One of the things that make crime fiction popular is that it’s versatile and lends itself to different formats. We all know, for instance, that E-books have made crime fiction available electronically. And of course, crime fiction has made its way into scores of plays, films and television shows. But there are also lots of other ways to experience crime fiction, and the appeal of many of them is that one can get right into the middle of a mystery, so to speak.
For instance, there are all sorts of mystery games, probably the best-known of which is Cluedo/Clue. In that game, players take on the role of sleuth and use clues that they get to try to deduce which of six suspects committed a murder in which place and with which weapon. That game allows the player to use her or his skill at deduction and lots of people enjoy the game. There are now several versions of Cluedo/Clue, and it remains a very popular game. But of course, there’s not that much information about the characters in the game, and there’s not really a plot per se, so players don’t get deeply involved in the story. Still, Cluedo/Clue is a really interesting way to “play detective.”
There are other mystery board games, too, such as Mystery of the Abbey and Scotland Yard, that allow players to use their deductive abilities and “connect the dots” to try to find out whodunit. In Mystery of the Abbey, players try to solve the mystery of who killed Brother Adelmo, a monk in Templar’s Abbey, a medieval French monastery. There are suspect cards, relics, and other clues that lead the player from one part of the abbey to another, and guide the savvy player to the right culprit. In Scotland Yard, a team of players who act as police try to stop another player who takes the role of criminal. The backdrop is London, and “culprit” and “police” use all sorts of different forms of transportation to get around the city in order to catch/evade one another.
Some mystery games allow the player to take a really active role in the story and become one of the characters. And several of these games are based on crime fiction novels. For example, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians) is the story of ten people, each of whom gets an invitation for a stay on Indian Island. For different reasons, each accepts the invitation and the guests all arrive and settle in. Then, on the first night, each guest is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Then, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night there’s another death. As other guests begin to die, one by one, the survivors realise that they’re up against a murderer who’s trapped them on the island. This story is available in an interactive format, where the player takes the role of the boatman who brought the guests to the island. Players search the rooms for clues, listen to what the guests say, and make decisions about what to do next. Those decisions lead to other actions in the story, and each hidden bit of information brings the player closer to the truth about who the killer is.
Christie’s Evil Under the Sun is also available as an interactive computer game. In that novel, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall is strangled while she and her family are taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who among the guests is the murderer. In the interactive game version of the story, players take the role of Hercule Poirot as they search for clues and try to uncover everyone’s hidden motive to find out who the killer is. Interactive games like this are not always true to the original story, so purists might be quite disappointed. But for those who enjoy testing their sleuthing prowess, these games can be engaging and fun.
Another option for enjoying a mystery is a live mystery game. For example, Host-Party offers a wide variety of mystery games that allow one to actually host a “murder.” Guests become characters in the mystery, and the story is played out as though it were really happening (excepting, of course, an actual death). Mystery writer Elspeth Antonelli, who blogs at It’s a Mystery!, has authored twelve of these games, including Murphy’s Wake, in which the object is to try to find out who killed Patrick Murphy, owner of the local and one of the most popular men in town. One night, Murphy is killed on the way home from his pub, and at his wake, we find that perhaps he wasn’t as beloved as everyone thought. Hosts who choose a game like this get detailed instructions and a guide, a set of characters and alibis and even suggested recipes for food and drink for the “murder party.” Guests get character descriptions, secret clues to hide and instructions. For crime fiction fans who enjoy really getting involved in a mystery, this can be a fun and interesting way to experience a story.
Crime fiction fans can also take part in “live mysteries” in lots of other ways. Some companies, for instance, sponsor “Murder Mystery week-ends,” where guests arrive on the Friday, the “murder” takes place the next day, and everyone tries to figure out whodunit and whydunit. What’s really intriguing about these events, when they are well-organised and well-run, is that guests don’t know who is another guest and who is an actor cleverly playing a part. Variations on this theme are “Mystery Cruises,” “Mystery Train Rides,” and “Mystery Dinners.” When these events are well-crafted, the big advantage of them is that guests really become a part of the story and can get caught up in it. They are intellectual challenges as well as fun opportunities to meet people. That said, though, they aren’t for crime fiction fans who prefer to allow a story to unfold, or who are particularly shy or introspective.
There are also interactive mystery novels, both online and in paper form, where the reader makes key decisions and the plot turns on the consequences of those decisions. For instance, Howard Sherman has created Four Badges where the reader becomes one of the detectives trying to track down the person who’s killed a member of the Town Council of a small New Jersey town. As one of the characters in the story, readers can look for clues, check out alibis and interview witnesses. Interactive novels combine the pleasure of reading and exploring character and plot with the engagement of being personally involved in a story.
There’s an argument that mystery games and events can gain new fans of crime fiction. What do you think? Do you enjoy crime fiction that’s not in book or E-book format? Have you done a mystery party, cruise, dinner, etc.? If you’re a writer, have you had one of your books adapted as a game or event? How do you see these games and events fitting in to the larger “picture” of crime fiction?
BONUS: Murder mystery games are featured in a novel by Agatha Christie and a novel by Ngaio Marsh. Do you know which novels they are?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Abba’s The Name of the Game.