Closed circle of suspects

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, a murder occurs among a group of strangers in a house on an isolated island

The closed circle of suspects is a common element of detective fiction, and the subgenre that employs it can be referred to as the closed circle mystery.[1][2][3] Less precisely, this subgenre – works with the closed circle literary device – is simply known as the "classic", "traditional" or "cozy" detective fiction.[4][5]

It refers to a situation in which for a given crime (usually a murder), there is a quickly established, limited number of suspects, each with credible means, motive, and opportunity.[1][2][6][7] In other words, it is known that the criminal is one of the people present at or nearby the scene, and the crime could not have been committed by some outsider.[3][8] The detective has to solve the crime, figuring out the criminal from this pool of suspects, rather than searching for an entirely unknown perpetrator.[1][3]


This type of narrative originated with the British detective fiction.[3][9] Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) has been credited as a work that started this trend.[9][10] Other writers of that period, dating to the first half of the 20th century, a time known as the Golden Age of Detective Fiction (or more general, mystery fiction), reliant on the closed circle and related literary devices include Dorothy L. Sayers, G. K. Chesterton, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Americans S. S. Van Dine and Ellery Queen.[4][11][12]

Those early closed circle mysteries preferred a common setting: a British country house.[3][8][9][11][13] The country house was such a common element that it gave another name to what is essentially the same genre and the literary device, the "country house mystery".[14] The persons involved were also commonly part of the upper class, generally the landed gentry.[3][7][11][13] Other settings than the country house are also possible, and many have been used in the closed circle mysteries even by Christie herself: a ship, a train, an island, and so on.[8][10] Nonetheless, the requirements for this mystery enforce certain limitations on this genre, and make certain settings, particularly those that explain limited access outsiders would have, and characters with an upper class background – much more common than the others.[13][15] The numbers of suspects vary, from a group as small as four or five, to all the passengers of a train, coach or wagon.[8]

After Second World War the closed circle mystery became less common, as other types of crime novels rose to prominence.[16] Nonetheless other writers have continued to use this device till modern days, for example Rex Stout, Lucille Kallen, Cyril Hare, Jonathan Gash, Simon Brett.[14]

While the closed circle is a common device in literary fiction, it is a much less common occurrence in real world investigations.[3]

Country house mystery[edit]

Examples of the "Country house mystery" from the Golden Age are:

Other "Closed Circle... mysteries"[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "P.D. James: About the Author P.D. James". Retrieved 2011-09-21.
  2. ^ a b Robert S. Paul (20 November 1991). Whatever happened to Sherlock Holmes: detective fiction, popular theology, and society. SIU Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-8093-1722-6. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Marvin A. Carlson (November 1993). Deathtraps: the postmodern comedy thriller. Indiana University Press. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-253-31305-8. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  4. ^ a b David Levinson (18 March 2002). Encyclopedia of crime and punishment. SAGE. p. 1016. ISBN 978-0-7619-2258-2. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  5. ^ Patricia Mellencamp (September 1992). High anxiety: catastrophe, scandal, age & comedy. Indiana University Press. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-253-20735-7. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  6. ^ P. D. James (3 May 2011). Talking about Detective Fiction. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-307-74313-8. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  7. ^ a b Rosemary Herbert (2003). Whodunit: a who's who in crime & mystery writing. Oxford University Press US. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-19-515763-5. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d John Curran (23 February 2010). Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making. HarperCollins. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-0-06-198836-3. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  9. ^ a b c Patrick Anderson (6 February 2007). The triumph of the thriller: how cops, crooks, and cannibals captured popular fiction. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-345-48123-8. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  10. ^ a b David Lehman (February 2000). The perfect murder: a study in detection. University of Michigan Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-472-08585-9. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Martha Hailey Dubose; Margaret C. Thomas (2000). Women of mystery: the lives and works of notable women crime novelists. Macmillan. p. 350. ISBN 978-0-312-20942-1. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  12. ^ John Charles; Joanna Morrison; Candace Clark (2002). The mystery readers' advisory: the librarian's clues to murder and mayhem. ALA Editions. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8389-0811-2. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  13. ^ a b c Luther P. Carpenter (1973). G. D. H. Cole: an intellectual biography. CUP Archive. pp. 122–123. ISBN 9780521087025. GGKEY:5YJTYF0EETQ. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  14. ^ a b Earl F. Bargainnier (1987). Comic crime. Popular Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-87972-384-2. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  15. ^ Charles J. Rzepka (7 October 2005). Detective fiction. Polity. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-0-7456-2942-1. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  16. ^ Anne Mullen; Emer O'Beirne (January 2000). Crime scenes: detective narratives in European culture since 1945. Rodopi. p. 161. ISBN 978-90-420-1233-2. Retrieved 21 September 2011.