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Murder Mystery Enthusiast

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For fans of mystery, there's nothing quite like a murder mystery. Fans of this genre of mystery love the stories featuring sleuths like Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple.

Imagine one of these novels come to life! And that you are the star sleuth on the case, trying to figure out who did what to who -- and why. This is what a murder mystery evening is all about.

These mysteries feature actors doing the acting, and guests who try to solve the mystery as the play progresses. Often, the play is performed during a dinner, in which the guests dine and try to pick up important clues!

Of course, no one actually dies. So it takes a little imagination and some good acting -- and a body in the coat-check room or slumped in the punch bowl -- to get into the swing of things.

Host and guests spend the better part of an evening figuring out "who dunnit." Was it the butler, the dashing Mr. Young, or the wealthy heiress Miss O'Sullivan?

This is what's called an "interactive murder," says Alexander Walsh. He says an interactive murder mystery is a "mystery story which can support or requires more than one player to solve."

For enthusiasts, murder mystery nights are lots of fun. Not only do you get to use your mind to figure out a mystery, but you get to visit with friends too.

"It's just a fun way to get together at a party and it's more than just standing around," says Debra Germany of California.

There are several different kinds of interactive murder mysteries. The most common type is a dinner theater party or weekend murder mystery staged by actors at a restaurant, theater or resort.

Generally, players arrive and meet several key guests in the crowd. These special guests are usually professional actors rehearsed in the mystery being presented. By listening and asking questions of the actors, the players learn who has been up to what.

At the end of the evening or weekend, players guess the identity of the killer and the motive for the murder. At this point, a detective arrives on the scene to investigate the crime!

The detective treats the players as witnesses. Suddenly the guests themselves are part of the action! At the conclusion, prizes are awarded to the player or players who have the best eye for detecting.

Another type of interactive murder mystery involves hosting your own game. This is typically a home-based party with a guest list of six to eight people. There are no actors, just friends playing a part.

The host usually buys a pre-packaged murder mystery game from a department store or hobby shop. The game includes invitations with costume suggestions for the guests, a character script and details of the murder to solve.

The goal is to identify the murderer, their motive and method -- and not get accused yourself.

Anyone can participate in a murder mystery presentation -- all it takes is an active imagination.

Some murder mystery enthusiasts write their own mysteries. Dave Winship of Ohio wrote his own scenarios when he discovered the ready-made games didn't include a murder and the discovery of the body at the party.

"I wanted role-playing and actual eyewitness testimony," Winship explains.

Custom-made scripts can also accommodate more than the eight people allowed for in pre-packaged games.

Kathryn Jenkins of Murder Mysteries to Go says her games average $10 per player. "We figure that's about the same as a movie," she says.

You may encounter murder mysteries in unexpected settings. For instance, math class! Corinna Hull is a teacher who wrote a murder mystery for her students to help them learn the mathematical concepts of distance, slope and midpoint.

"It worked for me, at that time, and with those students. I liken it to reading a murder mystery or watching a movie," she says. Obviously, not every class would be suited to this activity. "Discretion should be taken in some cases."

The popularity of murder mystery games has been growing since the mid-1980s. Decipher Games is one of the commercial manufacturers of interactive murder mystery games. Decipher won't give exact sales figures but says it sells several thousand games each year -- and the market is still growing.

For real mystery enthusiasts, there are also a number of board games available. Clue is an obvious choice, but other games include Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and 221B Baker Street.

Some enthusiasts turn their hobby into a job. Winship now sells murder mystery scripts to those who want to host more than a typical diner party. He usually attends his parties as a consultant.

Kathryn Jenkins has also made a business of writing murder mystery game scripts. She and her partner now ship complete games for 12 to 50 players all over North America.

Some hotels and restaurants have built a healthy business staging murder mystery nights. They employ a regular crew of actors to stage the events.

Believe it or not, interest in fictional crime solving has also spawned some careers in criminology. Criminologist Neil Boyd says many students first developed their interest from fiction.

"There's more of a correspondence between the fields than one might expect," says Boyd.

Getting Started

If a night of imaginary murder and mystery sounds appealing, there are a number of ways you can get involved.

Alexander Walsh suggests consulting the phone directory under "Entertainment" and finding out if there's a murder mystery dinner theater company in your area. Your local chamber of commerce may also know if any restaurants are offering murder mystery nights.

Host-your-own murder mystery games are available at many hobby shops and departments stores. There are also several companies on the Internet that sell custom written games.

Walsh says these games are a lot of fun, quick and easy to prepare, and very inexpensive. The only problem is once you've played the game, you know who "dunnit."

"Play it once and throw it away," says Walsh -- or give it away to a friend.

As an alternative, host a murder mystery board game evening. See what games you might have stashed away.

Be careful if you're thinking about holding a dinner evening. Walsh says it may cost from $35 to $60 per person, including the meal. A weekend may range from $100 to $500 a person, including room and board. Walsh says custom events are more expensive, ranging between $600 and $4,000.

Books are always an easy way to get into a juicy murder mystery. Try titles by Agatha Christie, creator of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

Reading not your style? TV programs with a mysterious touch abound. A and E's Mystery Theater provides excellent television adaptations of famous Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries.

For the younger mystery buff out there, computer games might hit the spot. The Seventh Guest is one such game. You're the seventh guest invited to a house, the homeowner is murdered and you have to unravel a series of puzzles.


A site with a range of links and information for mystery fans

R and R Productions
See the list of shows planned by this company

Killing Time
Doug Winship's site

Murder Mystery Weekend
Providing murder mysteries for weekends, dinners, train adventures and more!

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