For the Love of Raymond

http://i2.listal.com/image/511536/936full-raymond-chandler.jpg

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.

How to Host a Vampire Themed Murder-Mystery Game

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.

Vampireparty

Five things you will definitely need if you decide to host a vampire themed murder mystery:

  • Candles (you cannot have too many of these, they need to be everywhere), preferably the fat, church alter kind as they don’t burn down so quickly as the tapered ones.
  • Dark red rose petals (again, these should be everywhere, you should be picking them out of your hair by the end of the evening)
  • Faux-cobweb spray (magic in a can)
  • Lots of black or red fabric (preferably velvet or lace) to drape over your table/chairs/self, if your best Transylvanian accent is failing you
  • Red wine and/or (depending on the strength of your constitution) Bloody Mary in large quantities.

For a few vampire make-up and costume ideas click here.

Game Review: A Taste of Wine and Murder

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:

  1. The characters are 2D in the extreme and a bit boring to play. I saw someone yawning at one point, and someone else started making ‘grape art’ with the table decorations to entertain herself about half-way through.
  2. It might be set in any time period, so the fun element of dressing in the style of a certain time period was lacking – it almost felt as if the game makers had assigned a setting as an afterthought.
  3. Most importantly, the solution was impossible to work out; I won’t give anything away here, but there is a lot of information not revealed during the course of the game that suddenly makes an appearance in the denouement — we’re not psychic University Games!

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!

Untitled-1

Top Five Devastating Fictional Detectives

A well-written detective can have a devastating effect; here are my top five (but I’m prepared to reconsider if you think I’ve missed anyone out):


#5
The Alpha Male

Dwight ‘Bucky’ Bleichert in neo noir classic The Black Dahlia (2006). The film itself is merely OK, with a convoluted, confusing plot, and certainly less fascinating than the real Black Dahlia case from 1924. However, it is stylishly shot and you will almost certainly find yourself exhaling a sigh or two over Bucky, so I say it’s worth watching. Bucky is a typical alpha male, an ex-boxer turned cop, with a weakness for good-looking women and a gaping hole where his cultured side should be: ‘I don’t get modern art’ Bucky says to Madeline, a femme fatale with whom he is entangled, ‘I doubt modern art gets you, either’, she snipes back. An illicit, thoroughly un-pc pleasure, Bucky’s attractiveness is only enhanced by the fact that he is played by Josh Hartnett *swoon*, who I would probably fancy cast as the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

#4 The Sensitive

Alex Mavros from the dark, atmospheric crime-fiction trilogy by Paul Johnston. Described in the beginning of Crying Blue Murder as too handsome for his own good, this soulful, sensitive man is quite irresistible. I first got to know Alex when interning at Mills & Boon three years ago. I was told to read the trilogy and have a go at rewriting the blurbs (it’s a hard life, I know); I fell in love with the half-Scottish, half-Greek private eye, and you probably will too. Alex is handsome but what makes him irresistible is his sensitivity, unusual in crime fiction detectives: ‘Mavros shook his head to dispel the thoughts… but the heart-rending beauty of the scene overwhelmed him.’

#3 The Louche

Charles Paris from the BBC audio book mystery series, adapted from the novels of Simon Brett. Charles Paris, played perfectly by Bill Nighy, is an endearingly dysfunctional jobbing actor, easily tempted by life’s pleasures – mostly scotch and younger women as far as he is concerned – who lodges with his estranged wife Francis, who he is still in love with – oh, and who solves dark thespian crimes. Paris is alarmingly attractive for what is essentially an alcoholic old man (clearly turning 27 has led to my finally succumbing to the appeal of the Silver Fox). I highly recommend not just the sexiness of the character but also the brilliance of the series, which is so very funny and by far my favourite new audio book discovery.

#2 The Loner

Brendon Frye in Brick (2005). Again, I must confess a terrible weakness for Joseph Gordon-Levit, which stems from my teenage years, swooning over him in Third Rock from the Sun, but it’s the character he plays in Brick who really shoots arrows through my heart. The film itself is a genius hybrid of film noir and teen drama, which sounds naff but actually works brilliantly: the intensity of high-school life and teenage emotion enhancing the ‘mean streets’ vibe that film noir brings to the table.

Devastatingly cool and collected, and always ready with clever one liners (intelligence is sexy, I say), Brendon, like most hard boiled detectives, is an outsider, who can’t trust anyone. ‘I can’t trust you….With you behind me I’d have to tie one eye up watching both your hands, and I can’t spare it’ says Brendon, who begins and ends the film alone… I guess that means that he’s still available…

#1 The Hero

Private Eye Philip Marlowe, creation of Raymond Chandler. I’ve yet to meet a woman who hasn’t been left with an intangible dissatisfaction with reality after reading a Marlowe mystery. Marlowe is almost too good to be true. The ultimate hero, a good man in a bad world, Marlowe is not above rescuing damsels in distress, and he’s not in it for the money either. ‘You’re so marvellous,’ says Anne Riordan to Marlowe in Farewell My Lovely, ‘So brave and determined and you work for so little money… What makes you so wonderful?’

