Today I’m Livin’ Like a Rich Man’s Son, Tomorrow Mornin’ I Could Be a Bum

Characters ChangingFair warning: This post is not appropriate for your disbelief. I strongly encourage you to let it go and play elsewhere for a bit…

If you read enough crime fiction, you get very familiar with certain authors’ styles and certain sub-genre patterns. You may even get to the point where you can tell what’s probably going to happen to certain characters, just based on what you know about a given author or sub-genre. It’s true! Let me show you what I mean with just a few examples:


I. Someone starts to feel mildly ill.

A. Robin Cook novel: That person will soon die of a rare and very nasty virus spread by some equally nasty people to further their own agendas.

B. Agatha Christie novel: That person will soon be a poisoning victim. Or the murderer who’s cleverly pretending to be a victim.

C. Scandinavian crime novel: That person is the sleuth, who has to go to work and solve crimes despite being sick.


II. A man is offered a drink.

A. Tartan noir novel: He is a small-time crook about to be ‘persuaded’ into a dangerous deal. Or be shot or stabbed right afterwards.

B. ‘Harboiled’ novel: He is a low-class informer who has important information.

C. Louise Penny novel: He is a newcomer to Three Pines. He will die hours later of poisoning. It will turn out that he is related to one of Three Pines’ residents.


III. A beautiful woman is introduced.

A. Golden Age PI novel: She is a vamp/seductress who’s bent on misleading the sleuth.

B. Golden Age novel (other than PI): She is an ingenue who is about to be wrongly accused of murder.

C. Psychological thriller: She is the first of several victims.


IV. Two people are driving down an empty road.

A. Aussie noir novel: These people are partners in crime. There is a body hidden in the back. The body will be dumped in an abandoned mine, where it will be discovered a few years later.

B. American thriller: They are both foreign agents. They will soon be chased by FBI and CIA operatives. There will be a protracted gun battle.

C. French noir novel: The two people are an unhappy couple. They will stop at a small inn. There, one will meet someone new. In the end, one will kill the other and everyone’s life will spin out of control.


V. A man leaves a pub after having more than a judicious amount to drink.

A. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir novel: He will be killed in what looks like an accidental hit-and-run. It will turn out he knows the truth about a fifty-year-old murder and was going to gossip about it.

B. ‘Screwball’ or ‘screwball noir‘ novel: He will accidentally get into the wrong car. The car will have a body in it. The body is of the son-in-law of a cop and the son of a local crime boss. Trouble will soon ensue.

C. British police procedural: He will witness a murder, but won’t remember it clearly. None of the other pub regulars will believe him at first. The DCI/DI investigating team will get very frustrated trying to encourage him to remember what he saw.


VI. A woman goes down an alley and knocks at a door.

A. Arthur Conan Doyle story: She is the daughter of a wealthy MP. She is being blackmailed over an indiscreet letter she wrote. She will hire Sherlock Holmes to find and stop the blackmailer.

B. Gritty modern noir : She is a prostitute who is fleeing her pimp. She will go to her friend, a ‘low-rent’ drugs dealer, for help. They will soon be caught in a vicious web when word gets around that he killed her pimp, who is also a powerful local crime boss.

C. Cosy mystery – She is new in town and looking for the local café. She will get a job there and soon start solving café mysteries.

These are just a few ideas. Care to add any??


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Worse Comes to Worst.


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25 responses to “Today I’m Livin’ Like a Rich Man’s Son, Tomorrow Mornin’ I Could Be a Bum

  1. Well, in the books of some Golden Age authors…

    A group of mutually hostile people find themselves stuck in a country house next to a barn, cut off from the rest of the world by a snowstorm.

    John Dickson Carr: One of them is found stabbed to death in the morning, with no weapon to be found anywhere. A second victim is found in the barn. Both will turn out to have been stabbed with an icicle which then melted.

    Agatha Christie: They begin to die, one by one, usually in clever and quite unpredictable ways. The killer must be one of them – but which one? The answer may be found in the details of a similar killing spree 20 years earlier.

    Michael Innes: Among them is a senior, rather aristocratic policeman. He finds clues amid the abandoned stables in the barn. A great deal of Shakespeare is quoted.

    Ellery Queen: One of them wakes up in the morning to find himself in the barn; the house itself has disappeared. One of the victims may prove to have been the killer.

    Enough. Hope I haven’t spoiled any of these classics…

  2. A PI wakes up in bed next to a dishwater blond, narrowly avoiding n empty bottle of bourbon and a full ashtray on the floor:

    Hard boiled/noir: The blond is dead, and the PI has no memory of the night before.

    Tart noir: The PI is female, the blond a ‘toy boy’ she needs to extricate herself from as quickly as possible before her meeting with a client.

    Scandinavian noir: The blond is also a PI from a neighboring country, whose drug and alcohol problem has only emerged the night before, complicating the collaborative investigation they are required to take.


  3. A woman has just served the Christmas dinner:-

    Domestic thriller: she is the downtrodden wife, inspired by stuffing the turkey how to revenge herself on her unfaithful and psychologically abusive husband.

