Paradox of the Murder Mysteries

In Black Coffee by Agatha Christie (novel by Charles Osborne) Barbara Amory points to Hastings how in detective stories it is always the least likely suspect who turns out to be the murderer. Though the-least-likely-suspect-ploy is referenced within the story here even otherwise as reader of detective stories we know it to be the general rule. Murder mysteries are more of a game between the reader and the author rather than being mere engagement between their heart and soul.
So, how do we really follow a murder mystery. We don’t compare every witness’ account of the events neither are we mulling over those little and nicely masqueraded hints that are going to be pointed at by Mr. Poirot at the end. Methods and Order, Naah. What we actually do is that we are racing towards the end and hoping and hoping that the end will come out as a big surprise. In fact that is how we judge a suspense/ thriller. How big is the surprise! And for the end to be a surprise the killer has to be the one whom we suspect the least at the moment of the big revelation.
This is interesting as we see that ‘The least likely suspect’ hypotheses, which the reader as well as the author follow, is but a paradox.
The least likely suspect is the most likely to be the killer. But as he is the most likely suspect now, he becomes the least likely suspect. But again, since he has become the least likely, he is now the most likely and so on. So the variables, ‘the least likely suspect’ and ‘the most likely suspect’ will keep inter-changing themselves infinitely before any logical determinate conclusion is made.
Now for a surprise to happen, and we do get surprised, ‘the least likely or the less likely (set of) suspects’ must exist at that particular moment but then it can not exist because they are indeed indeterminable.
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4 thoughts on “Paradox of the Murder Mysteries

  1. It’s so true! Readers are always looking out for the least likely suspect, which makes that person the most likely suspect. Meanwhile, they disregard the most likely suspect as too obvious, thus making that person the least likely suspect. What I like about Agatha Christie is that rather than the least likely suspect, it seemed to be the suspect that you never even considered. For whatever reason, she seemed to be able to make you totally discount the possibility of that person having done it, and then of course it ends up being that person!

    1. Agatha Chrtistie was such a master storyteller. She obviously was so aware of the least likely ploy and many a times she used “equally likely suspect’ as in 5 little pigs and cards on the table. She even used most likely suspect ploy at times. And then there is the murder of roger ackroyd, where as you said, we never even considered this suspect. [spoiler alert] Only thing that made me wonder the doctor as suspect was that this book is so famous even among Christie’s novels. It is this external knowledge and not the plot that (partially) gives away the end.

      1. To be honest, I knew that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd had a shocking ending and I still didn’t even consider the murderer as a suspect. I guess that’s proof of Agatha Christie’s genius!

      2. I wouldn’t have guessed either..but the cover page was one big image of a dictaphone and once when Poirot meets the doctor he was busy doing some DIY mechanical stuff and said he has an interest in them. I would say mostly external clues like the fame and the cover page, that gave me the hint..

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