As usual, this is a work in progress, so feel free to complete it in the comments! Many of those mystery books have been mentioned before, but I’ve been trying to compose a more formal (and hopefully accurate) list of the episodes which may have been based on them.
Have a very happy New Year, everyone! 🙂
As it’s been said many times, there are a lot of literary set-ups used in TM.
A particularly subtle example involves fairy tales, since some elements have been used as inspiration.
As it is, the woods appear often in the show and they may be related to meeting a supernatural being, for instance Grace seeing O’Laughlin’s ghost in ‘My Bloody Valentine’.
Some other times, the character who entered in the woods meets someone dangerous in a pattern reminding of certain well-known tales. In ‘White as The Driven Snow’, Grace escapes from a certain death by running into the snowy woods and meets a seemingly helpful woman who drives her into a cabin, before revealing herself as the kidnapper who wanted her dead. Similarly, Snow White (whose skin is “as white as snow”) escapes the queen’s death order to run into the dwarves’ cabin but falls finally into one of her traps…
Same with ‘Redwoods’: the two victims met the ill-intentioned psychopathic cop in the woods, like Little Red Riding Hood met the wolf. Afterwards he tried to get into the investigation but was unmasked in the cabin he had been planning to use to rape/kill his victim. It sounds like the wolf’s plan which included impersonating a benevolent character, the grandmother, to get the little girl into the house. Amusingly, there are two ends to this tale: in Perrault’s version, the foolish girl was eaten (like the first victim who was killed), but in a kinder adaptation, a huntsman saved her and her grandmother and the wolf was tricked (Jane made the surviving girl remember what happened and therefore saved her, while Lisbon tricked the man and killed him).
The episode ‘Redemption’ is also clearly based on ‘Hansel and Gretel’: the victim’s daughter and son (called “Ansel”) suffer from parental abandonment; later Jane uses a mysterious house to lure his mark in (his own gingerbread house) and a wicked witch ends up inside, in the person of the greedy killer.
The idea of a lost shoe is a nod to ‘Cinderella’ in ‘Ruby Slipper’ (an allusion to the glass slipper), because once Jane finds Archie whom it truly belonged to, the younger man got the opportunity to have a better, more fulfilling life, instead of being bullied.
Last, not least, more recently Jane played Hop-o’-My-Thumb with soda bottles to help the team follow him in order to rescue Lisbon; when he tried to save her, he used the reflection from a rearview mirror, making him a knight in shinning armor…
But probably the most fruitful source of inspiration for TM can be found in classic murder mysteries: it’s rather normal since the show is a procedural, in addition of Jane being rather old-fashioned. Not to mention that some of his primary influences are Columbo and Sherlock Holmes…
The pilot: Conan Doyle’s ‘A Study in Scarlet’ (1887), Sherlock Holmes’s first adventure. The great detective is introduced as a strange man with mysterious motives and methods (like Jane’s reckless behavior is first introduced to viewers during the Tolliver’s case). Later, during the fake RJ case, Jane deduces that the blood smiley on the wall has been left by the real murderer as a red herring, in the same way Holmes infers that the writing in blood on the wall is a distraction.
Red Tide: all the young suspects are guilty and they made a pact to cover the murder, like in Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient-Express’ (1934). The reference is twisted, since the victim here is innocent, whereas Ratchett was a nasty former kidnapper in the book… the vicious building contractor who seduced the underage victim into a statutory rape-based relationship would fit the bill better for a villain.
Ladies in Red: Holmes’s ‘The Adventure of the Two Women’ (1954), a pastiche by Adrian Conan Doyle and J.D Carr. Two women represent either the bad or the innocent side of femininity: on one hand, a wicked blackmailer; on the other, her victim, a Duchess. Here, the notion is played with as the seemingly grieving and attractive widow is the killer, whereas the victim’s caustic lover is the one who is actually caring and warm-hearted. Plus, in both cases, the bad woman is caught because of a tiny error: the wrong color of ink in the book or the wrong instrument playing in ‘Peter and the Wolf’ in the show.
Flame Red: ‘The League of Frightened Men’ (1935) by Rex Stout, a story of revenge on a group of men for a crime from their past.
Carnelian Inc.: ‘A Murder is Announced’ by Christie (1950). The murder is forewarned either by letter (in the show) or on the newspaper (in the novel) and the killer who’s plotted the whole charade is actually the host, the owner of the company the group is working for/ the owner of the house the murder has been committed. There’s also an allusion to Christie as Jane talks about throwing “a cat among pigeons”, which is the title of another of her novels (1959).
