Thursday, September 26, 2019

Who murdered Svend Hansen?

Stanley - Thursday

Every third Friday in September in the town of Hillerød in Denmark, there is a Culture Night. Events are eclectic, ranging from tours of gorgeous Frederiksborg Castle, including parts that are normally inaccessible to tourists, to lectures on Danish history, to music, etc, etc. Thousands of people participate.

Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød
A couple of years ago, over a glass or two of fine wine with some of Mette's friends (and now friends of mine too), I was relating some of the interesting times I had experienced as a writer. One of these was being invited to the remarkable Quais du Polar festival in Lyon, France, which has the normal mystery reader/writer-type conference, as well as a variety of other events, including many cinemas showing mystery movies, often introduced by the author on whose book the story was based.

Another event is a murder mystery that all residents are encouraged to solve. The incentive is a first prize of a pair of Air France tickets, anywhere in the world, I believe. The format is that the 'detectives' download the story of who was murdered and how, a list of suspects, and a route to follow around town to find the clues. Thousands participate.

One of the friends is the organiser of the Culture Night, and she pounced on me to produce a similar mystery for Hillerød. The wine talked and I agreed.

And a number of times I regretted accepting the challenge. It was much more difficult than I expected, partly because of the constraints I had set - duration 30 to 45 minutes; suitable for families; easy enough for most to solve, but challenging enough to be interesting - and partly because it was to be set in a Danish town that uses a language I barely understand.

Eventually, after much hair-pulling, I produced a final document, in English, of course, and asked several locals to follow the clues to help Detective Rasmussen decide which of his five suspects had stabbed Svend Hansen in the back and murdered him under the prison tower of the castle.

Prison Tower

The murder scene

The murder scene

Who had done it? Who had committed the crime so foul?

Was it Henning Lodsgaard, owner of a plumbing shop where Svend worked? He suspected Svend of stealing from him.

Or was it Jesper Risager, a local chef and father of Svend's girl friend, Mette? She'd returned home the previous night with bruises in her face.

Perhaps it was Jens Mathiesen, Mette's boy friend until Svend had lured her away. Mette had just confided in Jens that she was pregnant with Svend's child.

Or could the murderer be Helmut Mellquist, a guard at the castle who was infatuated with Mette?

Or Sadiq Jamal, Syrian immigrant and brother of a young woman whom Svend was harassing to take off her burqa?

The feedback from the beta testers was positive, with some suggestions for little tweaks. I revised the scenario, and the final product was translated into Danish.

As the big night approached, panic set in, largely because I couldn't check and double check that the translation had captured the detail, perhaps even subtleties, of my original. It was out of my hands.

And of course, none of us knew how many people, if any, would participate.

Fortunately, my friend, the organiser, is a persuasive person, and two weeks before the event, the local newspaper ran a prominent article about the upcoming mystery event. And the murder had a good position near the front of the Culture Night's hefty brochure.

The organiser said she would proclaim the event a success if 25 groups tried to solve the crime.

To cut a long story short, over 60 groups (about 200 people) picked up the directions and headed off across the castle's bridge to track down the murderer. Some of the groups were families with kids very excited to participate. One of the families had ridden their bicycles from the edge of town just to take part. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm. Eventually, over 40 groups returned their verdict, of which all but 5 were correct.

I was so relieved.

A family on bikes arrived to solve the mystery.

Studying the clues
Getting ready to find the clues

A group of friends from Catalonia, living in Copenhagen, came to help Detective Rasmussen
The last groups were working in the dark!
Then, at 2115, a quarter an hour after the official end of the Culture Night, a large group of participants gathered expectantly at the Leonora Restaurant for the drawing of the lucky winners. No, we didn't have airline tickets to give away, but brunch for four at the Leonora, dinner for two at The Rib House, and tickets for a family at the local cinema.

The day after the event the local newspaper had nearly a full page reporting its journalist's experience in following the clues. All positive.

So the good news is that the organisers want another murder mystery next year.

That's also the bad news.


  1. Hey, as an almost-local (neighboruing town of Fredensborg) that is good news. Could be fun . Didn't know about it, would have joined this year if I had...

  2. This sounds like fun - or at least for the participants, if not the organisers! I've been to Quais du Polar 4 times (and met you there, Stanley) and I've completed the mystery trail twice with my children.

  3. As they say: the reward for a job well-done is another job... Congrats, Stan!

  4. I've done a few murder mystery dinners but nothing like this. For the yatching club the deceased was called veronica spanker. In another the victim was a Russian stripper called Whippia Korsetov.

    1. I'll be coming to you for some Danish names. Stan

  5. By the way, I have a Danish 'friend' who has translated the text and help file for many of my games into Danish, and his English is frequently better than mine :-). If you want a "quick check" on the translation for next year's Culture Night murder mystery, let me know and I'll see if he'd be willing to give you a second or third opinion on the translation.

    1. why 'friend' - aren't we normal friendly? ;-)

    2. :-) 'friend' because you're an "internet friend" as opposed to a "meat friend." :-)

  6. Stan, you are THE MAN. If anyone can make the impossible seem easy it's you. Though I must say this Mette chic sounds mesmerizing. :)