The Tell-tale Clue

Mysteries, thrillers, adventure stories – they can all contain clues. Some clues are left by accident, some are deliberate. Some clues are brilliant, some not so much.

This doesn’t have to affect your enjoyment, though. Once you learn to appreciate the funny side of clues, they can bring a little extra humour to your reading.

Here’s my run-down of some of the funniest clues in books.

Image of an investigation board.
Photo by cottonbro on

How many of these unlikely clues have you spotted?

The accidental clue

Let’s start with the ‘Back off!’ warning. Is this tactic ever successful? Often, it is used to narrow down the suspect pool. Because it gives a second timeframe for alibis. 

Doesn’t the criminal realise they are helping the investigator?

The indiscriminate clue

Next up is the treasure map with the location clearly marked. A map can be a great clue, if it only means something to the person who made it. But let me ask you this:

If you were making a map to something you didn’t want anyone else to find, would you actually put that something on the map?

– The Lost Cargo, book three in The Lost Mysteries

The indiscriminate clue, part two

Here we have the riddle. This is another clue that can work, where the riddle only means something to specific people. I’ve used this concept myself. But a riddle that can be solved by anyone prepared to do a bit of research is a baffling idea. 

It’s always fun to work out a puzzle though so this is one clue we can happily ignore.

The suspicious clue

By which I mean the diversionary tactic. When someone offers possible explanations for things that don’t fit, we know they can’t be trusted. If there is no reason for them to know the answer, why don’t they just say they don’t know?

Odd behaviour is a clue, too!

The well-prepared clue

I draw your attention to the solid alibi. This is a clue that doesn’t seem like a clue. It’s sometimes used as the main character’s motivation. If the police discount a suspect, that gives the amateur detective a reason to get involved. 

But for a reader, it’s a clue. I mean, if the police came to question you about a crime that occurred last night, would you have an alibi? With a reliable witness to corroborate your story?

The self-incriminating clue

Next up is the preparatory purchase made shortly before the crime. It’s another clue that can be used to good effect in certain circumstances. If someone else makes the purchase, for example, it can temporarily throw the detective off the scent. The villain can slow us down with this tactic.

A master criminal would make a plan, and purchase what they needed, well in advance. Or get it from a dubious character who won’t keep records. If they haven’t considered those options, maybe they’re in the wrong line of work.

The most unlikely clue

I present to you: the anagram. Why would anyone deliberately leave a clue that could be solved by any random person? It seems unlikely an investigator would take this clue too seriously. And I strongly suggest you don’t either!

What types of book clues make you laugh?

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