a list, which is here given in part:
  • > Having, as I thought, noticed some few facts in connection with it, from which conclusions might be drawn, I amused myself with jotting them down on the back of a disputed grocer's bill I happened to find in my pocket.
  • >
  • > Valueless as explaining this tragedy, being founded upon insufficient evidence, they may be interesting as showing the workings of my mind even at this early stage of the matter. They were drawn up under three heads.
  • >
  • > First, was the death of this young woman an accident?
  • >
  • > Second, was it a suicide?
  • >
  • > Third, was it a murder?
  • >
  • > Under the first head I wrote:
  • >
  • > My reasons for not thinking it an accident:
  • >
  • > 1\. If it bad been an accident and she had pulled the cabinet over upon herself, she would have been found with her feet pointing towards the wall where the cabinet had stood.
  • >
  • > (But her feet were towards the door and her head under the cabinet.)
  • >
  • > 2\. The decent, even precise, arrangement of the clothing about her feet, which precludes any theory involving accident.
  • >
  • > Under the second:
  • >
  • > Reason for not thinking it suicide:
  • >
  • > She could not have been found in the position observed without having lain down on the floor while living and then pulled the shelves down upon herself.
  • >
  • > (A theory obviously too improbable to be considered.)
  • >
  • > Under the third:
  • >
  • > Reason for not thinking it murder, etc., etc.
  • One of the principals in "The Circular Staircase," by Mary Roberts Rinehart, makes a similar list:
  • > I made out a list of questions and possible answers, but I seemed only to be working around in a circle. I always ended where I began. The list was something like this:
  • >
  • > Who had entered the house the night before the murder?
  • >
  • > Thomas claimed it was Mr. Bailey, whom he had seen on the footpath, and who owned the pearl cuff-link.
  • >
  • > Why did Arnold Armstrong come back after he had left the house the night he was killed?
  • >
  • > No answer. Was it on the mission Louise had mentioned?
  • >
  • > Who admitted him?
  • >
  • > Gertrude said she had locked the east entry. There was no key on the dead man or in the door. He must have been admitted from within.
  • >
  • > Who had been locked in the clothes chute?
  • >
  • > Someone unfamiliar with the house, evidently. Only two people missing from the household, Rosie and Gertrude. Rosie had been at the lodge. Therefore—but was it Gertrude? Might it not have been the mysterious intruder again?
  • In "The Holladay Case," Mr. Burton E. Stevenson tells us that his detective
  • "drew up a résumé of the case—to clear the atmosphere, as it were." It ran something like this:
  • > March 13, Thursday—Holladay found murdered; daughter drives to Washington Square.
  • >
  • > March 14, Friday—Coroner's inquest; Miss Holladay released; mysterious note received.
  • >
  • > March 16, Sunday—Holladay buried.
  • >
  • > March 18, Tuesday—Will opened and probated.
  • >
  • > March 28, Friday—Miss Holladay returns from drive, bringing new maid with her and discharges old one.
  • >
  • > March 29, Saturday—Gives orders to open summer house.
  • >
  • > April 1, Tuesday—Asks for $100,000.
  • >
  • > April 2, Wednesday—Gets it.
  • >
  • > April 3, Thursday—Leaves home ostensibly for Belair, in company with new maid.
  • >
  • > April 14, Monday—Butler reports her disappearance; Royce taken ill; I begin my search.
  • >
  • > There I stopped. The last entry brought me up to date.
  • One of the cleverest lists, for the purpose of telling the story is one in
  • "The Leavenworth Case," by Anna Katharine Green:
  • > Taking a piece of paper, I jotted down the leading causes of suspicion as follows:
  • >
  • >
  • >
  • > 1\. Her late disagreement with her uncle, and evident estrangement from him, as testified to by Mr. Harwell.
  • >
  • > 2\. The mysterious disappearance of one of the servants of the house.
  • >
  • > 3\. The forcible accusation made by her cousin—overheard, however, only by Mr. Gryce and myself.
  • >
  • > 4\. Her equivocation in regard to the handkerchief found stained with pistol smut on the scene of the tragedy.
  • >
  • > 5\. Her refusal to speak in regard to the paper which she was supposed to have taken from Mr. Leavenworth's table immediately upon the removal of the body.
  • >
  • > 6\. The finding of the library key in her possession.
  • >
  • >
  • >
  • > "A dark record," I involuntarily decided, as I looked it over; but even in doing so began jotting down on the other side of the sheet the following explanatory notes:
  • >
  • > 1\. Disagreements and even estrangements between relatives are common. Cases where such disagreements and estrangements have led to crime, rare.
  • >
  • > 2\. The disappearance of Hannah points no more certainly in one direction than another.
  • >
  • > 3\. If Mary's private accusation of her cousin was forcible and convincing, her public declaration that she neither knew nor suspected who might be the author of this crime, was equally so. To be sure, the former possessed the advantage of being uttered spontaneously, but it was likewise true that it was spoken under momentary excitement, without foresight of the consequences, and possibly without due consideration of the facts.
  • >
  • > 4, 5. An innocent man or woman, under the influence of terror, will often equivocate in regard to matters that seem to criminate.
  • Here much of the problem is clearly stated in the first half of the list, and the working out of the solution is definitely indicated in the second part.
  • Listed suggestions are more useful in books than in short-stories; for in the former the complexities of the plot are more likely to need occasional rounding up and recalling to view.