I lift up the unassuming brown box, stamped Fairhall & Brett Inheritance Recovery. I turn the box over slowly in my hands, but it gives nothing away. I pry open the seal; out wafts the scents of spice and ash and the journal lands hard on the desk, leaving a sooty mark. I leaf through the pages, admiring the cursive handwriting and pencil drawings. Why had I been sent it? What did it mean? Then I opened the letter, and things started to fall into place.
Well, that’s not all strictly true. I did know why Marie Jones’ mysterious journal had been slipped into my letter box. It was the first step on a twelve-month journey, a twelve-month subscription box that would help me understand what tragedy had befallen Marie.
I had been stalked by CosyKiller’s Facebook ads for months before I finally reached out to them to discuss reviewing their box. It sounded spot-on for me – a subscription box that didn’t bring beauty products or snacks, but instead codes, clues and secrets.
They have two different box sets, with a third currently undergoing a Kickstarter campaign, and I was receiving An Inheritance of Murder. The plot, according to the website, is…
It’s the 1930s. Marie Jones, a young woman from a wealthy family in England has been sent to India to stay with her aunt in order to find a suitable match….within the year Marie is found to be missing. Her lost journal is finally discovered under the floorboards of a local dwelling by an heir hunter. As the last known living relative of the family line, the journal falls into your possession.– CosyKiller website
While I can’t promise to keep this blog post completely spoiler free, I’ll try to keep the mysteries a little obscured in case any of you are dying to follow in my footsteps.
My first delivery arrived at work, and I could barely wait to get home and devour its contents.
The allergy warning on the side confused me – why was I being sent garam masala? But as soon as I opened the parcel, I understood. The attention to detail in Marie’s journal was incredibly precise – not only had the journal been bathed in spices, it has also legitimately been burned. It’s not just printing effects.
Some of the pages literally disintegrate at the edges, and by the time I received the third box I’d poured through it so frequently that the back page or two were starting to detach.
I had seen various photos online that led me to believe that the boxes would contain more of a variety of items, so I was almost disappointed to see just one single item, plus a letter, in this box. But as I sat down to read through the journal, my disappointment faded away, replaced by intrigue.
This journal started on the very day Marie shipped off from England to India, and covered more than four months of her adventure, starting with the voyage, continuing with her train journey to Simla, and then her settling into an unfamiliar new world. The world of the British Raj was brought to life through Marie’s evocative writing and pencil drawings.
As a woman in her late teens or twenties (her exact age is obscured at this point, though we know she’s past old enough to marry), her descriptions are naturally skewed towards her own interests. She is a keen artist, and gets caught up in the local theatrical production. As an single woman yet to make a match, she also talks a lot about the eligible bachelors in the city.
But she’s a sleuth at heart, discussing the “Brighton Trunk Murderer” in letters with a friend, and taking note of every scrap of intrigue that falls into her lap. Luckily for us, there’s a lot of intrigue in Simla.
Most excitingly, the journal contained not a single code, but five!
There were two different types of code that I could spot. The first was made up of symbols (pleasingly handwritten for that added dash of realism) and the other was a telegram with a smaller subset of letters than the full alphabet. After I read through the journal I set about decoding the symbol, and with a sneaky bit of help from a crossword solver (just checking whether “between” was the only possible word in one location), I cracked it.
The handwritten nature of the code made it a little bit harder to crack in a very satisfying way, when I realised that two similar looking symbols were in fact the same one. There was even an error in one of the codes – one symbol which should clearly have been a completely different one – but rather than breaking my immersion with the puzzle, it made plenty of in-universe sense that Marie had transcribed the code incorrectly.
The letters themselves seemed… personal. Mundane, almost. It didn’t sound like any great conspiracy – it sounded like an affair! Of course, it could be more complex than that, but I was hoping for a spy or something!
The second puzzle however, stumped me. There were only eleven letters in the code, which didn’t feel like enough to create a sensible message, never mind to crack it. I resolved to wait for later boxes to see if that made things any clearer.
A view of India
I’ll admit that the British Raj in the 1930s isn’t my particular area of expertise, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the depiction. I can recount that it was incredibly vivid to see the world through the eyes of someone not that that far from me in age (even if her life sounds completely different to mine, and not just with the whole living in India thing).
Just a note that the texts do include offensive terms such as “half-caste”. Honestly it wouldn’t feel realistic if there wasn’t at least some derogatory language in there – it’s a different time and place, after all. But overall Marie isn’t the sort of person to make a huge number of offensive remarks, and she also speaks fairly evenly of both the Indian and British figures in her life.
