So, you find yourself in a typical, charming village with picture-postcard views and nosy, backbiting neighbours.
Or – perhaps – you have ventured on a weekend at a country house, whether in the bosom of your witch’s brew of a family, over at a friend’s, or even at the home of a mortal enemy (for complicated reasons which are nobody’s business but your own, Officer).
You might be travelling by boat or plane or, most likely, a train. You may even, poor sap, find yourself trapped on an isolated island, with a storm coming, the boats all full of holes and nary a rubber ring, inflatable shark or a set of orange armbands to be had.
But, wherever you are, the inevitable happens; somebody is murdered. And, suddenly, you are within a small group of suspects, one of whom must have done it: and, uh oh, now the police officer/private investigator/local busybody/gang of pesky kids is looking, all squirrelly, in your direction.
It’s a tight spot. But there are a few helpful tips that you can use to minimise the chances of being fingered for the murder and forced either into an exhaustive written confession (which is murder on the wrists) and subsequent suicide; or, worse, a terribly embarrassing showdown in the drawing room.
- Induce the detective to fall in love with you
This is your absolute best bet but, unfortunately, is only likely to be useful if you are A). a woman and B). heart-meltingly beautiful, as female detectives are both considerably scarcer than the male and statistically much less likely to fall, headlong, for the main suspect; while gay or bisexual GAD detectives are rare to non-existent (or, at least, required to remain firmly closeted – although you could be in for an subtextual quickie, if you play your cards right).
If you do happen to meet the criteria, you will need to act fast. Determine, first of all, whether your detective is more likely to go for Noble Stoicism, Cheerful Pluck or Goopy-Eyed Helplessness and present yourself accordingly (there are classes available in most small villages or send for my pamphlet, How to be a Type: in ten easy lessons, only £5.99 plus postage). Ensure that you meet often, even if this requires suspicious behaviour on your part – it’s a gamble, but the piling on of suspicious circumstances and accusation is likely to fan the flames of mild attraction into a storming great knight complex. If you can manage a few meaningful squeezes of the hand or one brief but devastating kiss, you’re golden: and whatever the evidence against you, you can be sure that it will ultimately be pointed at somebody else, even if the detective has to twist himself into pretzels to do so.
- Be the subplot love interest
Should the detective prove resistant to your charms, incompatible, married or even more repellent than a death sentence, there is still a way to use Cupid to your advantage.
In almost every mystery in which the detective remains chaste, some other love interest is required. Why else, after all, would the public read a detective novel? Extensive research has revealed that, while you can omit fair-cluing, characterisation, detail, atmosphere and credibility of plot without much harm to sales, if you forget to shoehorn in some hearts and flowers, the readership will leave in droves and console themselves with endless Patricia Wentworth rereads.
The great advantage of this for a suspect is that it is very rare for the charming young couple to be found guilty in the end. This is all part of the ultimate righting of the universe. Though you may be kept apart all novel long by financial difficulties, tyrannical relatives, highly implausible misunderstandings or having nothing whatsoever in common; though you may come under heavy suspicion, even to the point of lying, evidence tampering or full-on, melodramatic confession; though you may be forced to utter the most ridiculous inanities or act in ways conducive to a general vomiting, it will all be worth it in the end, as money rains down from heaven, the tyrannical relatives have been conveniently mown down and you can shrug death off like a mild cold and ride away, happily, into the sunset.
Be warned however: Writers are irritatingly fond of a twist, rendering this a far more risky option than number 1. Lovers in cahoots, for example, have been known to shortcut their own happy ending: so try not to step in any cahoots.
- Be the Comic Relief
This option is a good one as it is essentially open to everyone. It is not even essential to be funny. Try any of the following, possibly in combination:
Having an outlandish name, e.g. Foopering, Gotobed, Lambert Ostwhistle, Lord Snetterton-Snetterton-Smythe. You are then practically guaranteed to not be the murderer – unless this turns out to be a pseudonym – as a reader who discovers at the end that the murderer was none other than : “Oswald Englebert Sproingg, by gad !” is a reader who will bin any subsequent books by that author.
