“I did not suspect Miss Cecilia at all,” said the fastidious little detective. “Until I learned that Lady Flittermoor had changed her will the night before. Miss Cecilia, it seems, stands to inherit the whole estate!”

Gosh! Suddenly the preening Miss Cecilia has a motive… but is she really a murderer?

Either way, she is now a whole lot richer – and perhaps we should be calling her Lady Cecilia. She has the wealth and status she always dreamed of, without having to marry Lord Dungeness. So if you’re looking to find out who murdered Lady Flittermoor… well, cui bono?

Cui bono – who benefits? To whom goes the bonanza? It’s a Latin phrase with origins in the law courts of ancient Rome, where Cicero and co. wielded it as a motive-finder: the party responsible for committing a crime is most probably the one who benefits from the outcome. A fairly blunt rhetorical implement, but it’s logical and it’s a start.

Now, I wouldn’t call syntironomy a crime. But still, it’s worth asking: cui bono? Who, if anyone, benefits from the application of syntironomy? What good can it do us? What can it actually tell us?

Good question. Elsewhere I’ve called syntironomy a tool for thinking – so what useful thoughts could it give us?

Syntironomy casts everything in terms of its sustaining methods. It takes something, anything – jazz music, visible light, atheism, a cat – and asks: “by what means is this being sustained over time?” But it can also do something else. It can take a process, an action, some dynamic activity, and ask: “what is it sustaining?” Or to put it another, “who is sustained?” (I don’t know what that is in Latin. Cui victum? Classicists, if you’re reading this, drop me a clue.)

This isn’t the same as cui bono, which (realistically) is only applicable with regard to sentient beings. The answer to “who is sustained” could be anything – inanimate, sentient, abstract – because syntironomy posits that everything tends towards persistence over time.

So back to Miss – sorry, Lady – Cecilia, and her presumed poisoning of Lady Flittermoor. Supposing she did it. Who or what is sustained? Ultimately? Cecilia’s habit for collecting detective novels. Cecilia herself, as an organism. Perhaps her bloodline, her genes. But think further, think through the syntironomic methods: Provision, Protection, Propagation, Prospection. Is there any Prospection here? Did Cecilia’s natural curiosity play a part – she being one of those especially inquisitive sorts of Homo sapiens who experiments and pushes boundaries and generally ‘prospects’ and gains an unhealthy interest in cyanide? Is this crime, on some level, a manifestation of that daring and inquisitive nature that otherwise makes our species extraordinarily inventive and widespread?

“So I thought,” the detective continued, “until I made my most surprising discovery of all. For Lady Flittermoor… did not actually die! Did she, Mrs Crabb?”

To be continued…

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