Who Conked the Colonel? Nana Li and Steve Cook’s ‘Murder Matches’ [Review]

You get a sense at conventions when one particular story or comic has people excited, and at Thought Bubble last year *the* story everybody was interested in was “Murder Matches”. Created by Nana Li and Steve Cook, this is a murder mystery told in eight pieces. Somebody’s killed the Colonel, and the police have collected together witness statements from all those suspected of doing the deed. Who dun it? The fun of this piece is that things are left to the reader to decide.

murdermatches

The quirk of this collection is that Murder Matches is told within eight matchboxes, all of which are packaged with one of Li’s distinctive illustrations. Each matchbox has a picture of one of the suspects, and contains their witness statement inside. Through reading each of the matchboxes, in whichever order they choose, the reader gets to decide who they think was most likely to have committed the crime. Depending on where you start, you create your own bias as to who is telling the truth and who is lying, and reading the wrong box early on will corrupt you against the statement of other characters later on.

Cook writes all the statements, and has fun imbuing each with a hokey sense of Hammer camp. There are a usual collection of misfits and suspicious types amongst the eight suspect boxes, including a dotty pair of elderly widows, a sleazy salesman, and a Russian sailor who speaks in the traditional broken English common to foreigners in murder mysteries. Each box has clearly been put together with care, and the premise of the storytelling covers over any of the gaps in storytelling, or familiarity brought forth by some of the characters.

For myself, I decided to leave the Butler’s matchbox until the end – I’m seasoned in the art of murder mysteries, being British, and so knew better than to start off with the Butler’s testimony. Rolling through the boxes in the order I did, I quickly decided that my culprit would be Billy Blewett, the salesman (most of them have alliterative names) – and so a few boxes felt more important to the atmosphere of the mystery than others.

The one disappointment is that, once you decide who did the killing, some of the boxes fade into background noise. With Blewett being my suspect, some of the boxes which ignore him – in particular Madame Morinov, a clairevoyant whose statement doesn’t feel as spacey or ominous as it could be – passed me by somewhat. Li’s illustrations create a mood before you open each box, and in most cases Cook’s writing plays to that mood. In the case of Morinov, the illustration seems far more interesting than the witness statement.

But again, that might have changed if I’d started with her. The free-form aspect of having eight matchboxes tumble out, allowing you to start where you want? That plays a huge part in how you enjoy the story. You do also get a display piece, a two-page spread booklet which shows you the scene of the crime and invites you (using the magnifying glass provided) to investigate. It’s an atmospheric image, one which is all perspectives and angular curves, shaded in lush tones. It also probably has numerous clues which I haven’t yet picked up on, and will probably reveal themselves to me with further re-readings of the witness cases.

It’s a neat little idea for a story, and good fun. I love a hammy murder mystery, and Li/Cook’s collaboration is a nice way to spend your time.

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