Let’s start with the title. It’s usually a crime and a location: Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, Murder on the Links, Murder in Mesopatamia.
Well, it can really be any two nouns connected by a preposition: Ordeal by Innocence, Appointment with Death, Evil under the Sun.
Now onto our cast of characters. Dame Agatha will have made sure that each of these has a different title and occupation so as not to confuse you, the reader. There will be a a bluff colonel, a vivacious actress, and a scattered array of nobility.
Typically, the earlier the murder occurs, the better the book is—we don’t want to get too attached to the victim. Plus a murder mystery without a murder is boring.
The victim will be killed in some impractical and outlandish way, like getting shot by an Amazonian blow dart while on an airplane (yes, this is a real one) or being stabbed by a rare Bengalese letter opener.
Lots of mysterious events ensue; don’t worry, 80% of these will be explained by mild personal problems the characters won’t feel comfortable sharing until the climax. Probably the colonel and governess are planning to elope, the Duke is bankrupt, and the doctor is being blackmailed about something not related (or is it?).
Twenty pages from the end, Agatha will succumb to pressure from her editor and insert one of her more lucrative detectives into the book to solve the crime.
He will ask a few seemingly unrelated questions about the color of the victim’s shoes, or what day of the week the nearby club serves minestrone soup. You can feel the clues coming together in your brain, and you’re on the verge of piecing it all together. You just need one more second to ponder it before you reach your eureka moment.
At this point your boyfriend will probably interrupt your reading to show you a video game trailer he found.
Ignore him and keep reading. A few pages on, Poirot will reveal that THE MURDERER WAS TOTALLY THAT GUY YOU THOUGHT IT WAS THE WHOLE TIME.
Well, you thought it was him after the clue with the sugar bowl but then the duchess said something suspicious to the valet and you forgot about him. Anyway, he was definitely one of the top five people you suspected. You’ll have to read the next book to see if your detective skills can improve.