    Police procedural: she is the Detective Inspector, abandoned by her husband and children because of her long hours, and the dinner is a litre of cheap wine and a microwave meal for one.

    Golden Age: she is the parlourmaid, destined to be the second victim.

  4. Margot: Your post and the comments which follow are brilliant. Formulas abound. I would add:

    A sleuth returns to his hometown after a long absence and finds his former girlfriend is married and has had a child.

    Universal crime fiction: The child will turn out to be the sleuth’s child.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Bill. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. And your contribution is fantastic; you are so right about that ‘it’s really your child’ plot point. I love it!

  5. Absolutely brilliant Margot, as are the comments. Another universal like Bill’s:
    Someone on the phone says ‘I’ve thought of something about the crime. I didn’t notice it at the time, but it’s since occurred to me that – but no, I can’t tell you over the phone. Come over here and I’ll tell you about it, it’s really important and top secret.’
    I don’t even need to say what happens next – ALL your readers will know…

    • Moira – Thanks for the kind words. And your contribution is fantastic! That is most definitely one of those universals, and you’ve described it beautifully. Never, never call and say that you have important information about a murder case. It is just too dangerous to be worth it…

  6. What an amusing and creative post, Margot. You amaze me with your ideas! 🙂

  7. tracybham

    Very clever, Margot. My favorite was VI. C. (the cosy mystery).

  8. kathy d.

    That was a brilliant post and the appropos comments were excellent, too.
    A body of a famous person is found on the street next to a building.
    Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch will investigate every political connection the person ever had in his life, going back years and will talk to everyone in his life to figure out if it was murder, an accident or suicide, setting up a perfect scenario only to provide a gigantic twist at the end.
    J.K. Rowling/Richard Galbraith will describe every statue, tree and bush in London to get to the bottom of what happened to the person whose body is lying on the sidewalk.
    Salvo Montalbano will become infatuated with a key witness or suspect while investigating the death, will lie to Livia and will become enraged because his housekeeper hasn’t left his favorite pasta and pesce dish in the oven, while Stephen Sarterelli explains his curses and the origin of that dish in the end notes.
    Commissaire Adamsberg of Paris will find a 15th-century poem relating to the death, a link to the bubonic plague, an injured pigeon, an eccentric family with a member who speaks backwards,and a “wolfman” and a “vampire” dynasty related to the murder.

    • Kathy – Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. And I’ve absolutely loved the contributions that commenters have made. Yours is fabulous too. I can well imagine how each of those scenarios would come about too: I really can! Yours are witty and observant.

  9. kathy d.

    Thanks Margo. Your post was an inspiration. Now I’ll spend all day thinking about other possible scenarios. Guido Brunetti would read about Roman military strategy to find a key to what happened to the corpse, while Elettra Zorzi hacks into Rome’s version of the NSA and CIA to get information. Lacey Flint would swim across the English Channel to find the culprit abroad. Mma Ramotswe would have bush tea and sit on her porch thinking, then would visit everyone involved and find out how their families were doing.
    V.I. Warshawski would jump in her car and drive along Lake Shore Drive to the Chicago suburb where the murder took place, get into a fight with a local suspect, run away, end up diving into the Chicago city dump looking for clues, and then end up being locked into the suspect’s basement, just for starters.

    • Kathy – Those are all really inventive and clever variations on this theme! And what I like about them is that they keep very much to the spirit of the characters. Thanks for sharing these 🙂

  10. Brilliant post, Margot.
    A man walks into a bookstore.
    Frederyk Forsyth novel: he goes into the store because it’s the drop where his contact leaves the microdot, on page 536 of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, shelved in the musty history section.
    Chandler novel: Upon entering the store, Marlowe is eyed warily by the girl at the front desk, who quickly starts coming onto him. He affects a prissy attitude and poses as an eccentric book collector as he’s hot on the trail of a big-time rare book forger.
    Hemingway novel: the hero enters the store, looks around and tries to find Sylvia Beach. He hopes she has one more glassful left from her bottle of Jack Daniels from the party the night before in which he was the guest of honor.
    Lillian Jackson Braun novel: Qwilleran walks into the store and anticipates a good gossip with the owner and other folks who visit the store. His visit may or may not have anything to do with the case he’s working on.

    • Bryan – Thanks for the kind words. So glad you enjoyed this! And thanks so much for your absolutely wonderful contributions! Just spot-on!! I love it! And it’s so interesting how big a difference the sort of story can make isn’t it? Oh, these are great!

  11. A wonderful, fun post, Margot.

  12. I’m so delighted I decided to catch up on back blog posts. This is wonderful. And your readers are nearly as clever as you with these scenarios. He wakes up in the barn and the house has disappeared? I love it.

    • Mary – I couldn’t agree more about the contributions to this post in the comments! I always learn so much from comments anyway, and those ideas are priceless! Glad you enjoyed them.

  13. Pingback: You’re Changing All the Time* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

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