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Murdle, he wrote: GT Karber brings his killer puzzle to Dublin

The American mystery writer explains how he came up a publishing sensation, and how studying in Galway helped

Author Greg Karber flickers into view via video link from Los Angeles. It’s teatime in Ireland and just after breakfast in his airy, light-filled home, and he’s bright-eyed, bearded and enthusiastic about his latest mystery puzzle book, the third in the series.

Last June, Karber released his first, based on an online game he invented. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Murdle, rhyming with Covid lockdown online hit Wordle, is a cross between a logical puzzle game and a murder mystery.

Since its launch, sales have been strong and Murdle became the UK’s bestselling book for Christmas 2023, outselling regular favourite The Guinness World Records. Its second instalment, published last autumn, also proved popular and Murdle: Even More Killer Puzzles, the third volume, continues Karber’s clever brand of brain teasing.

“I made the first Murdle for a friend of mine,” he says. “I was supposed to be writing something else [a musical comedy] and I have deep procrastination issues with writing, and instead I jotted down this Murdle puzzle, though it wasn’t called that at the time.”


He wrote it on a napkin in a coffee shop and sent it to his friend, who soon figured out the puzzle was broken.

“So I went home and I started working on a little algorithm to make them,” he says. “And then I put it online and within two weeks or three weeks my now agent called and was like ‘I think I could make this a book’, and she was so right.”

So what sort of person invents logic puzzles to solve murders for fun? Karber double majored in mathematics and English at the University of Arkansas, an interesting combination.

Murdle was the one that really resonated with people, maybe because of this sort of Agatha Christie background, maybe because it just landed at the right time

“I do think that they’re more similar than people give them credit for,” he says. “It’s about clear communication. And you know, sort of expressing yourself.”

Since leaving school, he’s enjoyed making puzzles and small online games.

“Murdle was the one that really resonated with people, maybe because of this sort of Agatha Christie background, maybe because it just landed at the right time.”

And he had spent lockdown reading Christie novels and talking about them on the phone with his mother, book club style.

“I sort of obsessively read Agatha Christie books, and I’d probably read a half dozen before then and I’m a fan of Golden Age mysteries, but over Covid it was some sort of self-soothing.”

He says he internalised the Christie world and it really helped in putting together the puzzles. After his degree, Karber took a master’s in screenwriting at the University of Southern California and has staged live murder mysteries with theatre collective the Hollywood Mystery Society. It, too, was an excellent training ground for developing Murdle. But Karber is convinced sheer good luck has played a part in its success.

“It does feel like sometimes creatively, the pieces come together and you make something that people really respond to. And sometimes you know, you’ve worked really hard and you make something that you think is really great and it just doesn’t, for whatever reason, connect with people in the same way. And that part, the connection, definitely feels like luck.”

It didn’t hurt either that the book was picked up on social media platform TikTok.

“It still doesn’t seem real to me, and I still feel like I’ll wake up and realise I just dreamt this,” he says.

Los Angeles is a city driven by success and Karber says he felt the pressure to “brand” himself, but resisted “because it was very hard and commercial and not great for the soul”.

“I have a lot of friends who were really quick to brand themselves when they moved out here, you know, 12 years ago or whatever,” he says. But instead of trying to appeal to “everyone in the world” it’s a lot easier to “hit the bullseye” if “you try to make something that you think one friend of yours will really love”.

The books aren’t just clever puzzles with a narrative though, there’s also a lot of dry humour. Among the suspects in one puzzle is General Coffee, a coffee connoisseur who “always drinks his morning brew before sending his men across the battlefield to die”, and there’s dashing Philosopher Bone, who “pioneered the ethical theory that he is not responsible for his actions, but he should get paid for them”. A possible murder weapon is a torch “to use on books you don’t like” and another is a large tome, that’s “unedited, unabridged and unpublished”.

He has friends who are comedians in LA and he knows how they work.

“And this definitely felt like I was being asked to put together a new show full of material in a very quick period of time. And it was really great. I kind of got addicted to it.”

The pressure of a deadline really helps his creativity, he says.

The conversation moves on to his background. He grew up in Arkansas with both parents working in the law and his maternal grandfather was an FBI agent, initially based in San Francisco.

“He was part of the search effort after the famous Alcatraz escape. He was one of the FBI agents, you know, searching the waters for these people.”

His grandfather died a decade ago and he regrets not taking a “deep dive” into the story. He hasn’t seen the movie, Escape from Alcatraz, since he was a child and has never visited the island prison, now a tourist attraction.

Sometime after the search, his grandfather got transferred to the FBI’s Arkansas field office and later became a police chief there. Karber hasn’t yet discovered the reason for the transfer.

“It definitely doesn’t sound like a promotion. I don’t want to rag on my grandfather, but I need to look into that to see what the circumstances surrounding that were.”

I hope that is part of the experience of doing a Murdle, that you feel a little more confident you’re going to be able to figure out whatever’s going on in your life

Karber will be visiting the UK for book promotion and will come to Ireland on May 17th for the International Literary Festival, Dublin, where he’ll lead a live Murdle. He’s looking forward to it. He spent a summer at University of Galway.

“I had a really great scholarship in college and it paid for me to spend a summer there studying creative writing.”

He was stunned by the number of local authors, by community support for them, and that “you would want people to write about your town, your streets”.

“There was not a sense that people in Fort Smith, Arkansas, my hometown, were demanding art written in our town. We were quite content to go to the movies and to listen to Top 40 radio.”

His Galway experience showed him a person didn’t have to be “a king of the world writer”, but could write for “people who wanted to read what you were writing”.

It was, he says, his “indoctrination into being an adult writer”.

“It was a very meaningful experience to me, and I have not been back since then. So this is very exciting.”

He’s hoping to squeeze in another visit here at the end of his UK book tour.

“Because definitely one day in Dublin is not going to sate my desire to return to Ireland. But you know, the problem is, I don’t think anything’s gonna sate it. And I do feel like if I spend a week in Ireland, I’m gonna want to spend a month and if I spend a month in Ireland, I’m gonna just want to move there.”

So what is the secret to the success of the Murdle books? It’s a lot easier to tell why something works afterwards, Karber says, than it is while you’re making it. But we live in uncertain times and the puzzle books seem to say “hey, take a break from the world for a little bit, enjoy yourself”.

“Maybe it’ll help you think that there’s a way to understand everything that’s going on out there, and that you could put the pieces together and figure out what’s going on,” Karber says. “And I hope that is part of the experience of doing a Murdle, that you feel a little more confident you’re going to be able to figure out whatever’s going on in your life.”

A Dublin Murder Mystery, with GT Karber, takes place on May 17th at 6pm in Merrion Square as part of the International Literature Festival, Dublin. Tickets €12/€10 available at Murdle: Even More Killer Puzzles by GT Karber, published by Souvenir Press/Profile Books, is out now.