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So You’re Stuck in a Cozy Mystery: A Survival Kit

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Jesse Doogan

Staff Writer

Jesse Doogan writes about food, faith, books, and DIY projects, and sometimes even puts these things on her blog. She works in publishing and lives near Chicago with her cat. She tweets about all these things at @jadoogan.   Blog Twitter: @jadoogan

There’s a twist in the air, can’t you feel it? Just a moment ago, you were picking up a loaf of French bread from the local patisserie and all was well with the world, but now? Is that a sinister sneer from the vicar across the lane? 

You think that perhaps you should carry on with your errands — those flowers won’t arrange themselves, and you have nearly a dozen brown-paper parcels to pick up all around town — but the birds, who, just a moment ago were singing you on your way, have fallen silent. 

Maybe you should just stop in for a bracing cup of coffee. Besides, your local is the best place to hear any new gossip. But when you enter, the normally chatty barista has no beans to spill, and the other patrons offer nothing but whispers. 

The bookstore. Regina, the bookseller, is always up for a long chat about local events and politics. Surely, she’ll explain the change that has come over the town. But when you open the door, the cheerful bell rings, but there’s no bookseller to be found. Instead, you see only a fleeing shadow and a body on the ground. 

You, my friend, have stumbled upon a mystery. 

Surely, you’ve prepared for this? You can whip open your carpet bag and pull out exactly the item you need. Perhaps a camera to photograph the crime scene? Or a notebook to take down your observations? No? Nothing? What’s that? A phone? Sure, if you want to call someone else to take care of this.

Listen, if you’re planning a life of amateur sleuthing, you’re going to have to be prepared. 

Now, first thing’s first. You’re going to want to look like a detective. You’re going to want something distinctive to wear. Yes, yes, like Sherlock’s deerstalker, but think bigger. I’m partial to a cape, such as the wool one Margaret Rutherford wore when she portrayed Miss Marple. A cap is practical, sure, but a cape is drama.

If you’re looking for Rutherford’s exact cape, it was made by The Spinning Wheel in Stratford-upon-Avon, but there are many more modern options.

brown wool and plaid cape

Now, you will also require something to carry all your gear. There are several sensible options, but panniers for your bicycle will get you far in your little town — that’s where all your murders are, yes?

leather bicycle panniers

Of course, you can use whatever bag you think is handy, but please, pack some kind of bag. A backpack is fine. Just, please, no — how did you put it? “Apple Pay and vibes?” Be sensible.

Now, to fill the bag. There are some essentials. I know they call it amateur sleuthing, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need to practice. I recommend your basic lockpick set. Three hours a week until you can pop a lock silent as the night. No excuses.

lock pick set

Of course, you’re going to need a flashlight. A nice heavy one can do double duty — yes, obviously that is what I mean. And no, I don’t want to hear another word about your phone. Notoriously shoddy batteries and no reception in caves.

Cain's Jawbone book cover

There are other ways of getting practice in. You must sharpen your mind. You’ve heard of Cain’s Jawbone? It’s a ghastly difficult puzzle. It’s a book with pages all out of order. You will reorder all the pages until you have figured out the six victims and their murderers. Supposedly, only three people have ever solved the mystery. I was two of them, but that’s neither here nor there. Commit your weekend to it.

For something a bit lighter, perhaps to stay sharp during a stakeout, you might try another kind of puzzle: jigsaw. This one pays homage to the queen while giving you clues to find. Practice looking quizzically at the pieces while you’re really eyeing that suspect across the room.

The World of Agatha Christie: 1000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle

Of course, there are manuals for these kinds of things. You’ll want that nice one with the red cover. But you’re going to want to read the classics. All the classics: Dupin and Holmes and Wimsey and Poirot and Bakshi and Marple should get you started. You should be able to find most of them on these bookshelves.

the book Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village

What else, what else…a magnifying glass? I suppose you can if you’d like. I’m not sure what 10x magnification is going to do for you in the field, but traditions are traditions for a reason, I suppose.

magnifying glass and cleaning cloth

Then, if course, if you’re going to get into novelties, you’ve got your poison teacups and your cryptexes, little things you can use to throw off whoever is in your line of questioning. Now, you’ll only want to use the teacup if you have the antidote. Usually.

teacup with the text YOU HAVE BEEN POISONED on the bottom of it to be revealed when the teacup is empty

Of course, you won’t have time for any of that now. You’re the only one in this bookstore besides the body. Poor Regina. I, of course, will be gone before anyone arrives. I hope you take some of my advice to heart! You seem sharp and I think you might have a future in this. Pity I’ll need to use my flashlight here in broad daylight, but now you know what being prepared means. Sleep well!