February 2019 was a bit of a landmark month for me in that it marked my first experience of putting a piece of my own mystery writing ‘out there’.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen me posting a few snapshots but basically I crafted a forensics mystery event for teens at work. The idea was to introduce teens to some basic techniques like fingerprinting, casting footprints and analysing data. This meant that I had to do a fair bit of research into forensic science but I also had to find some way of tying all of these tasks together. And this meant I had to do some writing (as well as a bit of diagram and floor plan creation).
My victim was Olga Olafson, a travel blogger and newly elected town councillor who was found dead in her armchair having been beaten on the back of the head with an oversized novelty ceramic garden gnome. All of the doors and windows to the house were locked with no sign that any had been picked or forced.
Neighbors managed to identify exactly four suspects that the players had to consider, each with a unique motive. Environmentalist Harrison Smithers was angry that Olga ran a vicious election campaign against him, winning his seat. Jewelry designer Ariadne Templeton was upset that she paid for a joint holiday, maxing out her credit cards to do so, but was not reimbursed. Roxie Daytona, a children’s entertainer, was mad that her best friend left multiple anonymous scathing reviews of her business online. And then there was hot air balloon operator Phoenix Bolouri who was due to get married to her three days earlier but was left at the altar and subsequently dumped by text when Olga rekindled a previous relationship with a hovercraft engineer from Ottawa.
Okay, so I’m no Freeman Wills Crofts (though they did get to analyse five pages of phone records and plot distances on a map so I like to think he was with us in spirit) but I had a good time doing it. Even better, so did the teens who managed to piece the evidence together and solve the thing, seeing through a few red herrings to reach the correct conclusion. Still, as much fun as I had writing a mystery I think I’m quite happy to concentrate on writing about other people’s (far superior) efforts here going forward.
Speaking of which, it’s time to do that thing where I reflect on my month of reading. This past month I read:
- In The Fog by Richard Harding Davis
- The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake
- The Darkness Knows by Cheryl Honigford
- The Starvel Hollow Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts
- Devil in Dungarees by Albert Conroy
- Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu
- Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
- Nothing More Than Murder by Jim Thompson
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
- Home Sweet Homicide by Craig Rice
- The Man Who Killed Himself by Julian Symons
Usually when I come to write these posts I have a pretty solid idea which book will win before I even sit down to review the contenders. This month however the field was much more even with no major disappointments (though Poirot Investigates is a little uneven, as is In The Fog) but also no runaway favorite.
Inevitably the books I am most drawn to on the list are the four inverted crime stories on the list. The Beast Must Die is a wonderfully structured and cleverly plotted story. Nothing More Than Murder features some really striking characterizations and there are some solid surprises along the way. And as for Devil in Dungarees, the book not only boasts a title that never fails to make me smile but it is a really engaging heist story that builds to a thrilling conclusion.
The fourth title however is the one that I think will stay with me longest. Julian Symons’ The Man Who Killed Himself is a very intelligently constructed play on one of the most lauded inverted mysteries written. Rather than just reusing ideas from Malice Aforethought, Symons presents his own spin on them, building a story that feels distinctive and often quite amusing.
The characters are splendid and I think the plotting is particularly strong, especially in the first two sections of the book. Along the way Symons presents the reader with several small surprises so I would suggest avoiding reading any detailed summaries before approaching it yourself (though my own review tries to be spoiler-free) and just tucking into it for yourself. It’s a great, fast read and well worth your time.
Finally, for those who keep track of such things I actually managed to stick to three of my four promised reviews from last month’s roundup post. I am pretty shocked to be honest. Anyway, in March expect to see reviews of books by Abir Mukherjee, Keigo Higashino and C. J. Tudor amongst others.
See you in March!