Raymond Charles Chandler was born on this day in 1888. He wrote Noir crime full of deadly blondes, mean crooks, hot guns and velvet LA nights, and they are Brilliant. If you haven’t read a Raymond Chandler novel before, go out and find one, preferably Farewell my Lovely. No really, I insist, I’ll even lend you mine.
Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:
‘It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.’
Farewell my Lovely
‘I needed a drink. I needed a lot of life insurance. I needed a vacation. I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat. a hat, and a gun.’
Farewell my Lovely
‘She kind of held the purse so I could see how empty it was. Then she straightened the bills out on the desk and put one on top of the other and pushed them across. Very slowly, very sadly, as if she were drowning a favorite kitten.’
The Little Sister
‘You can have a hangover from things other than alcohol. I had one from women. Women made me sick.’
The Big Sleep
‘The minutes went by on tipetoe, with their fingers to their lips.’
The Lady in the Lake
Ok, just one more:
‘There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.’
Trouble is my Business
For more on Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe, click here.
Recently, and I think it might be the dark, moody weather talking (summer, where did you go? Come back!), I’ve started to crave a really over-the-top, thunder and lightning, cobweb-bestrewn murder-mystery party.
When I was little I was obsessed with ghost stories. My best friend and I used to have sleepovers involving chocolate (usually sneaked into the house underneath our knitted jumpers) and freaking each other out late into the night with scary, highly improbable, tales. I am not a brave girl; I usually got so involved in the story I was telling that I scared myself, and had to stop.
My favourite kind involved vampires, which I used to research obsessively. I was armed with a battery of vampire-repellent knowledge. Most of this I have forgotten, but the one thing I have not is that a vampire can only get into your home if you actually invite them in. Needless to say, you should never invite a vampire into your home. Erm, unless you are hosting a vampire themed murder-mystery party that is.
The most important thing to do before you have a vampire themed murder-mystery party is to get in the mood, properly in the mood, by watching something spooky, turning all the lights out and surrounding yourself with candles… you need to be scared enough to be inspired, and also, more importantly, to stay awake and thus not burn the house down. The best, I’d say, is the 1992 Dracula, a fantastic and slightly mad cacophony of thunder, lightening, absinthe, lace and weird sex scenes you wouldn’t want to watch with your mother.
Five things you will definitely need if you decide to host a vampire themed murder mystery:
For a few vampire make-up and costume ideas click here.
As part of my quest of murder-mystery game discovery, I am trying to play a game a month, or at least every other month. To start with I opted for a murder-mystery set in a vineyard, by University Games, a company I hadn’t used before. Wine, grapes and cheese – what’s not to like, I thought? And I was very excited when this game arrived in a brown paper parcel in the post – until I opened it.
The design of this game did not fill me with confidence (’90s swirl graphics and awful, grainy photographs on the back of the box, invitations and character booklets do not scream quality). Also, nowhere on the box did it say what time period the game was set. However, when I opened the game, I discovered that it is, in fact, set in 1997, so I suppose the dodgy graphics are at least appropriate.
I wasn’t feeling very inspired by the setting: how does one create a ’90s vineyard-style interior? I have no idea; I just covered the room in grapes and followed the party planner suggestion of making my own labels for wine bottles, which was a nice touch. Food for this game is easier: wine, bread, delicious cheeses, meat and dips, and more wine seemed appropriate, and once I had finished decorating the dining room table, which glowed with candles and heaved under bunches of grapes, I was finally feeling pretty excited about the game, but it was a bit disappointing:
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few things to recommend this game – until the end, it was simple enough to be generally followed and understood by all playing, in our various levels of inebriation, and I would say we had some fun questioning one another – but it’s definitely not one of the best I’ve played; if you’re thinking of buying this game, don’t. I can recommend you lots of better ones!
This particularly uneventful weekend, I have been thinking about Edwardian-style elegance and gazing at fun looking Edwardian murder-mystery games on Amazon, so, in lieu of anything better to do with my Saturday night, I thought I’d make my second dressing-up box post.
In the Edwardian period (1900-1914) pioneering fashion designer Paul Poiret famously freed women of the debilitating fashion for corsets… but then imprisoned their legs with the invention of the hobble skirt. Well, thanks very much Poiret. However, women’s emancipation aside, the 1900s is a really fun era for murder-mystery games. I myself have played two of those mentioned below and remember leaping at the chance to get into some serious costume. I resurrected an ancient lilac bridesmaid’s dress with puffy sleeves, wrapped a long black skirt over the bottom half, donned some white gloves, and thoroughly enjoyed swanning around in my creation.