Speaking solely in ‘Oik for beginners’, ’Cock-er-knee’, ‘Oirish’, ‘Hoots-mon’ or any other dialect that has never existed outside of the author’s apostrophe-obsessed brain.
Being a twitchy, hair-pin-dropping, giddy maiden aunt (even more effective if you’re not actually a maiden aunt but simply under the delusion of giddy aunt-hood).
Being a cud-chewing local policeman (you will need outsize feet or, least, shoes; pick from the ‘fledgling canoe’ section of your local shop).
Puffing yourself up into the full pomposity of a blustering Colonel. Baldness is optional but whiskers are mandatory – and try not to take your blood pressure medication. You’d be amazed how far a face like a pickled beetroot will go to clear you of any serious suspicion.
As ever, there are risks – for example, falling into the least-likely suspect trap. Try not to let your eyes glimmer briefly with unexpected malice or intelligence, thicken your accent whenever necessary and, as a last resort, have a go at gaping like a fish or falling into a series of bushes. After all, even the most comical of murderers usually retains some dignity.
- Be the Detective
An obvious one, you might have thought, but there are far too many instances in which either the lead detective or an investigating officer have proven to be guilty or involved, for this to be a completely safe bet. Not to mention that the detective is required to ratiocinate (in company, too), to make periodic gnomic utterances and maintain either a studied eccentricity or a tightly-reigned dullness throughout.
In short, only undertake this if you are prepared for a lot of hard work, the ever-present fatuities of a Watson, a risk of laryngitis from the closing monologue and the slim, but real, possibility, after all that, to have to reveal yourself as the culprit and haul yourself off by your own collar.
- Be the Watson/narrator
This – with certain well-publicised exceptions – is one of the surest ways to avoid being discovered to be the murderer, particularly if you’re an old friend of the detective’s and/or a bear of very little brain.
The only real problem is that the sustained lack of mental effort, combined with the necessity to continually marvel, goggle and ejaculate (the other definition) at the detective, may lead to stagnation of the mind, dribbling and/or eventual exile to Argentina.
- Be a serf
This is an excellent option, from the point of view of guilt-avoidance, as servants are usually discounted en masse in the early stages: sometimes for genuine, logical reasons, sometimes just because it would be beneath the detective’s dignity to thow away all those deductive fireworks on an inferior. Even if this is not the case, the cook, skivvy or butler is usually only used to pad out a suspect list which might otherwise point, a little too obviously, to either Dr. Affable-Slaughterer or the family lawyer, Mr. M. Bezzler.
There are, as ever, drawbacks. For example:
You may turn out to be an imposter – probably the long-lost relative of someone or other, with a grudge is sufficient to justify many long hours learning at which precise angle to lay the fish knife; the pronunciation and correct usage of ‘Lor’ luv-a duck!’ and how to ruin your elbows in cleaning the silver.
You may, inadvertently, see or hear something suspicious – for god’s sake do not even hint at this as you will shortly be featuring as Second Corpse
However innocent and sweet-natured you may be to begin with, you could find yourself, by the end of the book, in such a state of murderous rage towards your betters that you accidentally inspire a sequel as you work your way, alphabetically, through Debrett’s, with a gallon or so of arsenic and the swish of a satisfyingly solid silver candlestick.
- Be the victim
The main drawback to this one is obvious enough not to require elaboration. It is also not foolproof as a method of avoiding Murderer status.
Some possible scenarios include: mistaken identity; mistaken assumption of death; some elaborate, and quite frankly barking, set-up in which one or more traps are laid to be sprung after the culprit’s death, presumably so that they can have themselves a bit of a wicked chuckle, while consigned to the vast dullness of eternity.
Only choose this option if you have been weighing up all the others in increasing despair and decided that it’s best to just cut your losses and exit the whole mess by the fastest route possible.
 B. is not strictly necessary, but you do have to qualify as reasonably attractive for this option. Detectives are not allowed to fall in love with your inner beauty, as this would take far too long and leave no room for floor plans.
 ‘Statistically’ should be taken here with a pinch of Disraeli
 I’m pretty sure I read it somewhere…
 Although, what takes place behind closed doors is your own business (and that of a small, dedicated section of the internet)