Every Christmas time my family and a close set of friends get together for a large meal and then lots of ridiculous games. This has been going on without a break for twelve years at least and mostly ends up with a rumbling continuous version of charades into the wee hours.
This year, for various logistical reasons we had to have a lunch and someone suggested we wrap it round a murder mystery. You can by these things online or in department stores for as many people as you want.
Except there’s this person who thinks of themselves as a writer in the family. So why doesn’t he write a bespoke tale for the occassion…
Of course I did. How could I resist?
Some early decisions were needed. I and the co host, the Textiliste would have to be peripheral players if we were to write it (you need a beta reader for all your work).
The setting was our house, as we were hosting this year which meant using as many rooms as we could to create the mystery.
It would make it more fun if we two doubled up our characters… I was
Sync the Butler
and Inspector Fidget in the Yard
and the Textiliste
Booke the Cook
and the star of the show Dame Prudence Alleyn
We based it on a sort of Agatha Christie light approach and applied some basic ground rules. There was a set up, each character had a profile that was public which was shared with everyone and then a private section. The characters names needed to be memorable so they were based (loosely) on animals.
There was a set piece where Dame Pru made a speech telling everyone they were to be disinherited of money and title and support as well as announcing she knew her lost child was still alive and would inherit everything.
The characters could then ad mouth her while they were dispatched to various parts of the house on various tasks. In every case at come point they would all be in separate rooms or other areas… so no alibis…
Then Dame Pru dies with lots of clues around her and everyone was encouraged to try and prove their innocence at the expense of one or more others. That led to a lively meal….
It is New Year’s Eve 2019 and you have been invited to Alleyn Towers, the home of Dame Prudence Alleyn the last surviving descendant of the great acting Dynasty. The invitation states that ‘you will be entertained’ and ‘you will be sure to benefit from the revelations’.
Dame Pru has been a recluse and you are intrigued by the invitation so decide to accept. You know she is a spinster in her seventies, fabulously wealthy, as mean as a rhino with hemorrhoids and who makes enemies as a professional courtesy. She has a significant Chablis addiction, constantly imbibing. She is vain in the extreme and calls herself the Queen of Hearts. It is rumoured she has a terminal illness.
Ah, Dame Pru… our victim, much loved and then not…
There were so many suspects….
Ms Tammy Worth age 40
Public Information: Qualified Accountant and tax adviser to Dame Pru, Buffy Orpington, Warren Bunny and Bea Hive. You are well known for the rings you run round the HMRC. You enjoy the fact that you have visited every country in the world and are constantly referencing them in your conversations. You have a very mannish dress sense even though you are a passionate supporter of all things feminist
Private Information which you can reveal when you want or if directed to: you know about the scam between Buffy and Warren and are blackmailing Warren. You fancy Bea and have made advances which have been rebuffed but you’ve heard rumours about her and Jack Rabbit and believe Warren may be prepared to help your sleazy ambitions if you release him from your control. You knows that Jaw Daw wants to inherit the title to Alleyn Dynasty. Also primogenitor applies – the male heir first. Your big secret is you feel you are born in the wrong body and wish you were a man; you dress accordingly. You purport to be a passionate feminist
Warren Bunny age 45
Public Information: Hypnotherapist, acupuncturist and Chinese medicine expert at the height of your powers, famous for curing the wealthy and famous of addictions and afflictions from your fabulous surgery in Harley Street. You’ve cured Dame Pru of three addictions and two afflictions. You have a smooth if rather creepy bedside manner. You are a flamboyant dresser with a penchant for stripes and hats
Private Information only to be revealed if you want to or as prompted: Originally from Germany (and you still have your own strange Anglo-American accent) and called Werner Kaninchen, you have reinvented yourself after the Egypt incident below. You are self-regarding, with the image of a virile hunk but in fact you are addicted to marmite and a closet gay. You have a thing about male nurses.