The basic principles of Edwardian fashion are as follows:
A few wonderful Edwardian period bits and pieces around at the moment (March 2012): Susan Caplan Vintage Gold Tone Edwardian Pendant Necklace, ASOS; Feathered turban, Asos Revive; In with the Nouveau earrings, Modcloth; ‘Olive’ headband, Pearl and Ivy
I have included some items from Modcloth, who have the most wonderful website. But be warned, visit it at your peril because a) it’s amazing and you will want everything on there and b) it’s expensive to order from the UK because you have to pay 20 per cent tax, and if you want to make returns, you have to do it sharpish as it takes ages for stuff to get back to America. If you do go ahead then don’t be an idiot like me and totally miss these fundamental points. However, if you live in the States then lucky you: free returns I believe!
Titanic (1997) has amazing costumes and is also a fun to watch, if ludicrously 2D, interpretation of the social tapestry of the period: rich equals bad, poor equals good, Irish equals sexy. (Yes, the perfect upstairs-downstairs Mills & Boon style romance.) Expect not to cry but to weep – when I first saw Titanic, aged thirteen, I sobbed so relentlessly and so loudly that I got the kind of angry stares usually reserved for those throwing popcorn at people’s heads.
The artwork of Georges Barbier, costume designer and fashion illustrator (1882-1932).
Edwardian murder-mystery games: Death by Chocolate, Paul Lamond Games; The Silver Bullet, Paul Lamond Games (Sherlock Holmes themed); What the Butler Saw, Murder A La Carte (NB I don’t think this game is produced anymore, but you should be able to find a copy on eBay)
Murder on The Orient Express, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous books, was first published in the January of 1934, and the glamorous setting makes it a great book to cheer you up post-Christmas, when winter stops being magical and starts feeling rather bleak. In light of this, I thought it might be a good time to talk about the Orient Express.
Generally speaking, I like trains. I’d even go as far as to say they were my favourite form of transport. I like the mechanical ticking, whirring noise they make and the feeling of escape you get watching the world rush by outside the windows.
But let’s be honest with ourselves: trains are not what they once were. They are usually crowded and invariably smell of chips, and, if you’re really unlucky, urine. They are never on time when you are, but, magically, they are always on time when you are late. Worse still, there is rarely anywhere to sit down, meaning you end up wedged underneath someones armpit in a corridor, feeling cheated at having paid £50 return for the privilege.
Every little part of me hopes that there will be a sudden return to classic train design. I long to jump on an ordinary train from Stroud to London, walk down the smart, wood-panelled corridor, slide back a compartment door and settle down onto a leather bench, reading an Agatha Christie. Sadly, I fear that this is never going to happen; the closest I will ever get to this experience will be to travel aboard the Orient Express.
The Orient Express trains are amazing, really amazing: impossibly glamorous, ornate and nostalgic. There are various trains dating from different periods, that run in different parts of the world, under the Orient Express umbrella. The most famous is probably the Venice Simplon-Orient Express, but there are three UK trains: the British Pullman, the Northern Belle and the Royal Scotsman.
For those interested, the British Pullman does run murder-mystery events on board, which include a five-course meal (no doubt composed of minuscule, unimaginably pretty food) and, more importantly, half a bottle of wine. However, it is somewhat expensive: the price of a decent second-hand car, a Mulberry handbag or a week in a fairly down-at-heel hotel somewhere in the Med — too much to spend on one train journey… isn’t it?
I doubt there will be a time when I can justify a ticket to travel on the Orient Express. On balance, this is probably a good thing: if I ever did, I would probably vomit with excitement, all over the luxurious mahogany fittings, which, I’m sure, is not what they expect from their patrons.
For the time being, I will have to be content with murder-mystery games set on trains. Now, it isn’t the easiest thing to convey ‘train’ at a dinner party, and I still haven’t quite worked out how to do it (if you have any ideas then I would love to hear them). The best I’ve come up so far is little lamps on white table-clothed tables, which looks pretty cosy, but not necessarily that much like a train!
Murder-mystery party games set on trains
A First Class Murder, Paul Lamond Games
Last Train From Paris, How to Host a Murder
Dead on Time, Cheatwell Games
|The most recent, somewhat controversial, dark and rather visually lovely ITV adaption of Murder on the Orient Express, with the wonderful David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. You can watch the trailer here.|
|The romantically shot Chanel No 5 advert set aboard the Orient Express.|
|The old PC game The Last Express, isn’t it beautiful? (see my previous post here if you are interested in this game).|
When finding your costume for a murder-mystery party, there a few issues with buying your outfit entirely from a fancy dress shop. Such ‘fancy dress’ is usually made of highly synthetic fabric and looks like it was designed to feature in a bad porno. Not really a good look, unless, of course, you want to get cast in a bad porno (not what this blog is about, in case you were wondering).
