Book three of the King Harald Mysteries is moving along, though slower than I had hoped. The tale plays out in only about twenty-four hours and all the action takes place at a vacation resort socked in by a blizzard. As I anticipated, I’m finding it tougher to write within those constraints of pacing and plot. All my other mysteries have had more elbow room, in terms of time and real estate. Although my work-in-progress is not a locked-room mystery per se, I thought I might find some inspiration watching how one of the titans of mystery handled a similar situation.
Several years ago Acorn, the distributor of British TV shows, bought a controlling interest in the Agatha Christie estate. And one of the first fruits of that new arrangement is the moody, stylish production of And Then There Were None. A few decades ago the title had been Ten Little Indians, now considered culturally insensitive. And Christie’s original title can no longer even be said in any kind of polite company. In this new three-part television version, the bit of doggerel nursery rhyme that the murders embody is called “Ten Little Soldiers.”
The plot, of course, is that ten strangers are invited to a house party at a mansion on an isolated island. The first evening there, they are accused—via a phonograph record—of all being murderers. Then they start dropping like flies, each in the manner of the little soldiers. The first one chokes to death (cyanide), the second fails to wake, etc. And, to everyone’s dismay, the boat that is supposed to fetch them fails to show up. The ten are stranded with a secret killer in their midst. Or, more properly, I should say that nine are stranded with the killer.
I haven’t read or seen the story in many years (in fact, since I was in a high school production of it, playing Dr. Armstrong). Even though I didn’t find much in the TV show that helped me out of the pickle I’ve gotten myself in, I still enjoyed seeing again how the great lady of mystery deals with murder and mayhem in a grim, isolated location. Of special note in this Acorn production is the performance of Toby Stephens in my old role of Dr. Armstrong. Of course, he does a much better job than this former seventeen-year-old member of the National Thespian Society. But then I wouldn’t expect anything less from the son of Dame Maggie Smith.
Thank goodness, nothing as dark and deadly as Christie’s plot is going to unfold at the Beaver Tail Resort and Conference Center. No one will die horribly. But—spoiler alert—at least two toes will be broken. And so will my heart, if I can’t figure out how to bring all the plot threads together for a really gung-ho finale. Maybe I need to pack up my unfinished manuscript and book a nice quiet room for a few days on an isolated island…