m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

The Butler Did It

I’ve more or less finished MURDERED: Can YOU Solve the Mystery?, book two in James Scannep’s Click Your Poison series. I’ve previously reviewed book one, INFECTED, a classic zombie apocalypse CYOA. MURDERED is a bit more down to earth; YOU play a non-lusophone tourist visiting São Paulo for Carnaval, who has stumbled across a murder scene. The victim was, allegedly, the fiancée of a famous expatriate scientist expected back in town for a convention during Carnaval and, if you so choose, YOU can quickly get yourself embroiled in the investigation from several available angles.

Despite the second person, this reads like a more traditional thriller in which you travel Brazil, encountering its impoverished, violent and rainforest-destroying underbellies while being pursued by a mysterious assassin, searching for clues, and chasing the prime suspect. Once you get into one of the the three threads (mentioned in a tagline on the back cover), the story becomes a bit of a gauntlet with quite a few apparent choices that either lead to immediate death or to a one-passage diversion from the main track that may or may not provide a clue. Then it’s back onto the main trail for you. There are longer asides of the same sort, so that even when the story seems to be branching it usually comes back down to a few common endings. In fact there is only a single “good” ending, which briefly congratulates you but encourages you to try again if you think you didn’t quite get the solution right—a disturbing thought, as the alleged murderer is usually lying dead on the streets of São Paulo at that point.

MURDERED is very good, but the scenes are both a bit too long and too much of a gauntlet to make rereading fun. This is unfortunate because, though the clues when you’ve gone wrong are clear enough, the “correct” ending isn’t the easiest thing to stumble upon even with that knowledge. Technology-wise, the most notable thing about the Kindle edition is a line, MAKE YOUR CHOICE, at the bottom of each choice list indicating that it’s over—a good idea for a format known for its widows and orphans, though it doesn’t solve the perhaps spurious issue of accidental page-turning that full-page warnings do. If you like a good thriller and a good challenge, you should definitely try MURDERED out. It’s available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback (with traditional turn to page n formatting).

Butler to the Dark Lord: A Grim Choices Gamebook by Sam Bowring is notable both for its perfect subject matter and its low-rent solutions to CYOA ebook technology problems. Your perfect assignment, should you choose to accept it, is butling everything properly for your Dark Lord’s virgin-sacrificing Big Event and the surrounding celebrations without irking your irascible master into fireballing you, while thwarting (or perpetrating) plots against him, and resisting the allures of the wine in the wine cellar and the virgin in the dungeon. Only so many duties and snacks can fit into the few days allotted, so you must choose your evil activities wisely. The jokes write themselves here; the paragraphs are short and funny, so it’s an easy reread to try out several entertaining paths to the Big Event and final plot resolution.

The title page credits the soon-to-be-defunct Inklewriter, and the how-to-read introduction explains that there were technical difficulties in getting the book to track your gamebook stats for you, though it doesn’t explain whether this was a failed Inklewriter conversion or some other disappointed ebook scripting ambition. Instead, you need to track your stats yourself by remembering certain character traits, past actions, and completed tasks as noted at the appropriate time in ALL CAPS. This means that many of your apparent choices are merely acts of reinputting information, yet this doesn’t feel nearly as railroady as it did in How To Be Bad, even though your adventure as a butler is a straight gauntlet leading up to the Big Event. The VARIOUS CLUES also fit into the comic theme in a way that might not work for a more serious book.

For some perhaps technical reason the Kindle links are all of the form An, where n is a number between 1 and 293, whereas in the paperback these are normal gamebook paragraph headers from 1 to 293. Paragraphs are inline in the paperback but on their own pages in the Kindle edition.