The Decline of the Irish Murder

Musician and writer Reggie Chamberlain-King has fun with intellectuals at the Ulster Hall 

On August 22, writer and broadcaster Reggie Chamberlain-King will be reading from his metaphysical murder mystery series, Brittaine & Molloy, as part of the Literary Lunchtimes series at the Ulster Hall. He will also be singing gruesome murder ballads and speaking softly about terrible topics. So...

Who are Brittaine and Molloy?

Brittaine and Molloy were a result of a writing exercise I set myself. For a year I would write 200 words every day, in response to an arbitrary title set by friends and family. They were one of only two ideas that stuck with me. They are a cross between Poirot and Hastings and Valdimir and Estragon. They’re possibly homeless, certainly elderly, probably foreign nationals, and they look like my paternal grandparents, if that is any help.

What exactly is a 'metaphysical murder'?

The mysteries in Brittaine & Molloy are nebulous, vague, and, in some instances, totally imagined. They are an excuse to discuss ideas of perception and metaphysics. Brittaine and Molloy aren’t overly concerned with justice or with other people’s safety.

The stories are an affectionate tribute to and gentle ribbing of clever modernist and post-modern books like Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz and The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Intellectuals like to have fun with detective stories and I like to have fun with intellectuals.

Brittaine & Molloy - A Quintessence of Dust

 Are you a fan of the tradional murder-mystery/detective genre?

I love Golden Age detective fiction: GK Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, James Dickson Carr. I like the writing to be playful, like the writing of Edmund Crispin and Dorothy L Sayers.

As a general rule, I like police procedure to be ignored, as I’m more interested in how the case is solved than how realistic or gritty it all is. The detective should be an amateur or a theologian or a choirleader, while the police should be sober, happily-married and peripheral.

Did that interest influence the development of Wireless Mystery Theatre?

From the beginning, Wireless Mystery Theatre planned to perform classic mystery, suspense, and horror plays: all of which involve gruesome murders. That’s why I wanted to be involved. They will continue to do that long into the future.

WMT is also developing a walking tour app, in conjunction with DCAL and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, that will bring to life, through music and audio drama, the macabre murders and Fortean occurrences in Old Time Belfast, Derry~Londonderry, Dublin and beyond. It’s called Weird City Radio and will be available from next year.

What route are you taking with your writing: traditional publication, online or crowd-funding?

I am not exactly lazy, but my industry is pretty small and low-key. I hand-bound a limited edition of 25 of each of the three volumes of Brittaine & Molloy, all of which are sold now. I have also recorded some audiobook editions, with my colleague Mr Costello, which will be made available.

Anticipating a niche response, I tend to produce very niche items. Although, if a traditional publisher is willing to take me out for lunch…

Your Lunchtime Reading is entitled 'The Decline of the Irish Murder'. Why?

The title is a reference to George Orwell’s famous essay on 'The Decline of the English Murder'. In it he bemoaned the loss of the Victorian murderer. That grim soul, usually, poisoned a wife or husband, and in so doing re-established the rightful order of things: justice, stability in the home et cetera.

Then the Americans came in and brought with them unmotivated, chaotic rampages. Brittaine & Molloy is just my way of addressing the current order of things in mystery writing, but all in a Northern Irish setting.

What are some of the 'terrible things' you are going to be speaking softly about?

I am softly-spoken by nature, so I have spent my whole life saying horrible things gently. For the Literary Lunchtime, I haven’t yet decided which stories I will be reading, but it is possible that I may cover such topics as the murder of family pets, murder by family pets, a priest’s cadaver, an eccentric’s assassination, a locked caravan mystery in Carnlough, or diamond smuggling in Ballynahinch.

You're a musician, a writer, a sound-effects guru and more. Which is the most fun?

I enjoy writing, because I get to do it alone, whereas I enjoy music because I usually work with Mr Costello, my oldest and dearest friend. And the WMT work is fun, because there is a constantly changing cast of actors and musicians to meet.

More fun still, of course, is not doing any of it and walking the dog with my beloved and not being remotely concerned with any of that old nonsense.

What are some of the other things you're doing this year?

I am currently writing WMT’s show for the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, entitled Dickens in the Dark. It is a fantasy about Dickens’s three-day disappearance in Belfast in 1869. It will all take place in the darkness of Templemore Swimming Baths.

Master Flea, the musical I wrote with London-based composer Martin White, is being rejigged for a full-cast recording, with Kevin Eldon playing the part of the narrator. This means I should probably write the narration. And, hopefully, Sheer Christ Attack, the long-lost Chamberlain, King and Costello record will finally see the light of day.

What's your favourite 'gruesome murder ballad' and why?

While not strictly a murder ballad (there is only the threat of violence), I think that 'Silver Dagger' is one of the finest achievements in economical and vivid storytelling. In the four opening lines alone, it conjures up a situation, a culture and a whole self-referential mess. Wonderful!

My favourite murder song is 'The Mysterious Axeman’s Jazz (Don’t Scare Me Papa)', the tie-in single to a spree of psychotic axe-murders in New Orleans. No music or lyrics exist for it, only the amazing 1919 sheet music illustration, which makes it more intriguing than any other murder song I’ve heard.

The Decline of the Irish Murder will be at the Ulster Hall on August 22. Book your tickets at the Belfast Waterfront website. Image above credited to Ron Moore.