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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Dying Clue Detective Story Trope

The band - the speckled band! 

I’ve written about Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Age of detective fiction. As a chronological period, that was roughly the time between the world wars. But was really more of an attitude, a way of approaching the genre. As you can read here, I argued that 12 of the Holmes stories were written during that period and many others are “GA” in spirit.

Only recently did I realize that Arthur Conan Doyle apparently created of the favorite detective story tropes of that classic period, and he did it early on. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” turns on the late Julia Stoner’s dying words – “the band, the speckled band!” Thus was born the plot device of the spoken or written “dying clue” from the victim that points to the killer, but only when correctly interpreted.

Or so it seems. No one of the Golden Age of Detection Facebook Page could think of an earlier example. And John C. Sherwood pointed out that two later Holmes stories, “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” and “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman” feature dying clues. Both tales fit comfortably in the Golden Age, chronologically, published in 1926 and 1927, respectively.

Ellery Queen employed the dying clue dozens of times. So did most of the other great detective story writers of that age – and the not so great ones as well.  Have I, in my own mysteries? I can’t remember! But I plan to do so. I have two stories in mind, one a short story and one a novel, which turn on dying clues to the killer.

But the world is not yet prepared. Or at least, I’m not.

1 comment:

  1. Another example of the dying clue in Sherlock Holmes is from the Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez: "It was she!".