Russet Potatoes: the idea of using hypnosis to commit or rather to cover for a murder has been used several times, for instance in ‘Seeing is Believing’ by J.DE. Carr (under the pseudonym of Carter Dickson) and in a Columbo episode titled ‘A Deadly State of Mind’. In the latter, the unwilling accomplice is hypnotized in “going swimming” when hearing a codeword, which leads her to jump from a balcony to “go swim” in the pool several floors below… that is pretty much the same trick the killer tried to use to convince Rigsby to push Jane from the rooftop at the end of the episode.
A Dozen Red Roses: to some extent, episode ‘Forgotten Lady’ of Columbo (first aired in 1975). In both, murder committed by a movie star when her rich husband suddenly refuses to finance a movie project supposed to rekindle her career; same kind of character too in Christie’s ‘The Mirror Crack’d’ with a very different victim and motive, since she killed because her successful career broke her family apart, whereas the other acted because of the opposite reason.
Miss Red: Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie’ (see ‘References to Hitchcock in TM’ for more details)
Red Scare: the notion of a family secret treasure hidden by a riddle can be found in Conan Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual’. The curse cast upon a family or a house to explain similar deaths (an idea played with at the very beginning of the episode) reminds of ‘Hag’s Nook’ by J.D. Carr (1933). The book features a hidden treasure and family cursed to have their neck broken under very precise circumstances and the victim breaks his in falling from a tower, like in the episode the victim is pushed through the window. Also, the treasure hunt is present in ‘The Case of the Missing Will’ by Christie (in ‘Poirot Investigates’, 1924), by instance.
A Price above Rubies: “The Adventure of the Abbas Ruby” (1954), another pastiche by Adrian Conan Doyle (many thanks to Anomaly for spotting it!). In addition to the reference of the gem in the title, an employee who had a questionable past is framed for the robbery, when the culprit is really a family member.
Red Badge: ‘Third Girl’ (1956) by Christie also features a young woman who believe she may have committed a murder but cannot remember; actually she had been drugged by someone she trusted, in order to setting her up by altering her sense of time and keeping her in a nebulous state. She’s helped by Poirot who guesses what happened and a young doctor who keeps her in his home to protect her: both those parts have been played by Jane, when he went to her apartment in order to hypnotize her and determine the cause of her partial amnesia. In another Poirot story, ‘The Cretan Bull’(from ‘The Labours of Hercules’, 1947), we can find the same trick: a young man is led to believe he’s becoming insane and dangerous to his fiancée since it appears he may have been killing animals in crisis he cannot remember. He was set up to commit suicide by a family member who was giving him daily doses of a hallucination-inducing poison. Same idea of black-outs used to set up someone to cover for a murder in Ellery Queen’s ‘Ten Days’ Wonder’.
Red Herring: in Nero Wolfe’s story ‘Too Many Cooks’ (1938), by Rex Stout, a famous chef is killed during a meeting of cooks. The victim had been accused of seducing wives and sabotaging the other cooks’ dishes. The identity of the killer was disclosed during a meal organized by Wolfe. All those elements were used in the episode. Also a similar setting has been used in a ‘Murder, She Wrote’ episode (titled ‘Proof in the Pudding’, first aired in 1994), even though the plot story is somewhat different.
The Red Box: another Rex Stout’s novel, ‘The Red Box’ (1937). In the novel, the victim came from Scotland (the detective in the episode was from United Kingdom and worked for Scotland Yard) and had hidden some proof in the aforementioned box about a shameful secret from his past, about selling his daughter to impersonate a dead heiress; he was killed because he wanted to talk… like the detective wanted to fix an error from his past involving the victim, who was secretly his son and whom he wanted to protect after he committed a robbery. In both cases, the motive for the murder was kept in the red box.
Cackle-Bladder Blood: ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (novel by Dashiell Hammett from 1929 featuring Sam Spade and movie from 1941, starring Humphrey Bogart. He also played in ‘Casablanca’, which is referred to in S6 ‘Il Tavolo Bianco’). Just like Spade, Jane is called late at night to come to a crime scene (by his brother-in-law Danny, while Spade was by his client Wonderly/O’Shaughnessy) and is suspected by the police. Danny, like femme fatale O’Shaughnessy, wavers through the episode in relation to Jane between getting help from him and incriminating him. In both stories, the treasure which motivated the murder(s) was a golden/jeweled statuette.
