Book Recipes: How to Write a Country House Mystery

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at the country house murder mystery. Let’s hope we live through all twenty steps.

 

Ingredients:

  • A big old spooky house
  • An assorted group of debonair guests. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The Ingénue
    • A crusty old man
    • A prim and proper widow
    • A bounder and a cad
    • The Femme Fatale
    • Loveable newlyweds
    • The idle rich
  • A sinister butler
  • Storms
  • So much alcohol
  • Unreliable phone lines/roads/Wi-Fi
  • Dark yet slightly sexy secrets
  • MURRRDERRRR.

 

Method:

  1. All your characters have been invited to a big country house, for plot reasons. They make small talk like they aren’t going to die.
  2. There’s a big storm! Better gather everyone in one room. It’s not important. I’m sure it’ll be fine – oh, all the lights have gone out.
  3. AND THERE’S A MURDER.
  4. Some of your guests try and leave, but they can’t! Those unreliable phone lines are down, or the road is flooded, or maybe someone has just Lemonade-ed over all the cars.
  1. Gather your guests in one big room, along with any servants you might have lying about the place. One of them is a MURDERER.
  2. Decide that the best thing to do is wait until morning in one big group. That way no-one will –
  3. JUST KIDDING GUYS LET’S SPLIT UP!
  4. Pick a character who will survive until at least step 18 and follow them around for a bit. This one is almost certainly not the murderer, but you never know.
  5. Pick your first suspect. You’re going to want to choose someone who is ridiculously suspicious because –
  6. Oh, no, looks like they’re dead. Never mind.
  7. Okay, obviously it wasn’t suspect number one. Who else could it be? Have your main POV character ponder this for a bit while they wander spooky corridors.
  8. Have another big meeting with the remaining characters. Someone is acting suspicious…
suspicious-gif-18
Hmmm… (image: gifimage.net)
  1. Settle on suspect number two. This should be less obvious than suspect number one, but still not something you’d really have to reach for. Someone who your main character has seen sneaking off down a corridor, or having a –
  2. Oh, no, they’re dead too. My bad.
  3. Some more murders happen and everyone is very distressed. First to go is anyone who decides to leave and get help, so your best bet is to keep your main character hidden behind the sofa.
  4. You have found A Clue. Oh boy! This sure takes your mind off all those murders.
  5. We’ve narrowed it down to our third and final suspect. All the clues point to them. There’s no-one else it could be. Gird your loins and get ready to confront the –
  6. Oh, they’re dead as well. Huh. So the real murderer must be…
  7. IT WAS THE BUTLER DID IT ALL ALONG MY GOSH
  8. The butler explains his evil plan for the readers’ convenience and advances on the main character. But just when he’s about to do another murder, we reach the end of our twenty-step guide and he’s arrested.

THE END. Serve with tea and flickering lights.
Tips:

  • This one comes with an alternate ending! If you’re feeling especially bleak, just have your butler kill everybody and waltz off into the sunset with all their stuff. Make sure he still explains his plan though, that part’s important.
  • Detectives are optional. Feel free to invite one along, but just be aware that in steps 1 and 2 they’re going to have to earn their keep by deducing where people went on their holidays.
  • Make sure to choose the right kind of dark secrets. They can’t be too dark or you’ll put the guests off their champagne. The best ones are sexy and melodramatic.
  • Always include at least one hysterical woman, and one man who thinks the first murder is an elaborate prank.
  • No-one ever, ever suspects the butler.
giphy spanish inquisition
You all knew I was going to make this joke. (image: giphy.com)
  • Choose your setting carefully. The past is your best bet, because Wi-Fi and working phone lines can really ruin a good murder mystery. Nobody likes a detective who relies on Google.
  • Don’t make your creepy house too creepy or the genres will get muddled. Also, don’t make it gross. Nobody wants to bleed to death on a grubby floor.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“I expect you’re all wondering why I called you here.”

