The Elsinore Vanish is the second book in my Beechworth Trilogy. Like all my books, it is a page-turning clue puzzle murder mystery, inspired by Agatha Christie. It has clues scattered through the plot and the reader is encouraged to assemble them into the story of a terrible murder.
The Locked Room Mystery
With this book I set out to write a version of the locked room mystery. This is a classic model of the writers of the Golden Age — the kind of mystery where the murder seems to be impossible.
For example a body might be found shot dead, alone in a room that is locked from the inside.
There is a brilliant example in the Jonathan Creek TV series, in which the killer disappears from a locked garage. (“Danse Macabre” Season 2 Ep 1.)
In The Elsinore Vanish a young man is poisoned in the Beechworth Town Hall. But the poison has been locked in a cupboard two kilometres away, with a person sitting in front of it.
The fascinating thing about locked room mysteries is the confrontation with the impossible. Things that seem impossible make us question what we thought we knew. They make us re-examine our rational processes.
I thought it would be fun to involve magicians and conjurers in the story. Not magicians of the big stage who have special effects to help them. I am interested in the kind of people who do magic up close — people who are brilliant at sleight of hand and tricking us, even when we think we are watching closely. They do card tricks and make things disappear, right in front of us.
The book opens with a conjuring show during which there is a shocking murder.
Someone who read an early version of my story accused me of putting in a card trick that was impossible. It isn’t impossible. Readers might like to try to work out how it was done.
There is a character, Paz Goldstone, a young kid, who is brilliant at this kind of thing. Paz is the core of the book, really. He’s odd but also very very smart and in a way he runs rings around the two young detectives, Chess and Matt. Whether or not he turns out to be the murderer, I’ll leave you to find out.
Intuition and Reason
At a recent festival on crime writing (https://www.terroraustralisfestival.com/) I was in a panel discussing the difference between the rational crime solving of Sherlock Holmes and the more intuitive methods Miss Marple.
I believe intuition is really a rational thing. Miss Marple has observed many situations and people in her long life, and that helps her to see the meaning in things before her. Her apparent intuition involves careful observation and pattern recognition. It is about recognising non-verbal clues, interpreting people’s emotional states and untangling interpersonal complexities.
My detective Chess is committed to working logically. But she is young and doesn’t have a deep understanding of people. In The Elsinore Vanish she comes up against a situation where reason is not helping. She and her friend Matt are going around in circles. Eventually she has to look up from her notebook and recognise what is going on inside people’s heads and hearts. Then the truth comes to her in a flash.
Of course, at the end the impossible situation is rationally explained.
Beechworth in north eastern Victoria is a lovely town. It is a town of gardens, surrounded by rolling hills, rich farms, olives and vineyards.But it is much more than that.
There is a great sense of history here, clearly apparent in the graceful old granite buildings.
I did not want to write about the history of Beechworth. Others are doing that thoughtfully and with detailed research. But I am interested in the sense of history that Beechworth holds. The texture. When you are here, the history seems to seep out of the walls.
When I was in the Town Hall one day, I walked onto the wooden stage and heard voices echoing beneath my feet. There is a spiral staircase leading to a trap door. I realised this hall, with its high ceilings and heavy furniture, would provide a wonderful setting for the opening scene.
This has to be one of the most atmospheric places in Victoria, especially on a dull cold afternoon — old, old gardens, rambling crumbling buildings, row upon row of empty windows and a long complex history full of personal tragedy, anguish and moral complexities.
Again others will write in detail of the history of the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum. For me it is a wonderful atmospheric setting for stories of death and murder, lies and betrayal.
I am not sure about ghosts, but in these gardens and buildings there are definitely traces of its past pain and sadness.
Matt and Chess
In Devastation Road Matt and Chess learned to think about death and mortality and came face to face with deep grief. They also began to realise how much they meant to each other. I am attached to them now and have taken their story into two more books: The Elsinore Vanish and Evermore, which will be released early next year.
At the opening of The Elsinore Vanish they already know each other well. Now they are ready to learn each other’s strengths and work together. That doesn’t mean they stay out of danger. But they are committed, above everything, to keep each other safe. In this, they come very close to failing.