While it’s true that both professional detectives and amateurs consider inconsistencies or anomalies, both niggle and notes are both referred to more often by the amateur detectives in our books. It’s probably an attempt on the author’s part to make the cozy mystery amateur detective look more mindful, attentive, and analytic.
Niggle, though not technically a mystery term, is an interesting word. It comes to us through Scandinavian in the early 1600s. It means a persistent anxiety. A suspicion. An annoyance or discomfort. Something you can’t shake off. Niggle can be a noun or a verb.
Just as professional detectives have hunches, so do amateurs, but amateurs seem to comment on them more. And things bother them more. They niggle. A fact doesn’t jibe. A comment niggles as the sleuth tries to recall why it might be important. Or a clue niggles at them as to how it fits with something else.
Niggling is at the root of sleuths figuring out the puzzle. If everything fell into place easily and smoothly and accurately, where would the story be? An author plants the clues in strategic places. Some of those niggle because they don’t seem to fit with other facts. But our amateur sleuth knows to pay attention to the little internal voice, the niggle, that urges further examination.
Notes are another essential part of our amateur’s toolkit. Oh, sure, police detectives take notes, too, and they will have scenes of examining them for patterns. But that happens even more frequently with amateur sleuths. They have a notebook, or a computer file, or backs of envelopes or write on their palms. Or maybe they use all these ways to keep track of the information flow.
Amateur sleuths pore over their notes. They cut them apart and reorganize information. They tie their notes to a timeline of activity. They highlight, circle, and underline things that niggle, things that seem insignificant but are likely of import. Some amateurs categorize notes from the get-go; others have a jumble of notes from clues listed as encountered.
Every amateur detective knows the minutiae of a murder case is overwhelming. Notes help with clarifying thinking as well as acting a central repository for information. The sleuths in cozies, especially, seem to feel the need to write notes for examination and re-examination.
What does Frieda think of her new car in today’s episode of “The List”?
“Now don’t go getting all pinch-lipped on me, Frieda. I know how much you hate to change things, but it’s time. As to the car, hell, past time! Clyde told me the last time I took the Beemer in for a tune-up that it didn’t have much life expectancy left. He’s the one who advised me to get you another car. You said that’s the only garage you ever trusted, so I thought Clyde’s word would be good enough for you. Trust me, she drives like a dream. You’re gonna love ‘er once you get used to where all the buttons are! Wanna go give it a spin now?”
“Not really. Though you probably should move it around to those extra parking spaces by the tennis court in back. Was that smart to park it on the road out there? You know how people speed down this dinky little road. I don’t want it wrecked before I even have a chance to drive it.”