It’s been a little over three months since I last posted anything, and since I’ve also been a bit quieter than I liked on the Facebook group I figured a quick update on my situation would be a good segue back into regular updates. This isn’t a strictly mystery-related post, but I DO discuss some of my upcoming mystery-related projects, such as a novel, later down on the post. This post mostly exists as a form to explain my disappearance, and my plans to recover.
Like many people, my mental health has significantly dipped going into and through the COVID-19 pandemic, but I already wasn’t doing great to begin with. A lot of depression and anxiety has built up over the years, and COVID-19 coming about right as I entered university with much already on my chest really put a crimp into my productivity. I was already struggling to keep up with my course work, and unfortunately the added academic pressure made it extremely hard for me to engage with pastimes I typically would use to relax myself. That means that since I last uploaded a blog post, I haven’t even had the time to sit down and read so much as a lone mystery short story, and since I haven’t been reading or even thinking about mysteries that also meant I had no material for the blog that anyone would be interested in reading.
As of yesterday, my coursework for the semester is finished and I won’t be back in university for a little over three months, so you can at least expect regular updates every Sunday until then. I’m also attending therapy now, so that set-backs don’t totally unravel my wellbeing like they have been doing until now. So, hopefully, come next semester of university I’ll still be able to be productive in both my coursework and my blog.
Upcoming Blog Posts
The next blog post, signaling the return of my scheduled updates, should come out either very late today (which would be early in the morning, Monday, for European readers, I believe) if everything works out as it should, but the worst-case scenario is that it comes out Sunday, next week. Since I don’t have anything substantial or unique to talk about, the post will just be a polished version of the locked room solution taxonomy I posted to the Facebook group many years back, where I try my hands at naming 50 unique impossible crime solutions between the problems of locked rooms, guarded rooms, and footprints in the sand.
Beyond that, I have a substantial reading list to make my way through. The Locked Room International library hasn’t run dry for me, yet, nor has the Vertigo translations. I still also fully intend on reading Norman Berrow’s The Bishop’s Sword for review. Plans exist for me to review individual stories within anthologies, with special interest in tackling the Otto Penzler Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries anthology. I also intend to write a review of vaguely Golden Age mystery video game series Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
Outside of reviews and moving more towards my discussion posts, I don’t have as much to talk about. As something of a follow-up to On Magic in Murder, I want to discuss the GURPS Mysteries tabletop RPG rulebook, which was written more with the conceit of being a handbook on how to plot and style mysteries (with partial focus on, as it calls them, “Golden Age cozies” and locked-room mysteries, which the book refers to as specifically “puzzle mysteries”) more than a roleplaying gamebook. Much to my surprise, the book feels a little more educated on the genre than I expected, though there are some lapses in understanding I want to address. I thought that continuing to explore “mystery-writing guides where I didn’t expect them” would be a fun and unique idea for the blog. I was originally writing a post called On Locked Room Mysteries and their Unique Diminishing Returns, where I discuss the ways that, more than any other type of Golden Age puzzle plot, the impossible crime can become harder to generally enjoy, faster. However, I was writing that on the heels of multiple disappointing reads, including Clayton Rawson’s Death from a Top Hat, and a few sub-par episodes of locked room mystery television, and looking back at my draft of the post it feels more like a petty rant than anything meaningful. I may feel compelled to return to this topic later, but at the moment I don’t. Perhaps something worth talking about will come to me while lurking in the Golden Age Detection Facebook group, or while I do my reading for the blog.
Non-Blog Mystery Projects
This doesn’t strictly concern the blog-goers, but I wanted to talk more about some of my own upcoming projects in the mystery-genre that I think might be of interest to anyone looking for more modern Golden Age-styled crime fiction.
I have been drafting up plans for a little over two years now for a GAD-styled mystery series featuring none other than Signor Rinaldo Allegri, a lanky Italian whose olive complexion perfectly complements his olive-shaped head. He’s something of an affectionate turn on the typical “quirky foreigner” super-detective trope that was originally occupied by Belgian Hercule Poirot, and later lovingly parodied by German Atticus Pundt in The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. The character is actually a former car-salesman, and his “quirky foreigner” front is an intentional caricature of himself he puts on for the sole purpose of marketing himself as a detective in the vein of the aforementioned Poirot. The character exists at a time when detective fiction’s fame is in full swing, and he believes that the most marketable thing in the world would be the existence of a real-world superdetective. Allegri believes he’s the one to not only market that detective, but to be the detective. This was all specially designed to allow some meta-textual genre awareness, since “GAD, but not in the way the GAD would have” is, while abstract, broadly a theme in many aspects of my writing.
