I was recently reading a mystery novel and rather quickly fingered the woman who was much later revealed to be the murder. I'd like to say it's because I'm such a genius, or because I can assemble evidence so well, but that's not true. I didn't ever figure out WHY she committed the murder or how she did it either. I was just sure that she was the one.
How did I "know"? When I think back, what first made me think, "It's her?"
Well, she is 35 years old. The sleuth/protagonist went to high school with her. She is a grown woman, same age as he is, a divorced woman with 15 years of a professional career. And she looks her age. And yet from beginning to almost the end, the protagonist and every other man in the book calls her "a girl." "The girl who called you the other day." "The pretty girl you're dating." "The girl who kissed me."
It was off tonally. In 2010 (when the book takes place), even high school basketball players (under 18!) are called "women." Only children (and old ladies -- "The girls and I are meeting at the senior center for bridge" :) are called "girls". Certainly in books where words are carefully chosen, that usage is going to stick out, first as offensive, and then as odd.
So what was going on? I suspect that this was a subliminal attempt to make her seem unthreatening (and thus hide her as the villain). And if it were just a couple times, or only an older man or woman had used that term for her, or if she were more girlish, maybe that would have worked. But in fact, it backfired, because after three or four such references (especially by the protagonist), I cottoned onto the tactic, at least subconsciously.
Okay, examples? When have you read a book and for -the wrong reasons- figured out something that you weren't supposed to figure out? When has a best friend been just a bit too loyal, and you thought, "Uh-oh, he's going to betray his friend for sure"? When has a mentor been just too giving? Or when has a hated boss done something that makes you think he's being set up?
I'm thinking if we can figure this out, we might be able to write "around" those savvy, suspicious, infuriating readers (like us) who bypass evidence and clues and go right to our voice and word choice to solve our secrets.
I remember my kid coming in to the living room and seeing a short scene in a film, and saying, "So John Travolta's the villain?" I asked how he knew that, and he said, "Because he's smoking a cigarette!"