Where do murder mystery characters come from?

May 1, 2020

As there are no murder mystery events happening at the moment I thought I would be using my time writing reams of new characters and plots but strangely the lock-down situation is rather demotivating.  It has made me feel quite reflective and I’ve taken the time to look over a few things I wrote last year when on a writing retreat to ‘La Muse’ near Carcassonne, in France.  It’s a great place to just relax, enjoy the sun and write some new stories while imbibing the wonderful rural idyll.  It’s a lush green, wooded valley, very remote and mostly inhabited by the older generation who can manage the isolation.  I’m sure they will bear the current pandemic with fortitude, probably much better than me!  Re-reading my diaries reminded me that I read and loved a book called The Women in Black by Madeleine St John written in 1994.

I particularly like the character descriptions, which are humorous and engaging .  The story is set in a swanky Australian department store in 1959 and follows the lives of 5 of the ladies who work there.  It is so well written and has sharp, brilliant observations of the women, husbands and suitors.  It’s a sort of “Are you being Served” written by Jane Austin.  The book was made into a film last year called ‘Ladies in Black’ staring Julia Ormond and with the help of Netfilx, I have been able to watch it during this self imposed exile.  I highly recommend it for it’s style, humour and uplifting story.

This is Julia Ormond as Magda, the immigrant worker with attitude, both revered and ostracised, “Magda, the luscious, the svelte and full-bosomed, the beautifully tailored and manicured and coiffed, was the most overwhelmingly, scented, gleaming, god-awful and ghastly snake woman that Mrs Williams, Miss Baines and even possibly Miss Jacobs has ever seen, or even imagined”

It sowed the seeds for a character I wrote last September for a murder mystery in York.  A group of Dutch students asked for a murder mystery evening that featured York Minster and brought to life some of the characters that might work there.  One of these is Mrs Vivienne Clary, the imagined wedding organiser for York Minster.  She is a forceful character, stubbornly resistant to criticism and able to turn any situation to her advantage.  On the day in question she calls a meeting with Reverend Clotherstone and her client, proud mother of the bride, Mrs Peacock (pictures below):

The murder mystery revolves around these three characters and a meeting held to plan the happy nuptials.  Here is an extract describing the arrival of Mrs Clary:

It is not a congenial atmosphere in the meeting room.  Tension permeates the air like a bad farmyard smell.  Mrs Peacock sighs several times as she reads through the long sheet of paper Rev Clotherstone has just given her.

“Really Reverend, I’m not sure this is all relevant,” she starts to say but he’s ready with his answer,

“Please take the time to avail yourself of our strictly enforced guidelines so we don’t have any discrepancies,” he responds curtly.

 She carries on staring at the sheet, but her mind wonders as to where Mrs Clary, the new wedding officer for York Minster, might be?  On her knees in the vestry?  She smirks and stares out of the large Georgian window at an independent book seller over the road called ‘Sunshine Book Shop’. For God’s sake hurry up she thinks and is pleased she hasn’t said this out loud given the company across the room.

“I believe Mrs Clary is very friendly with the new Dean; the right Rev Frost, ” she tries a little conversation again but this only solicits a glance and a, “really?” from Rev. Clotherstone.  She returns to the sheet headed, ‘Marriage of those who have been divorced’.

At last, they hear heels clip clopping up the wide wooden stairs and in walks Mrs Clary in a tight fitting, vivid orange, almost neon, satsuma summer dress.  Eye-catchingly low cut, it forces Rev Clotherstone to squint and turn his head as if the hellish vision unsettles him for a moment.  Mrs Clary isn’t the least bit ruffled by her poor time-keeping and smiles engagingly at them both.  Vivienne Clary is efficient, vain, condescending and a seasoned manipulator.    Now she has their attention she says,

“Apologies to you both.  I’m so sorry to keep you waiting but I just couldn’t get away from Rev Frost, he had lots to tell me about his new plans.  All very exciting, and he gave me an update on his organ appeal.”

“Oh, I do hope it’s good news,” says Mrs Peacock eagerly, “I am so worried it won’t be ready before the wedding and you can’t have a wedding without an organ, can you?”

“It will be ready Mrs Peacock, I give you my personal guarantee, now shall we get on.” Mrs Clary places her laptop on the table and after a few taps with her long talon fingers, she is running through the marriage nuptials for Desdemona, Mrs Peacock’s one and only daughter.

Needless to say a rather nasty end lies ahead for one of these characters and the Dutch students had a great evening detecting the murderer.

We look forward to reviving these three characters for a murder mystery evening near you in the not too distant future.  In the meantime keep safe!