I Live Alone, Therefore I Am Suspicious…At Least on TV

One of the standard parts of the detective genre is the alibi.  Generally, the detective (amateur or professional) narrows down their list of suspects by figuring out where each person was when the crime took place, and these alibis are corroborated by witnesses until you get someone who was either lying or someone who has no alibi.  When playing the boardgame Clue, one tries to figure out which cards are not in anyone’s hand.

But what happens if a card is missing?  Not ‘missing’ as in ‘in the envelope at the centre of the game’, but actually missing?  Or what if someone drops one?

Well, in Clue, a missing card make the game easier, because it eliminates one suspect, weapon, or room immediately.  (The fun would be in not telling your friends that you are missing one!)  In other stories, the problem of missing cards is much worse.

With the exception of the three cards in the envelope , in Clue, all of the cards are held by a player.  The player acts as the alibi for the suspects.  In detective stories, people still seem to be the best alibis for suspects.  The typical dialogue goes something like this:

DETECTIVE: Where were you last night?

SUSPECT: I was at the library.

DETECTIVE: Anyone there see you?

SUSPECT: (desperately) Um, the librarian?  There was this lady at the front desk…

Pity the suspect who has no one to corroborate where they were.  In the scenario above, the librarian (or the lady at the front desk, who was probably not a librarian!) might not have spoken to the suspect, or they might not know the suspect, but they are a person who can confirm seeing the suspect.   At the very least, the suspect is relieved of providing further answers to the crime.  The same cannot be said for someone who spent the night at home.

DETECTIVE: Where were you last night?

SUSPECT: I was at home with my wife.

This is a decent alibi – except that family members have a vested interest in the suspect.  The wife would be questioned and likely further witnesses would be sought after – neighbours, for instance.

DETECTIVE: Where were you last night?

SUSPECT: I was at home, playing video-games with my roommate.

This is a better alibi, since in all likelihood a roommate or a neighbour probably would have less of a vested interest in the suspect than a family member.  The roommate would be questioned, but unless they were themselves suspicious, both the roommate and the suspect would be shelved in the case, at least until much later in the story.

However, what about someone who merely went home to an empty house?

DETECTIVE: Where were you last night?

SUSPECT: After work, I went straight home.  I went to bed around midnight.

DETECTIVE: Can anyone corroborate that?

SUSPECT: Um, my cat?  Well, I called my mom at nine o’clock.  My friend texted me at ten or so and I replied back.  I was on Facebook…

DETECTIVE: How does that prove you were at home?  You could have been anywhere.

SUSPECT:  But I wasn’t.

DETECTIVE: We need to bring you in for further questioning.

Now, I’m not saying that is how the actual police operate.  But detective stories would say so.  In television, books, and films, one of the drawbacks of being single and living alone is that you are more suspicious than other characters.

With technology, as in the above scenario, the old standbys like the phone are useless alibis.  Cell phones make it relatively easy to call from anywhere.  Smartphones make it simple to be online without being at a computer.  Neighbours are not as likely to know each other or even make small-talk with each other.

On the other hand, technology also makes it easier to corroborate alibis without people.  Most mobile devices have GPS trackers.  Security cameras can show people entering and leaving locations.  If my above suspect had been using Skype, their mother could corroborate that they were in fact at home.

How suspicious is a single person, really?  We’re not all mad scientists or criminal masterminds.  We might in fact be quite social, but not on the night that our neighbour’s dog got killed.  For some reason, being suspicious of single people defies scientific convention: a group is more threatening than one person.

DETECTIVE: Were you home alone for the entire night?


DETECTIVE: Do you have proof that you were at home at 9pm?

SUSPECT: The timestamp on my blogpost?

This entry was posted in Katy Pontificates, Katy Rants, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to I Live Alone, Therefore I Am Suspicious…At Least on TV

  1. Pingback: WEEK 6 – WHAT MEASURE IS A SCARY VILLAIN? | Katy by the Fireplace

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