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Murder Mysteries: Heavenly Horrors

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I've been a longtime fan of Neil Gaiman, going all the way back to the first issue of Sandman, and through all of the graphic novels, short stories, and novels that have come in the decades since.

I've also always loved "Murder Mysteries," both in its original short-story version and the later audio drama starring Brian Dennehy and Michael Emerson. Gaiman plays with favorite themes, like supernatural beings with very human problems, in a multi-layered, engrossing, and eventually horrifying story.

See also: "Crazyface" Showcases Horror Master Clive Barker

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Shadow Horse Theatre stages the audio adaptation, keeping it simple -- this is essentially a radio drama presented live before us -- and mining the same vein as previous versions. The company seems to be running down my favorites of the modern weird fiction genre, as this follows Clive Barker's Crazyface in the summer. Maybe we could get something by Iain Banks or China Mieville next?

The story follows a nameless narrator, who recounts a time he was stranded in Los Angeles for a week. Following a late-night date with a sort-of friend named Tink, the man returns to his hotel, takes a walk, and runs into a man who trades a cigarette for a story.

That story is the meat of the tale. It is about Raguel, the angel of vengeance in heaven, who is called to investigate the first murder in the days before creation was completed. Like a hard-boiled detective, Raguel sets out to uncover the murderer of the angel, who had been working on the concept of death. Was it his partner, his boss, or the angel Lucifer, who seems to spend a lot of time thinking on his own?

The story also uncovers plenty of secondary motivations, another hallmark of the noir genre. There is also a growing sense of unease about our original nameless narrator, as we wonder why he is sharing all of this with us.

The company is generally good, led by director Jim Ahren as the narrator and Kevin Albertson as Raguel. The angels are portrayed by both men and women (in the story, they are identified as sexless), and Angela Walberg gives a fresh, cold aspect to Lucifer.

While this is advertised as a radio play, some visuals apart from the folksy German designs on the back wall of the Black Forest Inn would have helped to set the mood. Even further dimming the lights would have made the experience that much more engaging and unsettling.

IF YOU GO:

Murder Mysteries Through November 23 Black Forest Inn 1 E. 26th St., Minneapolis $10-$15 For tickets and information, visit online.