Rain as a Catalyst in Murder Mysteries

Elements of a Good Mystery Story: Rain as a Catalyst in Murder Mysteries

In literature, the elements of a good mystery story often transcend the puzzle at its core, creating an atmospheric depth that can chill a reader to the bone. One prevalent yet oft-overlooked element is weather―more specifically, rain.

Rain has an uncanny ability to set a somber tone, act as an ominous prelude to the macabre, and serve as a character in its own right. From the relentless downpours of Ketchikan, Alaska, in L. Ron Hubbard’s Chee-Chalker to the drenched urban gloom of Raymond Chandler’s Killer in the Rain, precipitation proves to be an accomplice in crime, setting the stage for the dark deeds that lie at the heart of these gripping books about rain and misdoings.

The Chee-Chalker―A Case Study

The Chee-Chalker―A Case StudyIn The Chee-Chalker, L. Ron Hubbard utilizes the ever-present Alaskan rain to craft an enveloping atmosphere integral to the narrative’s unfolding. The protagonist, Norton, finds both torment and solace in the cold rain on his face as he grapples with the harsh realities of his profession. The author writes:

“Norton was glad he had gone. He wanted some more cold rain on his face. He wished corpses weren’t a part of a lawman’s business. At times like these he intensely regretted the small gold disc pinned to his wallet. That small gold disc sent him to such unseemly places.”

Here, the rain is not only a relentless companion, drenching Norton as he wishes the grim aspects of his job away, but it also represents a cleansing force, a fleeting escape from the burden of his duty. The rain against Norton’s face is a poignant counterbalance to the weight of the gold badge that sentences him to confront death and darkness. In this heavy downpour, readers find a lawman’s yearning for purity in a profession muddied by the inescapable presence of mortality, making the atmospheric conditions of Ketchikan a reflection of the inner storms that rage within him. The continuous rainfall in this remote region seeps into the very bones of the story, creating a persistent chill of the mystery that Norton is seeking to unravel. Listen to a section of the story and the rain in the following audiobook excerpt.

Rain in the World of Raymond Chandler

Rain in the World of Raymond ChandlerChandler’s Killer in the Rain paints an image of rain that is almost suffocating, with its sieging presence and ever-constant force against the protagonist. Chandler writes:

“The rain splashed knee-high off the sidewalks … I had a big flask of Scotch with me. I used it often enough to keep interested.”

In these soaked scenes, the rain is more than mere setting―it is a tactile, relentless barrage that compliments the internal numbness of the detective’s journey through a murky world of vice and violence. The weather’s assault on the material world parallels the assault on the spirit of those who navigate the storm within and without.

The Chilling Presence in Who’ll Stop the Rain

The Chilling Presence in Who’ll Stop the RainThe rain in Don Donovan’s evocative passage from Who’ll Stop the Rain takes on a spectral quality, transforming the environment into one where the raindrops seem complicit in the night’s nefarious deeds. Donovan’s words:

“I felt the eyes of the dead opening under heavy lids to watch us pass by in the rainy night, somehow knowing we were on our way to do murder” illustrates rain as an observer, a nearly sentient presence in the unfolding tale of murder. The rain’s rhythmic patter lulls the living into the complacency of routine, making the surprise of crime even more shocking.

Rain in Other Thrilling Contexts

Rain’s thematic use is not confined to mystery novels; it has seeped into the broader spectrum of thrillers and even non-fiction. Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent and Capote’s In Cold Blood show us that whether it’s the backdrop to espionage or the grim precursor to real-life tragedy, rain has a universal application in heightening narrative tension. The natural chaos of a storm can reflect the turmoil of a crime, drawing parallels between the human condition and the unforgiving elements.

Shawshank Redemption and the Symbolic Cloudburst

Even the redemption arc in Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption is punctuated by a significant rainfall, symbolizing purification and rebirth. The iconic scene of Andy Dufresne’s escape to freedom beneath a torrent of rain epitomizes the cathartic power the element holds in storytelling. Once an impediment, rain becomes a symbol of cleansing—washing away years of wrongful imprisonment and sprouting seeds of newfound hope.

And, albeit thrilling in a different way, how can we forget Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain”!


Rain in murder mysteries serves as a multifaceted symbol that can obscure, reveal, cleanse, or, indeed, judge. It is the perfect metaphor for the layers of intrigue and complexity that define the genre. Whether it is the pervasive drizzle over a sleepy town or the torrential downpour accompanying dark deeds, rain’s role in the narrative is as essential as the mystery itself. It reminds us that in literature, as in life, even the skies tell stories, and every storm has its own tale.

The next time rain patters against your window, consider it more than an atmospheric touch; it might just be setting the stage for a story with turns as unexpected and paths as intriguing as the water’s journey through the streets of a city shrouded in mystery.

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