Whodunit?

By ALBERT EVANS, 5th Avenue Artistic Associate

A cloud obscures the moon. A window shatters. A woman screams. Silence. Then…a car speeds away.

There has been a murder!

Never fear: the Great Detective is on the case, aided by a faithful but slightly befuddled companion.

Through the Detective’s keen powers of deduction and extensive knowledge of ceramics, pipe tobaccos, etc., the time has come to pin the crime on the perpetrator. All the suspects are brought together in one room to answer the question on everyone’s mind—

WHODUNIT?

In a classic whodunit mystery, the reader (or viewer) is given the same clues that the detective uncovers and is then invited to “play along” with the investigation.

The author introduces plenty of false leads to prevent anyone from guessing the answer prematurely, but a helpful recap of the investigation—provided by the Detective just before the final revelation—shows that the author has played fair.

All the puzzle pieces were in plain sight, but only one dazzling mind could fit them together.That mind typically belongs to an eccentric amateur sleuth or unorthodox private investigator, a constant irritant to the official police force.

The whodunit template was perfected in the 1880s by Arthur Conan Doyle. His characters—consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, admiring but clueless friend Dr. Watson, irritable Inspector Lestrade and criminal mastermind Moriarty—will all reappear in various guises throughout the following 130 years of crime fiction.

In the Golden Age of the whodunit, roughly 1920 to 1950, a flood of highly addictive novels and short stories often written by women showcased popular sleuths such as Agatha Christie’s two immortal characters: Miss Marple, an elderly spinster, and Hercule Poirot, the self-important Belgian who boasts of his “little gray cells.” Golden Age stories typically took place in secluded English country houses and nearby villages, with the occasional foray into London.

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett adapted the whodunit to the big-city streets of mid-century America, introducing a more violent, “hard-boiled” tone while retaining the same basic plot construction as the cozier British mysteries.

Agatha Christie, the unchallenged Queen of Crime Fiction, also wrote plays, most notably The Mousetrap, which opened in 1952 and is now the longest-running production in theater history, having run continuously since it opened and having more than 25,000 performances in London’s West End. Its success has inspired dozens of plays, parodies and musicals.

Other Christie plays include And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution, both adapted from her published fiction and both made into highly successful films, as were over 30 of her novels and short stories.

Television has thrived on whodunits, often in multi-season series, giving Netflix an endless supply of Masterpiece Murdoch Morse Monk Midsomer Marple Mysteries to stream to our home screens.

Despite “murder most foul” being at the center of most plots, true fans find the genre relaxing—nothing makes us forget our own troubles like a good whodunit.


Find out more about Murder for Two and purchase tickets by clicking here.

Author: The 5th Avenue Theatre

The Nation's Leading Musical Theater

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