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It is necessary in almost every mystery story for the protagonist to follow a suspicious character. Sometimes it is planned ahead of time, but very often it is a spur of the moment chance so the hero jumps into a taxi and says the famous words, “Driver, follow that car!” No matter how many times I have read the same thing, it is always a thrill when the chase is on. Think screeching tires and sudden turns. Think headlights out on sinister rural roads and hanging back between trucks on the freeway.
If the car is lost or if the followers are discovered the consequences will be severe. It is a plot device, but it always draws me in.
Other favorite devices and settings:
The secret hide out. The Hole in the Wall, the Bat Cave. The hidden door behind the mirror.
The spooky, abandoned house with old tapestries and trunks filled with letters.
The treasure map.
Sinister cats, ghostly dogs, hunting hawks and talking parrots.
House boats tied up under bridges.
Ancient ruins and old cathedrals with bell towers to be climbed
The laboratory, the antique store, the dungeon below the opera house.
The last minute rescue of a person who is hanging off a cliff. Yes, a cliff hanger.
Michi Kaku explains that our brain likes surprises. We may be bored by a cliché and suddenly it is turned around and we like the twist. The unreliable narrator is one difference that surprises us. The unheroic character who suddenly leaps into action is another. The sinister villain who turns out to be an undercover agent can be cleverly done. The bumbler who turns out to be valuable is another favorite of mine.
Famous plot elements that never get old:
A character is framed. How can she prove her innocence?
An alibi seems foolproof, but is it?
The locked room.
The puppet of a higher criminal is caught. Can he be used to reach the ring leader?
The watcher. Who is he and what does he want?
The character that sees something important and doesn’t know it.
Weird dreams that lead to new ideas about the problem/crime.
What is your favorite plot device or setting?
Which mysteries or detectives are your favorites?
Do older mysteries still hold up?