It was the end of a painfully long day when the light bulb flickered at my desk. I wasn’t sure if it needed to be changed or if the electricity bill was past due. Business wasn’t going well and if it continued like this any longer, I might have to pack up my business. A knock at the opaque glass door where my name was painted startled me. That’s when she walked in. She was beautiful despite her red puffy eyes. “Excuse me. Are you the private investigator?” she asked. End scene. Whatever happened to the old detective stories? Or a private investigator set in the classic noir style with lots of fedoras? Well the practice is still alive and well with Sullivan King and the monthly subscription box Sleuth Kings.
Once a month you will receive a case file to help Sullivan King solve a mystery. Usually a murder mystery but the stories vary. Each file consists of roughly three pages of story and four clues that are in the form of puzzles. Once you solve the mystery the story is concluded in a separate envelope titled Epilogue. What really makes this box pop though is that you get to talk with Sullivan King himself during the investigation via email. Sullivan and you will work through the clues together until the mystery is solved and the day is saved. Except for whoever was murdered in the first place.
The email works by sending a message to Sullivan on the web page for that month’s mystery. It’s all automated, but I like to write Sullivan messages as though I were really on the case with him. I usually start with, “Hey Sully, what have you got for me on this case?”. Once you send the initial message, all you have to do is reply to the emails without changing the email title so the computer knows where you are in the story. If you need to talk about clue 1, you simply include “clue 1” in the body of the email and Sullivan will comment and help you out with that clue. Once you have the solution, include “solution” in the body of the email and Sullivan will let you know what he found out. The system works really well as long as you follow the directions on how to communicate. The directions are told to you several times so you can’t miss them.
The puzzles for the box range in style, puzzle type, and complexity. The box starts with the four clues, but as you progress you will usually run into two or more puzzles that Sullivan will send you or that you’ll find by going to a website. Some of the puzzles I understood right away and some of them I don’t think I would have ever solved. There was one in the last box that I asked for all the hints and finally the solution and I still have no idea how they came to that conclusion. It’s difficult to make brand new puzzles every month and sometimes I don’t think their puzzles work out as smoothly as they should. For the most part though, the puzzles are always original and clever. They are themed with the story and usually make sense with the story, in the sense that if everyone involved in a crime always wrote down encrypted clues to help you solve it.
Inevitably with every puzzle box or book, you’re going to get stuck. If you do all you need to do is email Sullivan King and he can help you out. For each puzzle you will receive one hint and the solution. The hint will explain to you roughly how you might solve the puzzle. Usually the hint will make the solution obvious and you’ll just have to do the leg work to complete it. Once you ask for the solution, Sullivan will solve it for you and discuss what to look at next. If you want a lighter hint, the last of the printed pages is Sullivan’s initial take on each clue. You can skip this page if you’re a pro and want to solve everything on your own. This system is smooth until you get into the final puzzles that aren’t one of the initial clues. A couple times I had to go through the motions of asking Sullivan to solve several puzzles that I already completed just so he can catch up to me and ask if I need a hint on the new puzzle.
The stories are fairly simple making this more of a puzzle box. You will hardly ever have to solve the mystery with deduction as the clues you gather will spell out “who dun it” for the most part. There is an ongoing back story where Sullivan is looking for his missing father. After you conclude the case, Sullivan continues to email you with updates on his search with additional puzzles and websites that continue the story. You can even catch up to the story at any time without having to buy all the previous boxes.
Similar boxes will sometimes include little trinkets or objects that are related to the story. It’s rare in this box but they will include the occasional item if it’s needed to solve a puzzle. I recently found a treasure and was rewarded with a tiny plastic treasure box and a penny, so that was exciting. This box is more focused on the puzzles however and will take you around 2-3 hours to solve everything. The trinkets in other boxes are highly over-rated and the Sleuth Kings give your money’s worth in good content.
If you love puzzles and playing detective, this is the box for you. Although the story doesn’t involve much deduction except when solving the puzzles, you’ll still get your monthly detective fix. The unique email system makes this box a must try for me. It seems like it could be a simple script but it adds so much excitement, especially as you’re waiting to see what Sullivan King found with your results. They recently started a Rookie Detective subscription that is cheaper and should only take an hour to solve. Or you can jump into Master Detective which has taken me 2-3 hours to solve. You can even send them your address to get a free post card puzzle. Good luck though because I have never solved that thing. With that said, never leave a postcard puzzle unsolved! Allright, I’ll give it another shot.
-J.C. Mystery Detective