Flights of Fancy: Darts goes Agatha Christie

By Editorial Staff 09/11/2021

Dick Francis is perhaps the most successful proponent of the sporting mystery novel but sports and games have long been prominently featured in detective fiction. The master detective Sherlock Holmes was often involved with horseracing, cards, and other such activities, surely darts would make as good a backdrop and source of mystery?

LD Pilling certainly thinks so. Partly as a result of the behind closed doors UK Open of 2018 and partly inspired by long time Darts World contributor Dr Patrick Chaplin he had produced a book of short stories with our sport as its running theme and it certainly sounds intriguing:

Sports such as golf, cricket, horse racing and even chess have long had their novels and short stories. Darts seemed to have missed out. 

Flights of Fancy is an attempt to win a leg, or two, for darts in the realm of sporting fiction. This is a collection of tales of ‘darting-do’ for readers who enjoy the game of darts. Within these stories is; murder (Flights of Fancy, Murder at the Oche), mystery (Bullseye), trickery (A Game of 'Martial Arts'), reminiscence (Last Dart in Hand) and even a touch of magic (An Arrow of Outrageous Fortune). 

These darting short stories had their inspiration in the 2018 UK Open, which was held at the Butlin’s Resort, Minehead. The tournament was a notable one. Heavy snow that year meant that no spectators were allowed to attend the venue and the whole event, although still televised, was played behind closed doors.  

In 2018 a major sporting event being played without a crowd was a novel occurrence. Of course, the subsequent coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has made such things commonplace. 

Nevertheless, the 2018 UK Open sparked the idea of a ‘closed circle’ murder mystery set at a darts tournament. A ‘closed circle’ mystery is one where there is a small pool of suspects, with little opportunity for outsiders to enter, or insiders to leave.  

The genre has also been called the ‘country house mystery’. Unsurprisingly, Agatha  Christie employed this literary device in several of her novels, including in her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). 

The closed circle plot was at its most popular in the 1920s and 1930s. It is less often used in modern detective novels, with their trend for more ‘realistic’ murder investigations.  

In this collection of short stories, Murder at the Oche is the darting version of the country house mystery, set at the ancestral home of Lord Melton in Norfolk. The story of the title, Flights of Fancy, is a murder mystery spanning several decades. The plot centers on the unusual hobby of collecting dart flights and was inspired by an article on the topic written by Dr Patrick Chaplin. 

So, step up to the oche. Game on!

Darts World will be reviewing the book in the coming weeks and hope to be able to offer our readers a chance to win a copy for themselves or perhaps as a gift for their darting friend or relative this Christmas.

For the impatient amongst you, Flights of Fancy is available now in paperback and E editions:
Lead Image: RD Pilling/Pitch Publishing/McMillan


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