Created By: AlexRandom on July 11, 2011

Red Radical Red Herring

A character with a radical ideology introduced as red herring in a mystery story

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In Mystery Fiction, especially in "Cozy" settings, we usually have a cast of characters of upper or uppper-middle class, and a crime against one of them, often the richest: a murdered millionaire, or a stolen gem from a Duchess. All the main characters, and the detectives as well, generally support the existing social order. This trope applies when one of the characters makes himself (or herself, but usually it's a man) suspicious by having radical political views, such as Communism or Anarchism. After all (the other characters think), if this guy supports a proletarian revolution lynching the plutocrats, why wouldn't he murder the millionaire? If he thinks property is theft, why not relieve the Duchess of her property?

This is invariably a Red Herring, and the true crime was commited for conventional "private" motives (probably greed, in the examples used), with nothing political behind it.


  • Two from Chesterton's Father Brown stories: In "The Flying Stars", a journalist with socialist leanings is suspected of stealing diamonds. In "The Crime of the Communist", a Communist professor is suspected of murdering three millionaires. In both cases they are innocent.

  • Also two from Agatha Christie. In "Death on the Nile", one of the suspects of murdering the rich heiress is a young man with radical left-wing views. In "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" there are two suspects with radical idieologies, one of them left-wing, the other one right-wing. All of them are red herrings.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • July 11, 2011
    An episode of Murdoch Mysteries featured a young communist who specifically singled out the Asshole Victim as the sort of capitalist he particularly despised.
  • July 11, 2011
    Title is awkward-sounding and kind of redundant. Red Red Herring would be funnier IMO.
  • July 11, 2011
    I agree Red Red Herring is snappier. It is not obvious without context what the first "Red" means, but I don't think it's a big problem, so I'll change it if the trope is launched.
  • July 12, 2011
    The X Files did this frequently, introducing characters with radical ideologies (usually of the Animal Wrongs Group variety) as red herrings in the mystery of the week format.
  • July 12, 2011
    What about Radical(ist) Red herring?
  • July 12, 2011
    As soon as the journalist with socialist leanings in question was suspected of murder, Brown wasted no time thoroughly debunking the very idea of a radical communist stealing anything, so the trope may be considered subverted. Besides, this guy wasn't that much of a Red Herring since the audience already knew Flambeau did it.
  • July 12, 2011
    Clue comes to mind, with the line "Communism was just a red herring" appearing in all three endings. Not sure if that actually fits this trope or not. I'll let you be the judge.
  • July 12, 2011
    Ayn Rand's play Night of January 16th has this.
  • July 12, 2011
    • In Twelve Monkeys the titular group the 12 Monkeys turns out to be an animal rights group, completely unrelated to the virus.
  • July 12, 2011
    Also, I think Red Herring Red is a bit less awkward sounding.
  • July 12, 2011
    If we haven't already got this, you may be on to a winner here, because it comes up a lot in late 19th/early 20th century detective fiction. Some examples:-
    • In another Father Brown story, The Ghost of Gideon Wise, a Communist confesses to murdering a millionaire, but it turns out that the millionaire isn't dead and the "Communist" is actually working for him - the "murder" was set up so they could alibi each other for the murder of two other businessmen who had refused to join the miilionaire's cartel.
    • In the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of The Six Napoleons, one of the characters suggests that it must have been anarchists who smashed the bust of Napoleon in his shop. It turns out to be nothing of the sort.
    • In Dorothy L. Sayers' Have His Carcass, the murder victim is a gigolo who believes he is related to the Romanov family. His current sugar-mummy blames the dastardly Bolsheviks for his death, but it's nothing to do with them, although indirectly the alleged royal connection turns out to be a clue.

  • July 12, 2011
    In the Nancy Drew game Resorting to Danger, the receptionist comes under suspicion when Nancy finds out he has a subscription to a far-left magazine. He claims he'd gotten the subscription back in his college days, long before he abandoned activism in favor of a nice, safe salary.
  • July 12, 2011
    • This appears in several Lord Peter Wimsey novels:
      • Have His Carcase (mentioned in captainbrass2's comment)
      • In Clouds of Witness, a strange man's footprints are found leading away from the body. After some investigation, Lord Peter discovers that they belong to a radical socialist agitator who was also the murder victim's rival in love. He turns out to be innocent; he was showing up at the house to elope with his beloved, and he found the corpse, panicked, and ran away.