And what makes Marlowe doubly attractive is just how unattainable he is: he isn’t real, so obviously we can’t have him, but, significantly, he remains ultimately elusive even to the most attractive female characters in the books: ‘I’d like to be kissed, damn you!’ continues Anne Riordan in Farewell my Lovely. Well, so would we Anne, so would we!

I would love to know who your dream detectives are!

The Dressing-up Box: #2 The Elegant Edwardians

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:

  • Art Nouveau patterns
  • A column-like silhouette, with long narrow skirts and a high waists
  • Exotic feathered headbands, turbans and wide brimmed hats
  • Lace up, pointy ankle boots
  • Above-the-elbow length gloves
Edwardianfashionpost

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!

For inspiration

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)

How to Host a 1920s Dinner Party – And all That Jazz

It was my birthday last week and, amongst a myriad of fun things and general over-indulgence, I had a 1920s-themed dinner party. Honestly, it was supposed to be a murder-mystery party, but I failed to organise it in time, so it got downgraded: dinner, costumes and booze, just no corpse.

I had a little difficulty designing a 1920s menu. According to my first Google search, the only things they ate in the 1920s were Waldorf salad, baked ham and pineapple upside-down cake. Firstly, this seemed rather unlikely, and secondly, most of my friends are vegetarian and I can’t even make cake the right way up. Also, it’s not so easy to convey ‘1920s’ in the average modern house. Blog posts I read on the subject called for crisp white table cloths, fine bone china and black place mats, one even suggested strings of pearls hanging around the room! I don’t know about you, but I can’t really afford to start buying different coloured table cloths, place mats and fine bone china every time I have a themed party. And who really uses place mats anyway? So I ignored all the Internet advice and did it my way, and it was surprisingly easy, cheap and amazingly good fun. Below are my 1920s dinner party tips; I think you should definitely host one!

  • Don’t get too carried away. No-one will love you any the less if you haven’t single-handedly made authentic hors d’oeuvres, a trio of deserts and choreographed a tap-dancing routine to ‘All That Jazz’. In fact, if you forced them to sit through the latter, they may love you less.
  • Accept help if it’s offered: you deserve to enjoy your party too. My wonderful friends James and Holly provided the cocktails and upside-down cake: I will love them forever.
  • Vintage suitcases or hatboxes help convey the 1920s theme and make cool storage solutions, so you can get lots of use out of them after the party. You can usually find these at second-hand stores or on Ebay.
  • Any black-and-white photographs you have knocking around the house help to set the scene; alternatively, you could just print out pictures of 1920s film stars and put them in a few frames.
  • Anything vintage-looking like glass decanters, straw boater hats, fancy candle sticks or china teacups work really well and can usually be found in charity shops.
  • Cocktail glasses, a cocktail shaker and someone at least half adept at making them are a must. Even if you have no food, you definitely need cocktails!
  • Rose petals scattered on the table and flowers in vases are an easy way to make your table look good.
  • Most importantly, don’t forget the music, and start playing it before everyone arrives to get yourself in the mood. You can get downloads to your computer from Amazon pretty cheaply. We had an album called The Romantic Age of the Twenties, which was cool, but ultimately I think something more raucously jazzy would be more fun.
  • Don’t worry too much about making the food accurate, perhaps just throw in a couple of token things. For example, I made an Italian aubergine and Parmesan dish, with a Waldorf salad on the side. I’m not sure if they really went together, but they both tasted nice, so I’m not sure it really mattered.

If you’d like some ideas on 1920s fashion and murder mystery games, you can see my earlier post here; if you want to check out my first, original murder mystery game click here!

 

1920sparty

Train on the Brain

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

For inspiration

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).

The Dressing-up Box: #1 The Roaring ’20s

A dressing-up box

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.

1920s fashion basics

  • Drop-waisted dresses, just-below-the-knee in length. (If that looks as bad on you as it does on me, you can skirt around this issue — excuse the pun — by getting something with ’20s fringing, sequins or feathers but of a shorter length.)
  • Close-fitting hats or sequined caps or turbans. (Headbands, although popularly associated with the 1920s, in fact had their heyday in the early 1900s, and are more associated with art nouveau than deco.)
  • Shoes with a smallish heel and gently rounded point, and often T-bar or with an ankle strap.
  • Pearls, art deco jewellery.
  • Lots of exotic beading, feathers and fur
  • Clothes and jewellery inspired by ancient Egypt. (Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in 1922 and piqued public interest.)

1920sfashion
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.

A Day in the Life of a Murder-Mystery Game Writer

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.

Catch The Last Express, Before it Disappears Again!

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.

LastExpress

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.)

Still not convinced by this retro gem? Check out the game trailer here.