Hello again everybody! Long time no see! It is I, your dutiful, loyal, and long-suffering Literary Director, Box Office Manager, and Blogslave, returning from my interminable absence to enlighten my adoring audience about our recently-announced and highly-anticipated follow-ups to our Audio-Mysteries [oops. Strike this hyphen. Got a little dash-happy there -ed.]
Ordinarily I write these blogs in conjunction with the release of our shows, nominally as a part of our marketing campaign but mostly because I, along with the rest of the company, am hip-deep in the text we are working on and have many thoughts and interpretations, which everybody else gets to share viscerally on stage or in audio, but which I am forced by my lack of acting ability or design sensibilities to express via the hallowed medium of the Blog Post. But for our initial Mystery run, thanks to an extremely positive article in the Washington Post, we had no need for my far inferior writing to advertise the show. Moreover, a myriad of real-life personal issues, including but not limited to a literal broken leg (irony of ironies), prevented me from composing one at a reasonable time. So instead I am sharing with you some thoughts about mysteries, their origins, and our intrepid detectives now, to correspond with some details about our upcoming Episodes 2! A plus of this weird, late blog entry is that I don’t have to be cagey or cryptic about our previous stories, always a tricky line to walk when discussing mysteries and detective fiction. Instead I will be cagey and cryptic about our UPCOMING stories, to build suspense.
But I am putting Descartes before the whores, as the madam said when she took up philosophy. First we need to talk about mysteries. But really, what we need to talk about is detectives. You can’t solve a mystery without a detective! And if you know me at all, you know that I’m going to start at the very beginning. It is, after all, a very good place to start. [I learned that from a disgraced former nun who fled Austria in the early days of the Second World War -KH]
Edgar Allan Poe, unlike the horror genre with which he is mainly associated, and the science fiction genre which only officious pedants associate him with, does have a legitimate and widely-recognized claim to the invention of the detective story. His creation C. Auguste Dupin, the protagonist of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “The Mystery of Marie Roget”, and “The Purloined Letter”, is commonly seen as the first Literary Detective. The Mystery Writers of America’s annual award, the Edgar, is named in honor of We Happy Few’s second-favorite depressive alcoholic. [behind yours truly -KH] This is not to say that Poe single-handedly invented the idea of solving a mystery out of whole cloth. There are examples of mysteries to be solved, and characters solving them, in the German Gothic and French Enlightenment traditions, as well as stories with what we would recognize as mystery elements in 1001 Arabian Nights and Shakespeare, to say nothing of the Chinese gong’an, or Crime Case, genre (of which the Circle of Chalk is a well-known example). Poe’s innovation was to make the story center around the detective, hide the resolution from the reader until the end, and have the detective character explain the solution for the benefit of the audience.
In any case Mssr. Dupin, Chevalier de la Legion D’honneur, opened the floodgates for all sorts of cunning, clever detectives to follow in his footsteps. Obviously the most famous was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, but there also followed Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Montague Egg, Seishi Yokomizo’s Kosuke Kindaichi, Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn, Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret, and scores of their peers, all private detectives solving cases the police could not, often making them look like fools in the process. From the ever flowing stream of the detective genre branched subgenres of all stripes, including (but not limited to!) the gentler Cozy Mysteries such as Christie’s Miss Marple or my mother’s favorite, Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown’s Mrs. Murphy, plucky and precocious Child detectives like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Scooby Gang, and the gin-swilling, gun-toting, cigarette-chomping Hardboiled detectives favored in America, such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and (my personal favorite) Dashiell Hammett’s nameless Continental Op. To say nothing of supernatural mysteries or police procedurals, both in their turn spawning, hydra-like, a host of related sub-subgenres.
I will come back to these in another blog. I don’t have time to explore in depth the innumerable subdivisions of detective stories, nor the rules, both unofficial and codified, for what makes a story both True Detective Fiction and fair to the audience. Not when I have our two detectives to, at long last, introduce! And especially not when they are both orthodox detectives, having arrived on the scene long before the genre began to Balkanize. I am speaking, of course, of Mister Sherlock Holmes and Miss Loveday Brooke, two private detectives working in the greater London area in the waning years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Holmes, of course, needs no introduction, being one of the most iconic characters in literary history. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1880s, he has the honor of being the second most-portrayed literary character in the history of film, behind only fellow We Happy Few alumnus Dracula, and that is without counting his knockoffs like Basil of Baker Street, the Great Mouse Detective. Sherlock Holmes, with his deerstalker cap and faithful companion Dr. Watson in tow, is almost certainly the first image conjured to mind when the subject of detectives comes up. His idiosyncrasies, his aloof, even cold manner to his clients, his craving for intellectual stimulation, his fondness for disguise, and especially his habit of making tremendously accurate logical leaps from scant evidence, all make him the Very Model of a Modern Consulting Detective, the gold standard by which all others are judged. Small wonder that when we conceived of the Detective Audio Play series, we knew that Sherlock Holmes would make an appearance.
And yet you will observe that we did NOT begin the project with the Detective of Baker Street. Our first (and much more successful) story in the series featured the talents of Miss Loveday Brooke, of the Lynch Court Detective Agency, created by Catherine Louisa Pirkis in the 1890s. By contrast to Mr. Holmes and many other literary detectives she is NOT of nebulous but independent means, and must use her remarkable talents of deduction and observation for a paycheck, instead of merely for her own amusement. She is also, notably, a Lady Detective, another rarity in this era. But unlike many of her female colleagues she does not solve Cozy Mysteries at manor house garden parties or in sleepy seaside villages with the help of her cat. Brooke is in a class all by herself, twice over: a working-class detective in an era dominated by gentlemen of leisure taking jobs to while away the hours, and a tough and smart woman proving herself more than a match for the bumbling police or her well-meaning but blustering employers. She is exactly We Happy Few’s favorite kind of character, and we are thrilled beyond measure to be able to resurrect her for a new audience.
We are delighted to bring both of these detectives back to you in our second installment of our Detective Audio Plays. Mr. Holmes plays with fire while solving the Adventure of the Norwood Builder, while Ms. Brooke puts her life on the line to uncover the Murder at Troyte’s Hill. In just a few short months, you will have the opportunity to solve the mysteries right alongside our detectives, even down to looking at the same clues, when you receive our Audience Experience package. Keep your eyes peeled in November, when both of these packages will go on sale. And if you missed out on the first mysteries, they are still available HERE as well!