And I’m back—after, wow, more than a year now. Who could have imagined what we’re going through now back in March ’19? Où sont les neiges de l’année dernière?
Anyway, some housekeeping: the Columbo mystery in that long-ago last post remains unsolved, unfortunately. I’m still waiting for that flash of revelation, to no avail thus far…
Now on to the subject at hand. I’ve recently been watching some great mystery shows—Death in Paradise’s 9th (!) season and some reruns of Monk—and it got me wondering: when is it OK for a mystery-writer to ‘steal’ a solution from another mystery-writer?
SPOILERS for Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House.
Many writers, for example, have borrowed set-up and solution to Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House: Murderer X apparently kills Person A by accident, in an attempt actually to kill Person B. In reality, B = X and wanted to kill A the entire time.
Whether or not that solution started with Christie, who used it multiple (maybe too many?) times, we see it reused in Ellery Queen, Christianna Brand, and tons of TV shows.
But when is that kind of borrowing OK, in your opinion? Only when the writer changes things to some degree?
Well, how about another example? Two Death in Paradise episodes reuse almost-entirely-unchanged solutions from John Dickson Carr—one from a well-known Carr novel and one from a lesser-known short story—but give them different set-ups. Similarly, the Monk episode “…Goes to the Circus” borrows a solution from a famous Christie novel. (Even Jonathan Creek, which had mostly original solutions, borrowed some a few times.) Is that OK?
I’m not sure. Of course, most (all?) classic-mystery-fans like brilliant, inventive, original solutions, but many (most?) DiP and Monk watchers probably haven’t read that many Christies or any Carrs. And the surrounding plot is different.
And what about if a writer just didn’t know his plot wasn’t original? (I don’t think that’s the case with my TV examples above, though; they’re too close.)
Would appreciate your thoughts on this. I’m just not sure.