However, the character has unfortunately been shelved, as my focus has somewhat shifted. A thought that occurred to me a while ago is that I am not a person from the 20th century, and while I am exposed to a lot of writing from that time, I will never be able to emulate the language of someone who lived during the 19th, 20th centuries. I began to worry that there’d be an air of almost inauthenticity to my writing. A 20 year old university student in the 21st century trying to write something like a 40, 50 year old who spent their whole live in the Golden Age would never work — at least, I certainly don’t believe I, personally, have the skillset for it. And writing something that takes place in the 1900’s but with the (adjusted) vernacular of a late millennial also felt odd to me. What’s more, is that most of my earliest mystery influences used more fictionalized, almost toon-ish takes on the real world. Ace Attorney and other modern young-adult Japanese mystery series like Detective Conan or Danganronpa, which were many of my earliest exposures to GAD fiction before I even considered reading these 100 year old novels, are undeniably weird and take place in a world that’s unabashedly a caricature of our own. Set-ups, solutions, scenarios, characters, and even sometimes technology, events, or straight-up anachronistic weirdness that simply wouldn’t abide in a realistic take on our world and CERTAINLY would’ve have flown in the 1930s abound. And I found that in a lot of my writing, I end up veering towards the less strictly accurate or authentic, and more in the direction of the aforementioned Japanese YA mysteries where everything is essentially a creative (even if inaccurate) interpretation of the world. Trying to write authentic GAD mysteries with the GAD aesthetic, given my inspirations in the genre and my inherent writing voice, simply wasn’t working for me.
This all also tied with a thought I’ve been having, where a lot of Golden Age puzzle mysteries are “fantasy, but as close as you’ll get while keeping it in the real world and following real world laws”. The crimes we read about are generally fantastical in the extreme, and oftentimes seem almost unrealistic or implausible. The idea that GAD mysteries are like fantasy, accompanied by my observations of young adult Japanese detective fiction (especially more anime-inspired ones) finally settled with me. And, so, taking the idea of a “caricature of our world” from my influences, I have totally changed gears to writing mysteries that are undeniably GAD-induced — I follow the same conventions, and rules, and laws of mystery writing where they apply, and I make a good faith effort to make the mysteries fairplay — but the setting of my writing is a fictional world. It’s a world that strongly resembles 1930-1960s England, but which is entirely fictional, and where the real world need not apply, it will not. This, I feel, gives me more freedom in culture, technology, and setting in a way that really lets me explore my more fringe ideas like I couldn’t before. This, of course, means that Italy no longer exists, and the character of Rinaldo Allegri can no longer exist within my writing. So while I feel like this revelation about how I want to treat my mystery writing is progress, in a lot of ways it’s also set me back significantly in planning, as I now need to reconceptualize who my detective is, on top of building the world my mysteries are set in.
As for my individual mysteries, I’ve plenty of ideas I can discuss vaguely, but I don’t want to talk too much about them, as a lot of the ideas are simply notebook fillers and are likely to change by the time they’re formally written. In the realms of the “fringe” ideas that my setting specifically exists to allow, I have… a murder by gassing in a hermetically sealed room at an animation studio, with the studio’s mascot sketched in different colors on both sides of the door… a seemingly impossible murder by supposed “firebolt” during a game of Caverns & Crawlers, a fantasy boardgame, where the death also appears to parallel the victim’s in-game defeat… and a murder that nobody saw happen, despite it occurring on camera during the filming of the season finale of The Royal Blunders, a television sitcom where a poor family accidentally inherits the royal title, with the main issue being that the victim was supposed to be feigning death the entire episode, creating a “Schrodinger’s corpse” where over the course of 30 minutes, whenever anyone saw the victim he could’ve been either alive or dead and nobody knows which.
As for my more traditional ideas, I also have… the impossible theft of an executioner’s sword from behind a totally guarded auction-stage, the repurposing of that sword to commit murder inside of a perfectly guarded study, and the subsequent theft of dozens of large items back out of the guarded study without being seen… a woman with a perfect alibi and whom never spoke to anyone of her precognitive dreams perfectly predicting the murder of her friend in his perfectly locked library… and a murder set against a social deduction game a la Werewolf/Mafia.
However, there are three significant projects that I want to discuss in more detail. These are The Sacrifice of Agnes Stanhope, The Mute Speaks Loudly, and Who Killed Annie Hallewelle? Below I’ll include quick, two-paragraph synopses of the projects. These are the three whose notes I’ve developed and explored most intently, and they’re the three I want to talk about as I write them.
