Until the villain is discovered, every suspect is an antagonist. Those who apparently cooperate may be lying. Those who lie may do so to protect themselves or to protect others. In the latter case, the liar may be acting on knowledge or on fears and suspicions—guesswork—and the basis of the lies may have nothing to do with the crime in question.
Styx and Stones and A Mourning Wedding, with several characters trying to conceal the reasons they are vulnerable to blackmail.
Those who don’t cooperate are obstructive. Again, this behaviour may be self- or other-protective, with the same caveats, or may be sheer bloodymindedness.
All these, for their many and various reasons, are antagonistic to the investigator, whether amateur or professional (though one advantage of an amateur sleuth is that people may more easily confide their secrets to an unofficial ear than to a probing police detective).
Antagonism doesn’t end with the hunter and the hunted, of course. Obviously a murderer is the antagonist of his victim. In order to explore their relationship I like to see it at first hand, before the murder, rather than at second hand through the eyes of the detective. This means I often postpone the murder until quite late in the book rather than providing a body in Chapter One.
To confuse the issue, plenty of characters are needed, each with his or her own reasons for enmity with the victim, the villain, and each other.
Sheer Folly, I myself didn’t know which of two characters was going to be the villain and which the victim until I wrote the penultimate chapter.
It’s a lot of fun throwing a whole bunch of antagonists together at a country house party, or in a concert hall, or at the Tower of London...
I haven’t even touched on two other sources of conflict: Local police don’t always want their cases to be handed over to Scotland Yard; and neither sort of police welcomes the interference of an amateur, however well-meaning and occasionally helpful. Both of those also add a little spice to the story.
|Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies. The paperback edition of Superfluous Women is now available to pre-order.|