The guests were in the drawing room, settling into chairs with coffee. The butler, Stabbington, moved discreetly round the room, topping up glasses of port. Alice Sinclair placed a hand over her glass and sat up straight. It was awfully fun to be asked to join the adults.

Her host, Sir Jeffrey Spishous-Mann, had got to his feet. The room fell silent. Apart from the howling wind the house was quiet. Crumbleigh Place was on top of a mountain, swathed in snow, and was only accessible after a three-day journey through a dark and creeping forest. Alice thought it was jolly exciting. The house reminded her of a Gothic novel, or one of those perfectly thrilling horror pictures she and the girls had snuck out to see at Bletherleys. If Bunty could have seen her now, she would have thought her terribly sophisticated.

Stabbington took a discreet step forward and murmured in his master’s ear. Sir Jeffrey frowned. “What? Now?”

“I’m afraid it cannot wait, sir.”

“Very good.” He turned back to his guests. “Do serve yourselves, gentlemen, ladies. Stabbington will be in the kitchen sharpening his knives. Where was I?”

An old man who’d been introduced to Alice as Major Edmund Blakely-Smythe spluttered in his chair. “Eh? What?”

His aged sister leaned over and patted his knee. “Sir Jeffrey was just about to tell us something, Edmund.”

“What? Speak up! Get him to speak up, Agnes.”

Sir Jeffrey cleared his throat again. “As I was saying. I expect you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here…”

There was a sudden bang. Alice flinched. Her neighbour – a tall young man wearing an ascot and a predatory expression – laid a hand on her arm.

“No need to be afraid,” he murmured, offering her his hand, “I shall protect you. Jonty Framlingham-Piggott, at your service.”

Alice shook it, blushing. She wished she was wearing lipstick. “Alice Sinclair. Absolutely super to meet you.”

He took a drag on his cigarette. “Isn’t it just. Cigarette, Miss Sinclair?”

“Oh, I –”

Stabbington came back into the room, smoothing his hair back into place and brushing snow off his shoulders. “I do apologise, sir. The cleaning gun went off.”

Major Blakeley-Smythe squinted at him. “Eh? What’d the butler chap say?”

“He says the cleaning gun went off, Edmund,” Agnes yelled into his ear.

“Damn shame,” the Major said. “Happened in India once. Chap never did get it back. Last saw the damn thing swimming in the Ganges.”

Sir Jeffrey took a deep breath. “Anyway. Now that you’re all here, I shall reveal to you…”

Jonty leaned forward and whispered in Alice’s ear. “Frightfully dull, isn’t it? Let’s slip away for a moment. I’ve picked up a few things on my travels I’d be delighted to show you.”

Alice blushed. Matron hadn’t said anything about this. “Souvenirs, do you mean?”

He flicked the ash off his cigarette and smirked. “Of course, dear girl.”

Sir Jeffrey was counting to ten. “As I was saying…”

Stabbington bustled over to the drinks cabinet. He knelt down, fussing with a little packet of powder, and saw Alice looking. “I beg your pardon, Miss.”

“Is that…rat poison?”

Stabbington shoved the powder into his pocket. “Yes. For the rats.”

“In the drinks cabinet?”

“…Yes.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose they can be very clever little fellows.”

Stabbington straightened up, and Alice saw a flash of brass by every one of his knuckles. He had an awful lot of rings, for a butler. “Very clever indeed, Miss. Do excuse me.”

He left the room. Sir Jeffrey set down his glass. “As I was saying…”

“Eh? What?”

“He’s about to tell us something, Edmund…”

Sir Jeffrey stood on his chair and yelled “I’m very rich and I’m about to die!”

There was a long silence. Snow whirled against the glass; wind howled down the chimney. The guests all stared at their host, who climbed down from his chair.

“Good,” he said. “Now that I have your attention –”

All the lights went out. Then, there was a scream.

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)
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