You had an affair with Jack Rabbit on New Year’s Eve 1999 but have not seen or spoken to him since he was arrested and imprisoned on a holiday in Egypt (and you escaped because you could bribe the guards and he couldn’t).
You have a scam going with Dr Buffy Orpington so that disgruntled patients are referred to you for pain management but when you hypnotize them they forget why they were in pain in the first place and instead give Dr Buffy five star reviews. In return she pays you a hefty retainer. One such was Foxy Cubb who you not only wiped her memory but also hypnotized her to act as a drug mule bringing in some dodgy products for your Chinese medicine business. You only stop when she was caught and you do not know how she got off.
You have brought a special Yellow River Shiver potion for Dame Pru which you give her as soon as you meet, explaining it will make her feel like she’s been transported to another world. You leave this in the sitting room.
You are terrified of Dogs and try and keep as far away from them as possible
Russell Jack aged 75
Public Information: but everyone thinks you are 35. You are a successful Vintner and wine grower and Francophile. You dress in a very French way. You have had your own TV show extolling the virtues of the anti-aging properties of Sauvignon when grown to your methods. You are known to sue any paper that suggests you are your actual age. You don’t hide the fact you may have had some minor cosmetic proceedures. You provide the wine to Dame Pru from your French vineyards.
Private Information only to be revealed if you wish or as directed: You employ Bulgarian slave labour in your vineyards.
You recently had an affair with Dr Buffy Orpington who has used you as her (willing) guinea pig for new cosmetic surgery procedures. You recently discovered that the steroidal treatment that was meant to improve performance has rendered you obsolete. You want to confront her but are torn whether to sue and risk losing access to eternal youth procedures that she offers or demand recompense in kind. You are desperate for supplies of Buffy’s elixir as you found a wrinkle and fear you may be coming apart at the seams. You have not seen her since she ended the affair but suspect she will attend and have come in the hope of pressurizing her to give you what she wants.
You bring Dame Pru a gift of your latest best Chablis which you give her when you first gather together and in front of everyone else.
Field Marshall Sir Jack Daw HMSO BO YOLO VC aged 58.
Public Information: War hero who as a Major famously held a ridge to save American Special Forces during the little know conflict of Herman’s Bu’tock in the first Gulf War. You are Dame Pru’s nephew and will inherit the title on her death as she has no heirs. You don’t care about her money and have said so publicly. You are never seen out of uniform, and take pride in wearing your ceremonial sword everywhere.
Private Information: In fact you are no hero; you hid in the basement and it was your sergeant who was the brave man but you shot him when he threatened to report you for cowardice. You recently received an anonymous letter threatening to expose you, promising that there was ‘some revealing evidence’ and you believe it came from Dame Pru. You are very vain and play up to your military image wearing a uniform and sword which you leave in the hall on entering.
You have a thing about Dogs. If you enter a room with a dog you must salute it and command it to ‘Sit Panzer’ in homage to your faithful battlefield companion.
Ms Bea Hive MA PhD PRAT aged 35
Public Information: You are whizz-kid financial adviser to the Alleyn Fortune. Your reputation is in part because of how you have grown the Fund. You have a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. Your power dress, suited and booted and love padded shoulders and strong colours.
Private Information only to be revealed if you wish to or as directed to do so: In fact you have been siphoning off some cash for some time from the Fund to pay for your lavish lifestyle and it is you who are pressing for the shut down of the charity to hide your fraud. You have supported the EU Brexit party and have ambitions to form a professional relationship (and maybe more) with MP Jack Rabbit. Always on your phone checking the markets and asking to be excused to important calls from your people. Your power dress, suited and booted and love padded shoulders and strong colours
The Reverend Father E.L Trout DD aged 75
Public Information: You are a Catholic Priest who has been the confessor to Dame Pru for forty years. You are loved in your parish and one of the trustees of the Charity sponsoring amongst others Ms Foxy Cubb. You dress appropriate to your calling
Private Information which you can reveal if you like and will do so if prompted: You Faith is everything to you as is your vocation and anything that might undermine that would cause you immense heart ache. You’ve been told most things by Dame Pru and believe you know all her secrets. You like to tease with snippets of information about her even though you can’t tell everything because of your training that the confessional is sacrosanct. However you love gossip.