She also develops close friendships with many of the men who are possible suitors for her. It may be my own preconceptions of the 1930s skewing things, but this seems unlikely. When one of her male companions wants to take her, alone, to see the wild otters, her aunt and uncle’s only objection is that they should take a gun with them!
The second box arrived, again with an allergy warning (this time, cinnamon-phobes are out of luck). This box is more similar to how I assumed the parcels would be, with random knick-knacks including a coded note, a small card about Amelia Earhart, an extract from a newspaper about the Brighton Trunk Murderer and the promised stick of cinnamon. This set took much less time to go through than the journal, and I set the items down feeling… unsettled.
Clearly there was more here than met the eye. The coded note was only a few words long and started with three of the same letter, so unless the note read something starting “aaa”, it was unlikely to be a simple substitution cipher. And the rest of the items… were they red herrings?
I’d joined the “An Inheritance of Murder – CosyKiller Season 1” Facebook Group, although generally I was trying to avoid spoilers. But not longer after receiving this box I accidentally clicked on a notification and spotted someone saying “from the hints I understand the Amelia card”. I closed the page down quickly – I didn’t want any hints, not yet!
August whizzed by, and before no time the third box landed on my desk. This one contained a massive bundle of fourteen letters from Marie to her friend Agatha, including a Christmas card, a postcard and some sketches.
It also featured a passenger manifest for Marie’s original voyage to India, and I resolved to compare it to the journal entries about the journey. The first coded note was found on board the ship, so this manifest could hold the key to its author.
The letters themselves seemed to hold little of coded value, although they continued Marie’s story beyond the end of her journal, though only in occasional snapshots rather than the day-by-day retelling.
I realised that I had no idea when it was that Marie died, that the murder that I’m trying to uncover took place. I did find out she was just 23 when she started her journey, and felt a faint pang of sadness for this poor fictional girl.
Sitting down with Marie
The stack of clues now more than covered my dining table.
The arrival of the third box pushed me to action. I still had a number of outstanding mysteries:
- Who sent the symbol notes and who to?
- What is the meaning of the www note?
- Is anyone missing from the passenger manifest?
- What is the mystery of Amelia Earhart (besides the obvious)?
- What does the coded telegram say?
- What was the strange smell on deck? And the scraping noise?
Well, I can’t say I’ve cracked all of them, but I’ve managed to make some headway. SERIOUS SPOILERS BELOW!
Firstly, upon further reflect and re-reading the journal, I think that the symbol notes were as mundane as they first seemed, and were between Uncle Neville and Mrs Steele. But how the first one made it on the boat… I’m not sure.
As for the passenger manifest, my instincts were correct. Henry Sims was missing from it. Is he travelling under a fake name? But he has family in Simla who share his name. How weird.
I’ve not got any further with the www note. I think I know what sort of code it is, but I don’t think it’s long enough for me to crack without extensively trawling through their Facebook group for more clues. My brief skim of Facebook suggests there’ll be more for me to solve there by box 9.
But my other three questions are the most exciting ones.
I was stuck on this for a while, but luckily CosyKiller’s blog actually provided some inspiration on how to solve it. It’s called a knock code, where each letter in the original text corresponds to a pair of letters in the encoded message. The pairs are created using a grid of two words.
Since I solved this on my lunch at work, I cracked the entire thing without using the extra hint that Amelia Earhart’s card added, but I spotted it on my look back through the items later that day.
And finally… the smell and the scrape on the ship. I thought it was peculiar at the time, although Marie brushed it off quite easily in her journal. But if the telegram is right – if the Brighton Truck Murderer has truly fled to India, then perhaps it’s to do with him. Which would mean… he would be on the passenger manifest. Or maybe… he wouldn’t be!
IT’S OKAY, THE SPOILERS ARE GONE NOW!
How it compares
So this sort of box is ideal for someone who enjoys games like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Although the setting of the world is a little less familiar (at least to me), there is a lot more setting info that goes into building up a very rounded view of 1930s India.
The puzzles are without a doubt significantly harder, and made harder still because they’re not Tim’s cup of tea – we normally play Consulting Detective together, but I’m trying to crack CosyKiller on my own. It might be easier with someone to bounce ideas off of.
I’d also say that it’s probably better to receive the boxes together if possible. While you can spread them out, as I have done, this sometimes means you forgot things you have previously read, or lose your momentum when trying to get back into it. I’d advise to keep copious notes, and to keep all your CosyKiller kit in one place for easy browsing. Feel free to use post-its and semi-adhesive labels to keep track of things as well.
Intrigued? You can sign up for CosyKiller’s subscription boxes yourself here.
I was sent the first three CosyKiller ‘An Inheritance of Murder’ boxes free of charge, but all opinions of mystery-solving are my own. Here’s my full disclaimer.