Is your social calendar a bit light this month? Are you craving the society of irascible people? Do you fancy a peek into a 1920’s country house party where anything can happen – and where you might have a say in what follows?
To be honest, I don’t know what will follow, but here is how it began: a group of my fellow bloggers and I were checking in with each other, and one of us, I don’t remember who – okay, it was Moira. Moira receives the credit for getting this ball rolling – Moira, Moira, Moira – said that she would rather spend time in a Golden Age mystery fantasy than in this apocalyptic sci-fi novel in which we seem to have found ourselves. And then she set about creating the character that she would play in just such a fantasy.
Of course, the rest of us followed, and before you could say “Ronald Knox’s Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction,” we had a party going on. Now, I’ve never been a fantasy-game player, and I’ve eschewed video games because, well, 1) there are very few whodunnit mystery games in the Western world, and 2) it would wreak havoc on my waistline!
Still here I am, hunkered down in my home for a time period that looks like it might extend till June, looking for ways to connect with all you mystery lovers out there. And so I welcome you to . . .
MURDER AT DUNGAREES: An Interactive Mystery!!!!!!!!
“Greta stepped gingerly out of the Duesenberg coupe and stood on the sandy path that led to the great house. A forbidding sky cast a cold, grey light and extended the shadows that emanated from the towers of Dungarees Castle. The rows of windows glinted opaquely, hiding their secrets.
“Greta stared at the paneled front door of Dungarees . . . and panted.”
Don’t worry. I’m not about to inundate you with purple prose. OR . . . AM . . . I?????
Here is the premise:
It is 1928, and we find ourselves in the British countryside at Dungarees, the palatial estate of Lord Petty, who has invited a group of friends and acquaintances for a week or two of shooting, dining, and other . . . interesting pursuits. The house party consists of the following (and I have identified the name of each character’s creator for you):
Lord Benjamin Petty (BKF): Petty was, for many years, a doctor, but he retired abruptly and has recently arrived in this part of Newbury. He amassed his great wealth in varied ways, not all of them apparent. He has a wide variety of interests and pursuits . . . not all of them apparent. He purchased this estate from the Lancasters, a locally prominent but impoverished family, and has recently entered Parliament.
Henrietta (“Hetty”) Petty (BKF): Petty’s beautiful – and much younger – American wife, a former actress possessed of immense charm, passion and ego. Back in the States, she was a rising silent star, said to rival the likes of Pickford and Gish, but her career ended suddenly. Rumors had it that her voice wasn’t well suited to the emerging sound technology, but anyone listening to her sultry contralto tones would know this to be untrue. On an ocean crossing aboard the Mauretania, she crossed paths on the dance floor with Dr. Petty . . . and the rest is history.
Countess Sophronia Lancaster (Moira, Clothes in Books): the young (well, –ish) glamorous and secretive daughter of the previous owner, whose parents have fled to the Cote d’Azur. Sophronia arrives with a fabulous wardrobe, a slightly sinister maid, and an inexplicable habit of wandering round the old house late at night looking for a new book from the library. And not just sensational novels either, as the Countess has a remarkable facility with technical knowledge of all sorts.
Zuzana Materska (Moira again): the Countess’ Slovakian maid, as cold and imperious as her mistress is warm and friendly. What horrors has she escaped? What intrigue does she bring with her???
Peter Moss (JJ, The Invisible Event): The gardener, a taciturn man who keeps sneaking down to the coastline late at night. For what reason? Wouldn’t you like to know…
Diogenes Pratt (Aidan, Mysteries Ahoy): the village chemist whose status in the village has skyrocketed with the news that he is Lord Petty’s nephew. Although Horace’s mother is estranged from her brother, Petty, with no children of his own, has developed a fondness for his nephew. Horace is a genial, florid man, fond of his meat and beer, and with a mad pash for every young and nubile thing. Many a barmaid and servant girl has fallen prey to his charms. And of course, he has a wide and varied knowledge of chemistry.
J.K. Diebehnkorn (Brad, Ah Sweet Mystery): a film director as renowned as Cecil B DeMille’s tailor.. Stylish in his jodhpurs, garish sweater vests, he sports a chic goatee, a monocle and a glorious silver streak in his well-pomaded hair. He has formed a friendship with Lord Petty through his wife and seeks financing for his new epic – and first sound film – a musical mystery set in a bootlegger’s speakeasy called 100 Proof!
Greta Frink (Kate, Cross Examining Crime): J.K. Diebehnkorn’s personal secretary, recently hired for her cool demeanor. When people meet her, they remark, “She’s so serious and career-minded and dresses so sensibly.” Little do they know what lies beneath those sensible glasses and well-plaited hair . . .
Lucinda Leaharlan (Bev, My Reader’s Block): The curvaceous Lucy owns the village bookshop and was hired by Lord Petty to catalogue his extensive library. Petty is not exactly the bookish type, being more interested in figures (hers in particular at the moment) than the written word and doesn’t realize that he has a fortune in first editions on the shelves.
Rounding out our party is an unexpected guest whom you will meet in our next installment. Rest assured that this gathering abounds with dark secrets, hidden relationships, and inexplicable and downright inexcusable behavior. At Dungarees, nobody slacks off.
HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED????
As the story unfolds, much will be revealed, and much will remain murky. You are invited to participate, as an armchair detective, a commentator, or a driver of narrative if you wish. All you need do is suggest a twist in the narrative in the comments below. I will consult with my part-time collaborators, all of whom have their own chaotic lives and amazing blogs that you should visit. If we deem your twist worth using, you will receive a nod of credit and our deepest thanks.
And so, my friends, feel free to follow along as . . . . something happens. My plan is to provide a new installment every Saturday for as long as I can sustain this. And just remember: no matter how chaotic things may seem – in the real world or on the stormy estate of Dungarees – at the end of a mystery order is restored.
Stay safe and healthy out there.