Some of things you know about Dame Pru and her guests:
1. One current employee once worked for Dame Pru and was badly burned; this was Dame Pru’s fault
2. She loathes anyone who is homosexual
3. She has promised to fund the MPs re-election campaign but is having second thoughts and may be planning on changing her instructions. You think she has found out something personal about him but she has yet to tell you what.
4. She is convinced the cosmetic surgeon is trying to kill her and has found out some scandal that could ruin the surgeon.
5. She really enjoys WTF’s the Charity’s support for the Arts, even if she thinks most of the people supported are insufferable benefit cheats and is upset that it may have to close. You know she suspects the people running the Charity have been cheating her and she plans on making it public.
6. Dame Pru knows your biggest secret and it has always been your fear that this might come out. You believe one of the guests will have been told what this is and will confront you with this at the party. Of course you will deny it is possible.
Miss May N. Coon aged 45
Public Information: Currently Dame Pru’s companion you have variously had a stimulating range of career positions – librarian, artefact duster and earplug tester. You were chosen because of your mousy appearance and quiet manner and an over-enthusiastic need to please people and say nice things to everyone.
Private Information only to be revealed if you wish or if directed: Since you joined her employ, you have been constantly abused by Dame Pru and the other staff (apart from the Butler and the Cook). You are paid a pittance but you have been constantly promised by her that she will make you wealthy when she dies. When you received the promised bequest you have promised yourself a long holiday in Cleethorpes. It is the only thing that is keeping you sane.
You were sent a letter recently telling you that you are The Reverend EL Trout’s illegitimate daughter and that he doesn’t know it. You are toying with confronting him but you don’t like to upset him.
Dame Pru confided in you that Ant Heap used to be employed by Dame Pru years before and left in mysterious circumstances. You gained the impression Ant may have a grudge but you don’t know why.
The Honourable Jack Rabbit MP aged 50
Public Information: An MP (the local representative for South Dulwich and East Norwood and chair of the EU-Brexit Party. You are seen as tough but fair, successful and humble. You dress smartly as a committed serious politician save you have a skin complaint that means you cannot wear long trousers. You expect to be (and informed commentators say you will be) PM in the next five years.
Private Information to be revealed if you wish to or as directed: In practice you are smarmy, greedy and always trying to find an angle to gain kudos or money to support your ambition. You have hidden your seedy past and especially your arrest in Egypt 20 years ago for immoral acts with another man (Warren Bunny under this then German name) who you’ve not seen since he abandoned you. The year you spent in an Egyptian jail left you with an addiction to Nile Dust, an extreme form of opiate and a list to the left. You doubt you’d recognise him but you’ll never forget his voice. You fear with the rise of social media that this might come out. You are married and divorced with no children.
Dame Pru has supported your political ambitions but you have heard a rumour via your agent that she may be about to withdraw funding. That would be catastrophic.
You are aware the Bea Hive has shown interest in you and you think you might try and exploit that. You have had her investigated and believe she might be defrauding some of her clients
A member of the House of Commons Pokemon Go! Club who you were both pursuing a Bulbosaur across Whitehall one evening and passed Sir Jack Daw out for an evening that the old soldier wasn’t the hero but a coward but it had been covered up.
At points during the evening you will need to get a fix of your ‘powders’ which you can add to a drink or sprinkle on food. To avoid suspicion you usually leave your powder pot by your plate – hiding in plain sight.
Dr. Buffy Orpington age 35 Cosmetic Surgeon.
