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5\. The Suspects

  • The suspects are highly important characters in our Detective Story. They
  • appear one after another, few or many, according to the length of the story.
  • As each suspect is brought forward, the reader must be made to feel certain
  • that this is the criminal. Then a doubt is raised or positive innocence is
  • shown, and the next suspect is brought forward.
  • In a tale of simple construction, the suspects will come forward, a, b, c, d.
  • The first three are eventually proved innocent and D is the criminal.
  • A more complex plot would have D wrongly accused and proved innocent and show
  • that, after all, C was the criminal. In this case the reader must be made to
  • insist to himself that he knew it was C all the time, even though the case
  • looked pretty black against D. Or, a clever dodge is to suspect the characters
  • in order, and though A was exonerated long ago, prove at the last that he was
  • the real criminal after all.
  • It is the variations of these plans that make for interest in a Detective
  • Story, and the characterization of these suspects has much to do with the
  • success of the plot. The breathless fear that the criminal may be the
  • beautiful but headstrong young woman; the ever rising suspicion that the
  • criminal is the handsome, manly hero; the lurking doubt of the nephew who
  • inherits; the distrust of certain old family servants all these serve to keep
  • interest alive and curiosity piqued.
  • The principal characteristics, then, of our criminal must be his own
  • importance, his dramatic personality, and his successful concealment until the
  • _dénouement_.
  • These rules are not inflexible for short-stories, where there is less room for
  • characterization than in books. The criminals in Conan Doyle's stories, like
  • the victims, have little personality, because the fierce light that beats upon
  • Sherlock Holmes leaves most of the other characters in shadow. But in a full-
  • sized novel, where characterization is an important factor of the workmanship,
  • the criminal's make-up is of vital importance.