Tuesday, 14 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #14: The Mystery at Crucifix Heights

[This one's a murder mystery. As far as SPOILERS are concerned, I don't say whodunnit but I do talk about the plot a bunch so if you want to go in totally unspoilt do not read and that goes for the next three days and all]

Dark Shadows: The Tony and Cassandra Mysteries 1.1
The Mystery at Crucifix Heights
written by Philip Meeks

In have no real interest in Dark Shadows. Not a judgement on the show or the fandom, just something I never got in to. However, the audios have a supernatural detective sub-series starring Jerry Lacy as private detective Tony Peterson and Lara Parker as the witch Cassandra Collins. I love supernatural detective fiction and I picked up their adventures cheap in various sales. Now they have their own box set series.

Its clear that Big Finish are expecting to draw in new listeners with the box set as Tony and Cassandra start the first story separated and not talking to one another. In fact, the truth behind why they're not talking to each other is probably more important to the story than the resolution of the murder mystery. Actually, talking of the murder...

This story makes a lot of reference to Agatha Christie, mainly through Tony's secretary Rita who spends much of the story (for complicated reasons) undercover as an English aristocrat whose entire idea of the English aristocracy comes from Christie novels. She even offers sage advice based on the format of Christie mysteries. Its clear that Philip Meeks wants to at least evoke the feel of a Christie mystery but, sadly, the hour format doesn't really give him enough opportunity to flesh out his characters before they die.

One of the important things about Christie is that we usually get to know the victim or victims as well as the suspects pretty well before the murder happens. Given the time limit and the lack of a visual element, an audio like this is at a distinct disadvantage. In fact, at one point the team discuss suspects and mention people who have not actually “appeared” in the story who are obviously not the killer because, from a listener's point of view, they don't exist.

Of course, the meat of the story isn't the murder of participants at an occult auction but the renewal of Tony and Cassandra's partnership. Tony is at the auction working undercover security whilst Cassandra has been engaged by a mysterious third party to bid on a particular item, a large preserved wing of unknown origin. We're introduced to other bidders: a Swedish psychic child; a pompous crypto-zoologist; a missionary sister from some Louisiana convent; and, a soothsayer amongst others.

Then, as they say, the murders begin...

To go back to the Christie thing again. It isn't possible, as it theoretically is in a Christie novel, to work out who did it through logic and considering motive. Its a twist ending because this is Dark Shadows and the author (probably correctly) works out its more interesting to study Terry and Cassandra's relationship through the idea that Tony isn't sure she hasn't been the one killing people on behalf of her client. Its not a bad thought for him to have given their past but its also, obviously from the listener's perspective, not true as we've heard unseen forces messing with Cassandra at various points before this. So we know that Cassandra is innocent and we get to enjoy how she reacts to the serious accusation after a few scenes of more comfortable, friendly bickering with Tony.

Its the relationship that sold this series to me back when it was an occasional divergence in the monthly range and Meeks perfectly captures what made me fall in love with these two characters in the first place.

Let's hope the rest of the box set gives me as much to talk about without needing to discuss whodunnit. 

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