Public Information: You have turned the aged into the new born. You are especially famous for your botox plus which ‘smooths without setting’. You are doing well with a list of the famous knocking at your door. You are dedicated to your work and avowedly ‘decoupled’ from past relationships and are self-partnering every alternate Thursday (source: Mail On Line). You are never seen without a stethoscope and scrubs or similar to emphasise your dedication to the job
Private Information: to be revealed if you wish or as instruction: A scandal is just about to break caused by the unfortunate deaths of two porn stars whose buttocks you enhanced and which exploded during a recent film shoot. Dame Pru has had the same procedure. You have a scam going with Warren Bunny so that disgruntled patients are referred to him for pain management but when he hypnotizes them they forget why they were in pain in the first place and instead give you five star reviews. In return you pay him a hefty retainer.
You recently ended an affair with Russel Jack who has been your (willing) guinea pig for new cosmetic surgery procedures. You recently discovered that the steroidal treatment that was meant to improve performance has rendered his performance erratic. You ended the affair as a result and haven’t seen him since. You do not know if he has linked his loss of function to your treatment.
You lack sensitivity when it comes to personal appearance and are always telling people how you might improve their looks.
At an early stage when Dame Pru first greets you all, and in front of the others, you tell her you’ve brought the injections she requested which you can administer when she wants. You leave them in the sitting room.
Foxy Cubb age 25 a cabaret star and dancer
Public Information: You talk loudly, coupled with the fact you have a rare form of ‘Stage’ Tourettes which means you intersperse your sentences with short bursts of song from famous musicals – famously The Lion King and Les Miserables. This is seen as cute and because it is a disability makes you loveable. You have recently been considered a role model for aspiring performers from disadvantaged backgrounds (you were left in a handbag outside the Adelphi), an Insta Influencer who always takes selfies and the poster girl for a Charity founded by Dame Pru’s father (The Worldwide Theatre Fund or WTF for short) which has supported you in your acting ambitions. You have the reputation of the guileless saint. You dress like an early Kate Bush.
Private Information only to be revealed if you want to or as directed: You tend to either ‘love’ people or ‘hate’ them. You have recently heard a rumour that Dame Pru intends to stop the funding of the charity and you know the current beneficiaries whose lives will be ruined if that happens. She is now one of the ‘hated’. You have strange memories of having had cosmetic surgery and then being told to forget it but despite counselling you cannot stop the dreams.
You were once a drug mule and it was only because Dame Pru paid the fines has that shameful part of your past been hidden. You have no memory who you worked for.
Ant Heap aged 60 Private Nurse to Dame Pru
Public Information: You say little and just get on with your work. You have infinite patience with Dame Pru but are rather fussy given her health. You wear a uniform appropriate to your work
Private Information which you can reveal if you wish or if directed to do so: You have a huge chip on your shoulder and assume everyone is looking down on you so tend to be cutting and passive aggressive. You also self-medicate all the time and are a germophobe and hypochondriac. You have a constant supply of tablets, sprays ointments, wipes and so on which you regularly hand out.
You were male nanny to Dame Pru’s baby who was disfigured in a fire (you too were badly burned). Dame Pru sent the child abroad for treatment where the last you heard the child had died.
You have since had plastic surgery and look totally different. You adored the baby and have borne a grudge about the treatment. It has been your aim to get close to Dame Pru to try and get hold of some of her money as compensation for the fire injury you feel you were denied.
Eventually Inspector Fidget appeared to drop in some more bombshells and point lost of fingers and the culprit was identified…
Did it work? Everyone said they enjoyed it.
Was it easy? It helps to have a large house to move people around and willing participants. It’s worth noting that everyone really has to commit to playing their part in the spirit in which it is scripted.
Talking of scripts some kits I saw had scripts to be read out. As a device to get things moving I understand the writer’s urge to push the participants in the direction they want them to go. In my case I relied on the combination of my friends’ and family’s natural inclination to get stuck in and the fact that, as the Inspector I could steer things when I appeared. That was one advantage, my participation. If you feel inclined to do something like this then go for it. I loved it!