The Sacrifice of Agnes Stanhope
A mountain village once lived in fear of Ze’el, an evil spirit in their faith who once walked among them and preyed on the fearful. Only those who locked their doors and windows and showed Ze’el fear, and not respect, would be slaughtered in their homes. It has been years since a young woman placed herself on an altar as a sacrifice to Ze’el, and the cullings have ceased. The fear of Ze’el subsided, and many people in the village have abandoned the idea of an evil spirit altogether. What was once a villain locked in religious terror was on the verge of becoming a secular society…
Until the day it seemed like Ze’el returned. More deaths in locked houses, committed by what seemed like the claws of a horrible beast. Unable to tolerate the raising body count, Agnes Stanhope, famous detractor of the Ze’el faith, swallows her pride and says that on the night of the full moon she’ll go to the decommissioned church that overlooks the village, where the sacrifice of old gave up her life. She’ll lock herself in, and give herself up to Ze’el, and end the killings once and for all…
And morning comes. Her promise has come to fruition. Agnes Stanhope is found inside of the church on the hill, in sacrificial garments, inside of a perfectly locked and sealed room, murdered by horrible lacerations. The only key to the room lay beneath her, shattered in two. And locked inside of the room with her is Agnes Stanhope’s romantic partner, Lincoln, covered in blood who has been branded a worshipper of Ze’el and awaits his cleansing immolation. Granted one letter, he reaches out to a famous detective he’s read about in the papers and begs him to clear his name…
The Mute Speaks Loudly
In a mansion buried in the forests on the fringe of society, the Gladstone family meets for a birthday party. A woman who can’t speak, and dressed only in a tattered cloak showed up at their front door. Feeling the generous spirit, the family invites her in, expecting to let the poor woman in on a delightful celebration, a change of clothes, and a warm bed. Only, in place of revelry, Ellian, the 50 year old man-of-the-hour makes a chilling declaration: “I’ve feared for my life at the hands of my children”.
The Gladstone home houses an unimaginable cache of golden treasure. In the will of every Gladstone family head, he is obligated to put down a hint that’s been passed through the family for generations, and relate it to his children. Ellian himself decided to do this, because he believes in tradition more than anything, but fearing for his life he hade an unsettling impetus to his children. Only half the hint will be contained in the will, and the other half will be revealed on his 50th birthday. If he dies before then, the family will be forever doomed without knowledge of where their true inheritance is. Believing this was sufficient to earn himself a long life, he reveals the first half of the hint… and proceeds to stab himself to death in his locked bedroom that very night, to be found in the morning, damning his children out of their life insurance.
When the executor of his will, his favorite daughter Grace, goes to retrieve the will, she finds it totally missing from the home. A full search is organized… whereupon it’s discovered that Ellian Gladstone is not the only one to have died that night. The mute woman, whom nobody knew, was brutally murdered inside of the Gladstone family’s locked cellar, beat to death over the back of the head by nearly a dozen different glass wine bottles. Unsure of what to make of the situation, a detective is called in to investigate the mystery of the missing will, the multiple deaths, and the question of why the woman whom nobody knew was murdered in so barbaric a fashion.
Who Killed Annie Hallewelle?
It’s been a month since Annie Hallewelle drowned herself, and her body has never been found. Plans for her funeral at the Hallewelle mansion are now underway. However, the plans for her peaceful service are disrupted when Thomas and Serena Sterling get a distressing death threat that Serena swears on their life has been written by Annie Hallewelle, the deceased girl! In the letter, Annie, claims to wish to share her funeral with her closest friends. Thomas thinks someone is playing a cruel-spirited prank on mourners, and he wants a detective to come along to discourage anymore funny business and disprove this whole ghost nonsense to put his sister’s mind at ease. And, on the off-chance someone is planning something more malicious, a famous detective would be the perfect deterrent.
The detective agrees, and attends the funeral where naught suspicious happens. But as soon as the mourners begin to separate, Serena goes upstairs to get proof that Annie wrote the death threat. Minutes pass, and a gunshot rings out, and the detective rushes up to the room the gunshot came from to find a woman who was never on the island or in the house until that moment — a woman who by all accounts simply shouldn’t be able to exist — brandishing a revolver and standing over Ms. Sterling’s corpse, before proceeding to be witnessed running through a solid brick wall by two people on both sides of the wall. When a second murder occurs in a locked room with the victim leaning out of the window, and the trajectory of the bullet suggests that the killer had to have been floating in the air, the mourners begin to accept the story of the vengeful story of the ghost of Annie Hallewelle… only the detective insists upon a human killer.
These three are the projects I’m sinking most of my time into, and I intend to start posting updates, excerpts and teasers on the blog as progress is made. While I’m not sure if it’s conveyed well in these… very rough synopses, all three of them have ideas buried in the investigations and solutions that I’m very proud of, and which I always considered clever personally. I hope that as they’re written and published, followers of the blog enjoy reading my mysteries as much as I’ve enjoyed plotting them out.
That’s all there is to update everyone on regarding my hiatus, my projects, and my plans for the blog. Thank you all for your continued patience, and please look forward to On GURPS Mysteries either tonight or next week.