The butler did it!

What the origin of this trope? Charlie Chan maybe? Suggestions…

Straight from the Straight Dope:

Here’s Mental Floss’s take on it:

Thanks. And I did do a search. As usual my google-fu sucks.

^ Should’ve had the butler do it. :smiley:

Did you hear about the rich guy who died from drinking poisoned wine? It turns out the bottler did it.

A couple of older threads on the subject.

Was it always the butler? (Detective novel cliché)

The butler did it.

I still haven’t come across anything more definitive than saying it emerged from forgotten 1920s British novels. Notice that Cecil’s thread came after the first one and he, um, borrowed from that earlier thread.

But not as blatantly as that Mental Floss writer ripped off Cecil’s column. That’s bordering on plagiarism.

“He died from too much cholesterol.”
“The butter did it.”

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelly has a servant girl take the fall for the murder of Frankenstein’s little brother.

Maybe she saw a Teutonic tendency for the nobility to distrust the working class and extrapolated from there.

The implication being that a servant couldn’t possibly be a worth-while person. I hope Mr. Van Dine is in hell now suffering under the withering gaze of Mervyn Bunter.

I get what you’re saying. But Bunter is *not *a worth-while person, because we never meet him as a person. And that’s true for Albert Campion’s Magersfontein Lugg and Hercule Poirot’s Captain Hastings and most of the other classic mystery sidekicks. For that matter, neither is S. S. van Dine, who was the supposed sidekick and narrator of the Philo Vance mysteries. They are not there to be persons, and giving them character would take away from the time needed to make the suspects worth suspecting.

Same with servants. Of course they could have reasons for wanting to kill the second Viscount, but none that would play into a novel of deduction. Their lives were kept so strictly separated that the necessary connectedness of the suspects could never be applied to them with any believability. The structures of classic fair-play mysteries may have been artificial but those class barriers were totally real. Might as well write a baseball novel that is won by the kicker making a field goal. Every reader would call that a cheat, but it’s not a reflection on the worth of football players.