Monday, 25 March 2019
Murder Mystery Evenings and Murder Mystery Dinners
Murder mystery dinners and events are a highly enjoyable form of interactivity for whodunit fans. Over the years I've written several scripts for murder mysteries, and I've really enjoyed putting them on, in collaboration with some very enthusiastic performers and would-be Poirots and Marples. A particular highlight for me was the murder mystery dinner that I scripted for the Emirates Literature Festival a couple of years ago, which had notables such as Kathy Reichs taking part. It was a great night. Another great occasion was the British Library's staging of my "Murder at Magenta Manor", a Christmas competition for customers in the Library shop. To see the puzzle brought to life in a highly professional way was really very special.
The suggestion that I write my first murder mystery event came from Ann Cleeves, getting on for fifteen years ago. In those days, long before she became an award-winning superstar, Ann had a part-time role with the library service in West Yorkshire, and she wrote an excellent "Body in the Library" mystery script which I've seen performed several times. In more recent times she's written some other very good mystery events, including one based on a Vera Stanhope novel, and another set on Shetland. If you get the chance to go to one in a nearby library, you will find it is great fun.
Ann's advice was spot on, and I presented my own first murder mystery evening at Ellesmere Port library about twelve years ago. This was a Victorian mystery, based on a short story I'd published some years earlier (I've never come across anyone who admitted having read the story, which would definitely have helped them to solve the puzzle!) I was delighted by the response to "Who Killed George Hargrave?" and I've taken the event around the UK in the intervening years. What has intrigued me is the number of different ways in which the event can be presented, depending on venue. The murder mystery has been held in an art gallery, a stately home, a historic pottery works, and assorted other venues, as well as libraries public and private.
Venues that staged the Victorian mystery evening often asked me to write another script, and eventually I came up with a 1920s storyline, which has again been widely performed over the past few years. Then came the commission to write a festival-based mystery for a dinner audience, and so it has gone on. I've found the events have usually drawn sizeable audiences, often including people who aren't necessarily keen readers, but like the idea of solving a puzzle. Of course, these things are variable, just as novels are, and I've attended a few murder mystery events that weren't too gripping or impressive (usually because the organiser had bought some kind of pre-packaged script without researching the subject carefully) but happily, those occasions have been very much the exception rather than the rule. A well-done murder mystery event can be hugely entertaining and convivial.