It is quite exciting to have reached this landmark, given my unplanned reduction in blogging this year. I’ve had this idea for a blog post for quite some time, though of course I still left it until post 899 to decide which sleuths I would like to most invite. I didn’t have a rigorous criterion, but I think the key element for me was being able to visualise having an enjoyable conversation with the sleuth in question. It wasn’t simply a case of characters I enjoyed reading about. I wanted some variety within my group, though not too much that the diverging personalities began to clash. I also stuck to serial characters, as I felt this aided my first criteria. Equally there was case of considering whether a given sleuth would enjoy coming to a dinner party. As much as I love Leo Bruce’s Sergeant Beef, I think he would much prefer a pint, a bar snack and a game of darts. I also gave Craig Rice’s Helene and Jake Justus a wide berth, mainly as I am not too sure what state they would leave my home in. That and the amount of alcohol I’d have to buy. I appreciate that I am probably breaking all dinner party rules in having more women than men at the table, but I’m sure some of them have big enough personalities to make this seem less of a problem. Anyways here goes my list…
- Miss Marple – So yes, I have started with perhaps a rather obvious choice, or perhaps not? After all there are many out there who would find her an uncomfortable choice given her darker and sharper edges. She’s not called Nemesis for nothing. Yet I think that side comes out much more towards the killers she uncovers, so if I hold off from committing any murders before she turns up, I should be alright. Others may feel she is a dour choice, but from my reading and re-reading of her cases, I find she has plenty of conversational surprises up her sleeve.
- Sister Pelagia – This is Boris Akunin’s sleuthing nun, who only has three exploits during the late 19th century in Russia. However, despite her short outing as a character I think she would make for a rather fun guest. Nuns and fun may seem antithetical, yet Pelagia quickly shows her readers in her debut case, Pelagia and the White Bulldog (2000), that her sense of humour didn’t disappear when she took her vows and like Miss Marple, she is full of disconcerting surprises.
- Jane and Dagobert Brown – Regular readers will not be surprised by my inclusion of these married sleuths, created by Delano Ames. Given their bohemian and spontaneous lifestyle I felt they would be good mixers within the party, without any eccentricities taking over. Their humorous turns of phrase and the fact they are not completely wrapped up in each other, also means they could contribute well to the dinner table conversation.
- Ambrose Chitterwick – When thinking about my favourite authors, my mind did turn to Anthony Berkeley, but no one will be perturbed that I didn’t decide to invite Roger Sheringham. My brain, however, did pause over Chitterwick. Now there is an ideal guest for dinner party and he no doubt has plenty of experience of them as well. He paired up rather well with another guest and despite his demure demeanour there is a sharp mind behind that benign exterior.
- Tuppence and Tommy Beresford – Another Christie inclusion and my second pair of married sleuths. In some ways I think they would fulfil a similar function to Jane and Dagobert, though in a more restrained manner. In fact, I thought Tommy would get on well with Dagobert, swapping yarns about their various exploits.
- Ariadne Oliver – Well you can’t not invite Ariadne! Yes, she is can be loud and effusive, but she is also wonderfully kind and zany, with her mind pursuing five different thoughts at once. It is hard not to find her company delightful.
- Lady Lupin – Despite her social title, she is also a vicar’s wife and amateur sleuth, created by Joan Coggin. Like Chitterwick she would be comfortable at such an event and more than able to mix with whatever person you put her with. She perhaps has a similarly scatter approach to conversation as Ariadne does, though the extent to which this happens, very much depends on whether newly married Lupin turns up or more mature mother of two, as her character significantly develops and expands over her quartet of adventures.
- Lily Wu – Unfortunately poor Lily, created by Juanita Sheridan, does have the most expensive travel costs to come to my party, given that she would be travelling from Hawaii, but I don’t think it would be an insurmountable obstacle for so resourceful a person. Another character with a quiet demeanour, but again there is a sharp mind behind the visage, as well as a wicked sense of humour. Like Lady Lupin we only get four novels charting her adventures, but I would be hoping if she came, she could fill us all in, on some of her unwritten cases.
- Gervase Fen – Dare I allot Edmund Crispin’s sleuth, the role of party diva? Well he certainly has a big enough personality for one. He would indeed bring a whirlwind of chaos with him, and I would certainly need to leave a large parking space to accommodate his avant-garde approach to driving, but I think he would also bring a good dollop of wit and entertainment as well.
- Patricia Borchman – Hans Olav Lahlum’s amateur sleuth is another smart young lady and one it is hard to not get close to if you follow her life through the series. I think she is also a character who you naturally develop a lot of questions about and inviting her to the dinner party would be an ideal opportunity to find out more about her.
- Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane – These two guests will simultaneously garner me approval and opprobrium, depending on what your opinions are about them. Peter’s courtship and marriage to Harriet definitely did his personality a world of good, which certainly rounded and fleshed out a bit. Gaudy Night was my first Sayers novel and I have always had an affection for these two ever since, so it seemed a given that they would make the list.
- Leonidas Witherall – I did um and ah over my final choice; whose creator was Alice Tilton. But I think his adventures show he has the gift of the gab and I can imagine him being a very entertaining and engaging conversationalist.
As you can see below, I also had a go at deciding where I would seat each sleuth.
I did look online at some seating guidelines, which I did partially follow, but in the main I went with my gut instinct as to who would like to be sat with whom. There were some guests that I grouped together because I felt they could intellectually handle Fen, whilst I also considered placing younger characters near those of a similar age or of a fun and adventurous disposition. Consequently, I did have to split married couples up. Out of all the guests I felt Miss Marple and Ambrose Chitterwick were probably best kept together, as far away as possible from the opinionated and raucous sleuths, though poor Chitterwick is opposite Ariadne. Hopefully she won’t be wearing anything as loud as her outfit in Dead Man’s Folly! No single men for Lily Wu or Patricia, apart from Chitterwick, but you can’t have everything. Still in two minds as to whether I should have had the sleuths who are also writers clumped together, but I would be interested in hearing other people’s alternative seating plans; either with my chosen guests or with different ones. After all, was I wrong to not include Hercule Poirot? Or maybe Father Brown ought to have made the list? And I am sure there is at least one reader who would have booted several of my choices off the guest list and added in maybe Mrs Bradley, Nero Wolfe or dare I say it… Miss Pym.
Whilst you’re making up your minds as to who you would invite to dinner, I would recommend giving this YouTube series a go: Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party. All of the guests are writers from the past and it goes without saying that it is real murder which the guests are faced with, as they begin to get bumped off. Agatha Christie is one of the guests and her role is macabrely entertaining.