The Red Ponies: the twin/identical horses switcheroo can be found in ‘A Girl in Every Port’ (1952), starring Groucho Marx, as well as in the other movie ‘Crazy Over Horses’ (1951).
Pink Channel Suit: the two corpses in one coffin idea has been used in the Sherlock
Holmes’ short story ‘The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax’ (1911) and in Ellery Queen’s novel ‘The Greek Coffin Mystery’ (1932). In the latter, Queen comes to the conclusion that the missing will he’s looking for must be hidden in the recently deceased man’s coffin, but finds a second corpse instead: similarly, Jane’s decision to open the coffin is based on a erroneous deduction.
Red Hot: even though it can be a simple coincidence, there are some similarities with Dick Francis’ novel ‘Hot Money’ (1987). A tycoon who has no less than five ex-wives (reminding of Walter’s complicated love life) asks for help from his estranged son as the police suspects him after an attack resulted in the death of one of them. This comes pretty close to Mashburn asking help to Jane and Lisbon (whom he hopes to get reacquainted with) after receiving death threats.
Jolly Red Elf: no real precise reference here, but the plot plays with the idea of a nurse killing people out of mercy (from her point of view at least). It might be based on real life cases, as they are many, but it also reminds from afar of Agatha Christie’s disturbing serial killer in ‘By the Pricking of My Thumbs’.
Red Gold: just a detail is taken from a Columbo episode (‘Blueprint for Murder’, first aired in 1972), Jane deduces that the killer has taken his victim’s car because he switched the music to something more of his taste.
Every Rose Has Its Thorn: Columbo again; in episode ‘Double Exposure’ (first aired in 1973), the culprit tries to forge an alibi for himself by using a recorded tape with his voice, like Erica did in her matchmaking video with Sarah. The trick might have been inspired by the famous ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ by Christie, albeit the way it’s used is a bit different. Anyway, the whole episode has a definite Columbo vibe, since viewers know from the start who is Jane’s main suspect and both play mind games with the other.
Bloodhounds: in Sherlock Holmes’s ‘The Adventure of the Reigate Puzzle’, a man and his son murder their blackmailer coachman who discovered them committing a burglary, like the aunt and cousin of one of the episode victims killed her because she discovered they had a mishap with some contaminated drinks they produced. The two women tried to frame a retired serial killer, the Caveman, like the men tried to cover it up with burglaries committed in the area.
Redacted: the setting reminds a tiny little bit of Holmes’s ‘The Adventure of the Three Gables’ (1926). In this short story, Holmes deduces that some shady characters were hired to find a mysterious object in an old woman’s house- legally or otherwise. The surprising part of the case is that they first offered to buy the house from her, with everything inside, all the furniture included. The treasure they were after was a scandalous manuscript written by the deceased son of the woman and narrating the sordid details of his liaison with a femme fatale, who was determine to retrieve it at all costs. We find roughly the same ingredients in the episode: the object from a questionable past that everybody is after, along with the curious interest for furniture. Nevertheless the idea of hiding an object in plain sight, like the victim did with the costly carpet in his workshop, comes from the famous ‘The Purloined Letter’ by Edgar Allan Poe (1844).
Pretty Red Balloon: in ‘The Adventure of the Priory School’ (1904), a young boy has been abducted and Holmes deduces that the culprit is a family member (the child’s older half brother who was born out of wedlock and was after money and petty revenge against his father). Same with Christie’s short story ‘The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly’ (in ‘Poirot’s Early Cases’, 1974): a wealthy child is kidnapped by a family member with an ulterior motive (the father wanted to get money from his rich but cautious wife).
Red is The New Black: no precise reference, but it may be interesting to note that crimes set in the fashion world has been used many times before, for instance in Margery Allingham ‘The Fashion in Shrouds and in Stout’s ‘The Red Box’ again since the characters work in a high end fashion boutique.
At First Blush: the concept of someone committing a murder because of a vineyard that might be sold by a co-owner is used in Columbo ‘Any Old Port in a Storm’ (first aired in 1973).
My Bloody Valentine: the title may be have been inspired by real life events, since the “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre” refers to Al Capone’s gang murdering mob associates in order to take control over organized crime in Chicago in 1929. Here, the murder victim is a mob boss’s son and the motive is also to take control of the gang.
