I'm just back from an unforgettable week-end at Ettington, on the outskirts of Stratford-on-Avon, taking part in a murder mystery. The occasion was a special get-together of "the Ideal Holmes Society", for one of Joy Swift's Original Murder Mystery Week-ends. And what a thoroughly enjoyable occasion it proved to be, with a large gathering of amateur detectives all trying to solve a fiendishly complicated puzzle.
I first met Joy when I was in my twenties, and she'was a young woman who had recently dreamed up the idea of creating murder mystery week-ends, which in those days took place in Southport. At that time, I was a passionate crime fiction fan with a single ambition, to become a crime writer myself, but I'd never published a word of fiction. All that was still a long way off. Anyway, I solved the mystery (and still have the certificate to prove it!) and enjoyed myself so much that I felt that if I went to another week-end it could never live up to that magical first time.
So I never went back, but I now realise that was a mistake. Joy's business has gone from strength to strength, earning her an MBE in the process. She's written well over one hundred murder mystery scripts, and they have earned a devoted following. This week-end, about 70% of those present were "returners", and some people have attended more than a couple of dozen of Joy's murder mystery week-end. The stats speak for themselves - it's really quite an addictive form of entertainment.
The scripts are very cleverly crafted, and this story was no exception. Things got off to a dramatic start on Friday evening, and twists and turns were plentiful before all was revealed just in time for Sunday lunch. One couple who had travelled from Glasgow, and who are accomplished amateur sleuths, stayed up until 3 am on Sunday morning before rising again at 6 am to figure out the last few elements of the story. They hit on the highly ingenious twist in the storyline that had eluded me; all in all, the plot was an example of satisfyingly convoluted "fair play" mystery construction in the classic vein, but with a very modern storyline, inhibited by none of the taboos of the Golden Age.
As with all the best interactive murder mystery events, there was a strong and tangible "feelgood factor" throughout the weekend. The actors did a great job; they very obviously enjoyed themselves enormously. I have resisted the temptation to publish photos of some of the highlights simply to avoid "spoilers" for those who are due to attend this event before Joy's next script comes along in a few weeks. You can certainly count me among Joy's fans, and if you ever fancy treating yourself to a week-end of murder and mystery with Joy, you won't be disappointed.
The trip also gave me the chance to go back to Stratford itself. It's often been said that, had Shakespeare been alive today, he'd have wanted to try his hand at crime fiction, and with the sun shining the tourists who flock to pay homage to the Bard were much in evidence. I had the pleasure of signing books at Waterstones on Friday and then taking a river trip along the Avon yesterday - a lovely way to end a memorable few days., .