Monday 27 May 2019

The Art of the Whodunit - part one

A couple of years ago, quite out of the blue, I was contacted by someone I'd worked with about a decade ago. At that time, I gave talks to a group of American crime fans in Oxford and Harrogate, and enjoyed the experience. She wanted to know if I'd be interested in cruise lecturing - specifically on the Queen Mary 2, and in Oxford. Her company, Road Scholar (deliberate pun in the name!) specialises in educational tours for US customers, and has an outstanding reputation in that field.

The whole adventure was called "The Art of the Whodunit". I put my name down, and was delighted, if a bit over-awed, to hear a bit later that the first trip sold out quickly; there was even a waiting list, and more trips were thought very desirable. Yet although I've done a lot of public speaking, I'm not a natural front of stage person, and I wasn't sure how it would all go.

To cut a long story short, though, in the end the trip went wonderfully well, despite a series of bizarre incidents (such as our hotel in Oxford closing down a day or so before we arrived) which created quite a bond among the group. The guests were a marvellous bunch of folk, and the group leader, Chris Ball, handled all the logistical nightmares with aplomb.

We arrived in New York City with enough time to spare to enable a little sight-seeing, including a trip on the ferry to Staten Island, an experience I enjoyed (especially sailing past the Statue of Liberty in the sunshine), and a visit to Otto Penzler's Mysterious Bookshop. This is close by our hotel, which overlooked Ground Zero - the whole site has been developed into an impressive memorial to a terrible tragedy.

Embarkation on the ship was complicated by a bike race, which closed all the surrounding streets. So instead of a leisurely departure, everyone had to get up before 5 a.m. in order to get to the cruise terminal. Deeply frustrating, but again, members of the group showed great fortitude and good humour, and proved very good company.

Although I've done quite a lot of cruising, it's never been on a ship anything like as magnificent as the Queen Mary 2. There is an impressive planetarium on board, and a marvellous library, among much else. The Atlantic crossing was a memorable experience, and I found the group were attentive and enthusiastic listeners as I talked about a whole variety of whodunit-related topics each morning. Great fun. And then came Oxford...

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