Blinking Red Light: arguably ‘The Speckled Band’ published in 1892 (pointed out by commenter Stephanie). In this short story, Holmes has made out the criminal’s horrendous actions but let him carry out his plans, which results in his own death. Holmes admits that he’s morally responsible for this death, but that it won’t weight much on his conscience. It reminds of Jane’s decision to lead Panzer to badmouth RJ in order to get him killed, making him an indirect accomplice of his nemesis, even though as Holmes did not set a trap to get his prey killed.
Ruby Slippers: the notion of setting a fake suicide to get an enemy convicted for murder in used in Holmes’ ‘The Problem of Thor Bridge’ (1922)
So Long and Thanks For All the Red Snappers: the setting involving a sunken ship carrying gold is pretty common, for instance it’s played with in ‘Ingots of Gold’, a short story by Agatha Christie (in ‘The Thirteen Problems’, 1932).
Devil’s Cherry: Holmes’ short story ‘The Devil’s Foot’ (1910) features a similar situation. The title designates a poison that causes madness and consequently death and was administered by a familiar. The twist here is that the victim in the show killed himself when hallucinating, whereas in the book, the victims either ended up insane or were too weak to survive the poison.
Not One Red Cent: similar setting in ‘The Adventure of the Clapham Cook’ (‘Poirot’s Early Cases’, 1974) featuring a bank robbery committed by a clerk. The plot is nevertheless fairly different.
Red Sails in the Sunset: Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’ (see ‘References to Hitchcock in TM’ for more details)
Red Lacquer Nail Polish: ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.” (by Conan Doyle in 1903) gives part of the plot (see the review for this episode for more details). Also the substation of bodies to fake one’s death is used in Dorothy Sayers’s ‘Whose Body?’ (1923).
Red Letter Day: the western show setting reminds of Ellery Queen’s classic ‘The American Gun’ (1933), albeit the rest of the story is quite different.
Red Velvet: the Holmesian quote ‘The game is afoot’ appears in ‘The Adventure of the Abbey Grange’ (1904), featuring an adulterous couple. The story is treated differently, even though both times the wife has been part of the murder.
Red and Itchy: Hitchcock’s ‘’Psycho’ (see ‘References to Hitchcock in TM’ for more details)
The notion of a secret criminal association is quite common in fiction: from Moriarty’s organization in Sherlock Holmes’s stories to Wallace’s works (‘The Crimson Circle’, 1922) and Agatha Christie’s books such as ‘The Secret Adversary’, (1922), ‘The Man in the Brown Suit’ (1924), ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’–with a twist- in 1929, plus the nod to ‘At Bertram’s Hotel’ (1965) with the CBI boss’s name. Same with the codeword ‘Tyger, Tyger’ and three-dots tattoo as a recognizing signals in season 6.
The Red Tattoo: ‘The Three Coffins’ (also called ‘The Hollow Man’, 1935) by John Dickson Carr features an impossible murder, with the detail of exertion causing the killer to bleed to death making his own murder equally impractical to explain. Plus the idea of a subterfuge used to conceal the weapon comes again from Doyle’s ‘The Problem of Thor Bridge’.
Red John: ‘The Final Problem’ (1893) showed the final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty. Holmes was threatened by the man and had to leave his old life and flat behind to go in hiding with Watson, before ditching his friend to be present at tacit secret meeting. The two adversaries then fight and Holmes killed his nemesis before disappearing… which is pretty much an exact account of what Jane did during the episode.
My Blue Heaven: there are some intriguing reminiscences of ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ (1903). Holmes/Jane comes back from a years long hiatus. Jane meets Kim because of a book (‘The Daughter of Time’ written in 1951, featuring an injured detective who solves an historical murder from his room out of boredom, a situation Jane may relate too. The book also opens the truth theme threaded through the season). On the other hand, Holmes made contact with Watson under the guise of an elderly book collector.
Green Thumb: Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ (see ‘References to Hitchcock in TM’ for more details)
The Golden Hammer: in ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans’ (1912), a clerk in a government office unravels a spy’s schemes and tries to deal with it which gets him killed. Plus Holmes deduces that the spy made contact with his accomplice by messages in a newspaper. He tricks the second man with a fake massage and using him to pin the murderer. The idea was recycled in the episode.
The Greybar Hotel: the criminal couple that Lisbon was trying to get close to is based on real life Bonnie and Clyde in the same era as Al Capone.
Orange Blossom Ice Cream: the deciphering code as hidden in a Paris guidebook, which reminds of Holmes deciphering a letter using a commonly used almanac in ‘The Valley of Fear’(1914). Also used with a New York guidebook in Ellery Queen’s ‘The Scarlet Letters’(1953).