‘Harefic’ murder sets sleuths loose in Langley

Actors portraying Hasenpfeffer Incorporated entrepreneurs pitch their need for local rabbits for a faux restaurant specializing in rabbit stew.

Bunnies, hares, rabbits, coneys — leporidae by any other name may be the reason for the murder in this year’s Langley Mystery Weekend.

“Much Ado About Murder: A Hare-Raising Tail” is the name of the 32nd murder mystery weekend that will engulf downtown Langley on Feb. 27-28. The plot was made in the spirit of police/courtroom procedural “Law & Order” and the spoofs of Mel Brooks this year. A real and booming domestic rabbit population in the Village by the Sea became national news after city, school and fairgrounds leaders considered their options for recourse. So far not much has happened from the three agencies other than efforts to better ward off the animals from nesting on their properties and a promise to investigate non-lethal means of curbing their numbers. Suggestions of a coney culling faced a host of criticism, hiring a trapper was too expensive, and no one has stepped up and made real plans of a secured haven for hares.

The real bunnies, and the way people feel about them, are at the center of the fake murder mystery. Drawing from real-life news in Langley about people’s polarization over how and if the animals should be managed, the weekend’s story writer Loretta Martin has crafted a web of suspects.

“I loved ‘Law & Order.’ I still do,” said Martin, the mystery’s writer for the past 17 iterations. “I love the way they take a story and switch the names, or just leave them as they are.”

In the mystery’s story, fictional characters are drawn to town because of the bunnies. Competing interests create tension between an out-of-town restaurant company (Hasenpfeffer Incorporated) that specializes in rabbit stew, a city government trying to satisfy at least some of its population’s concerns about the rabbits while maybe adding some money to its coffers, an extreme environmental group that wants to free all animals, and a thespian-turned-philanthopist with a rabbit sanctuary. Now a (fictional) man, the actor/sanctuary owner Sir Laurence Burton, is dead.

Photo courtesy of the Langley Chamber of Commerce | Members of the Let the Bunnies Live Free group advocate for the release and safety of rabbits in Langley as part of the cast of Langley Mystery Weekend.

“He’s supposed to be solving everybody’s problems,” Martin said.

“There may be some hanky-panky going on behind the scenes at Hare Haven,” she added, referring to the fictional rabbit sanctuary created by Burton.

Called the longest-running mystery weekend in the United States of America by the Langley organizers, a thousand amateur sleuths are expected in the city this weekend. They’ll wander the streets looking for clues, speaking with suspects and witnesses, and trying to figure out who was behind the dastardly deed.

Any late-comers may find themselves relating to Mary and Joseph with no room at the inn. In years past, overnight establishments in Langley get booked full during Langley Mystery Weekend. This year is no different, said Langley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michaleen McGarry. She asked chamber members that run lodging businesses to let her know if they have vacancies so the chamber can refer inquisitive visitors their way. So far, there are only two places with any vacancy that she heard from.

“Most places are booked,” she said.

Tickets are sold through the chamber, representing a minimum number of people participating in the event. Each ticket enters people into a raffle for a long list of prizes, whether they correctly identify the murderer or not, so long as they return their entries by 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. Those who do correctly identify the murderer are entered into a separate raffle for one of the grand prizes, such as a one-night stay at Saratoga Inn or the Inn at Langley.

The event is built into commerce in Langley. All 38 clues are scattered throughout the shops and stores, one clue at each location. It’s a boon for many merchants in town, said McGarry, but there is always at least a touch of downside when a city nearly doubles overnight.

“I will say that I get some different feedback,” she said. “Some people are like, ‘This is the best day of our year.’ They do phenomenally well. Others, just because there are so many people coming through their doors, they get a little disheveled.”

“But out of all the events that we do, this one gets the most positive feedback,” she added.

Responses to the mystery itself can vary as widely as the cast, which has a record 35 participants playing locals who may know something, nothing, or lie. Martin said she shoots to have about a quarter of the sleuths figure out who the murderer was, but in some years that has been closer to the overall number of right answers. Too simple or too difficult, and people don’t enjoy the challenge of taking on the Sherlock Holmes mantle.

One thing was certain for Martin, she wouldn’t be writing 35 characters into her mystery narrative any time soon again.

“Trust me, I am never going to do this many characters again,” she laughed.

‘Much Ado About Murder’

There’s a murder afoot, and everyone is a suspect during the 32nd Langley Mystery Weekend, Feb. 27-28.

Pulling from real local headlines and news, people’s differing opinions about what should be done with a booming, feral/domestic rabbit population has resulted in a man’s murder. Now it’s up to a host of sleuths to figure out whodunit.

Tickets cost $10 and are sold through the Langley Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the event. They may be purchased at the chamber or online at http://visitlangley.com/lp/mystery-weekend. Every ticket submitted with a solution is entered into a prize raffle, with a drawing Sunday afternoon for nearly two dozen prizes. Correct solutions are entered into a grand prize drawing.