Author of two highly regarded series of mystery novels and several standalone crime novels (including 2018’s critically acclaimed Gallows Court), Martin Edwards is also a short-story writer with dozens of stories in print, many of which appeared for the first time in the U.S. in the pages of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Additionally, he is a leading critic and expert in the field of mystery and crime fiction and the current president of Britain’s prestigious Detection Club. His book The Golden Age of Murder won Edgar, Agatha, H. R. F. Keating, and Macavity awards for best nonfiction in 2015. It’s no mystery why such a writer would be sought as a guest of honor at an expo whose aim was to introduce crime fiction to a generation of Chinese readers with a burgeoning interest in related mystery games. I wish I could have been there to hear Martin’s speech, but at least we all have the pleasure, here, of reading about his experiences and seeing some photos of the event!—Janet Hutchings
One thing I never expected to do was to be asked to sign a stack of copies of an issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine containing one of my stories (“The Girl on the Bandwagon”) during a mystery-game exhibition in, of all places, Shanghai. Yet that’s exactly what happened last month.
The opportunity to visit China came out of the blue. I was told that an expo celebrating “offline mystery games” was to be held in Shanghai, and I was invited to be a guest of honour. I was told that in recent years these games have developed as a new form of entertainment in China. Their roots can be traced back to murder mystery games played in the West between the world wars, but in recent years a TV show called Star Detective has become very popular in China, sparking great enthusiasm for offline mystery games. There are now over four thousand offline mystery game clubs across the country and I’m told that millions of young people are passionately enthusiastic about playing these mystery games.
Through the games, young players who previously knew little or nothing about Golden Age detective fiction have become intrigued by it. Famous writers of classic mysteries from the distant past, such as Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr, have become well-known. So offline mystery games have caused young Chinese people to become interested in detective fiction more generally.
This boom in the murder-mystery game industry was the catalyst for the convention. The expo was the first of its kind and the major exhibitors, I was told, would be game producers and resellers from all over China. They would bring their games to the venue and demonstrate the story to potential buyers and players. During the expo, visitors would be able play the game at each booth for free.
The aim of the expo was not only to publicise the games but also to raise awareness and knowledge of mystery literature and cultivate the culture of the detective story. I was asked to give a lecture on Golden Age mysteries, and also, because I’ve written a number of scripts for interactive murder mystery events in Britain, to give a short talk about them. My fellow guests of honour included Japan’s Shimada Soji, and France’s Paul Halter—and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, I’m glad to say, had a highly visible presence. The magazines flew off the shelves and Janet Hutchings addressed delegates via a prerecorded video. There was also an exhibition of rare signed books by the likes of Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, and Rex Stout.
The consultant to the exhibition, Fei Wu, a young detective writer (he has contributed to EQMM, while CITIC Press has just published his first novel, The Lost Winner), proved an admirable host, and Soji Shimada, Paul Halter, and I each took part in a separate mystery game. These games can run on for seven hours, although ours was limited to a couple of hours; playing it in the company of five young Chinese mystery fans and the game’s designer was like no other game I’ve ever encountered. There is a lot of role play and interaction between the players, and this social side to the game is evidently part of its appeal.
Paul Halter and I were particularly struck by the youth of the mystery-game fans, and we lost count of the number of selfies they took with us. Of the thousands of people who attended the expo (I gather that up to 5,000 were present on the Saturday alone) hardly any of them were over the age of thirty-five, and that included the Chinese crime writers, editors, and publishers I met.
I enjoyed myself enormously in Shanghai. And I do believe that the more we all do, as writers and readers, to get to know and understand each other, the more we’ll enjoy and appreciate each other. And the more likely it is that, even in an age where divisions sometimes seem appallingly deep, we’ll come to realise that—as the organisers cogently expressed on the mementos given to the guests of honour—we’re all part of one world.