I recommend instead a dressing-up box, so you can gradually collect bits and pieces and then fit them together for each murder-mystery party. I say this so casually; of course, I don’t have a box myself so much as a collection cotton bags under the bed. But when I grow up I hope to have a massive oak trunk to keep my costumes in… and a big house by the sea, french doors leading onto a rambling garden, shabby velvet armchairs etc. (None of the latter are looking terribly likely but I live in hope that the box, at least, will be mine.)
This week I seem to want 1920s-style things, and I’ve found them all over the place (the 1920s, apparently, are having a second wind) but mostly on my nemesis Asos (vortex of wasted time and money) and Etsy (much better as it supports small, independent sellers).
If you decide to do a ’20s murder mystery, think decadence and glamour. Also think drinking too much and at least one guest accidentally incinerating your curtains with a cigarette in a long holder. Good times will be had by all.
Some great 1920s-style bits and pieces around at the moment (January 2012): Sass and Bide ‘Winding Road’ feather and Battenburg dress, SOS; Detail of beautiful beading, vintage 1920s bag, Etsy; 1920s replica ‘Ritz’ shoe; Revival Retro; Faux fox fur stole, Wrap Me In Couture, Etsy; Black metallic turban, ASOS
1920s-themed murder-mystery games: A First Class Murder, Paul Lamond Games; Murder at the Four Deuces, Dinner and a Murder; The Chicago Caper, How to Host a Murder; My Deadly Valentine, Whodunnit Dinners; Pyramids of Giza, Paul Lamond Games
I hope you enjoy being a flapper for the night, if you need a few tips on hosting a 1920s dinner party, click here.
Alongside my full-time job, I am currently writing a 16-player interactive murder-mystery game for the lovely, ever-patient Freeform Games. Something tells me I should have been rather less ambitious. Most of the time I love writing, but some days, like today, turn out like this:
10:00 Get up. Make coffee. See the laptop glinting in the morning light. Suddenly have a mysterious urge to clean the fridge. End up cleaning the entire flat surrounding the fridge too.
13:30 Square up to ancient laptop. Turn it on. It is making a malevolent buzzing noise. It is probably thinking about crashing and then blowing up, for something to do.
14:00 Realise I haven’t eaten anything yet. Inhale three shortbread biscuits, followed by more coffee.
17:00 Am forced to acknowledge that instead of writing my game I have wasted hours looking up murder-mystery weekends and Orient Express trips, neither of which I can afford. Feel bad about not having left the flat or achieved anything; get up and walk around, flapping arms, as though this is a substitute for either of these.
17:20 Actually start doing some work.
17:25 Am suddenly hungry. Get up and make ‘salad’ of cucumber, tinned chickpeas, cheddar, lemon juice and black pepper, messing up newly-cleaned kitchen in the process. It is verging on unpleasant, but I eat it anyway.
17:40 Hate Zoho. Shout at it for being a rubbish program. Think about drinking something other than coffee, but don’t. Wish I was a smoker so the anguished writer scene would at least be picturesque.
18:00 Realise I am stuck. Cry. Consider turning to Poirot box-set for comfort but decide to soldier on.
18:20 Admit defeat, wondering what other, normal people have done with their Sunday.
I had thought that this amazing computer game, The Last Express, was extinct, since the company sadly went into administration in the late nineties, but I’ve just found a downloadable version here.
I first fell in love with this game when I was a student at university. Indeed, I believe I completed it in a week in which I barely left the house, existing on only Bombay mix and cherry coke bought from the local newsagent. I emerged a week later with the defining pallor and vitamin deficiency of all gamers, but considerably elated; if you’re a murder-mystery fan then you really don’t want to miss out on this.
The game is set in 1914 aboard the opulent Orient Express. The player takes on the role of Dr Robert Cath, an American on the train’s final journey from Paris to Constantinople just before the outbreak of the First World War. Cath, already wanted by the French police, suspected of the murder of an Irish police officer, is contacted urgently by his old friend Tyler Whitney to join him on the Orient Express, gateway to the East, and a possible exit from all his troubles. Cath boards the train via a motorcycle and looks for Whitney, who is already on board. However, from the moment he steps onto the train, Cath becomes involved in a maelstrom of treachery, lies, political conspiracies, romance and, of course, murder.
Don’t be put off by the naive graphics, the whole thing has a wonderfully art nouveau feel and there is amazing attention to detail. If, like me, you’re an Agatha Christie fan and have read Murder on the Orient Express, you’ll enjoy just wandering the beautiful corridors and compartments.
However, the thing that’s really captivating about this game is that it’s in real time. The game’s characters, of which there are thirty, all have their own artificial intelligence and agendas, and move around the game to accomplish their goals, changing their plans due to player intervention. So, unlike linear games, no two play-throughs are exactly alike. Awesome. And ladies, watch out: for an animation, Dr Robert Cath is alarmingly attractive. (NB you will notice that in in all of these gameplay stills, he looks, at worst, mildly irked at being held a gunpoint.)