Writing a murder mystery! Part 1.

A good friend of mine suggested I write a murder mystery. The prospect of doing so has been quite inspiring despite only participating in one before. I’ll recount my lone experience.

I was invited by the girlfriend of a long time friend of twenty years to participate in a murder mystery at their home apartment. It sounded like fun so I agreed without hesitation. She sent me an email with a quick description of my character. He was a lounge pianist who idolized Charles Aznavour. My first reaction was: “Who is Charles Aznavour?” As usual, Wikipedia provided the answer. Over the next two weeks, I listened to his songs on Youtube and committed the lyrics to memory. I combed through the various clothing retailers on the South Shore for a costume to look like a stereotypical lounge singer:

I wanted to improve upon the costume with the addition of silk gloves and a scarf. Sadly, I was unable to find the last two even after recruiting my mom in the endeavour. She is the equivalent of a bloodhound when it comes to shopping.

I practiced my singing the afternoon of the event and matched the above look the best i could; throwing in a black under vest and an industrial amount of hair gel to pull my hair back and hold it in place.

I arrived at my friends’ apartment and we sat around the dining room table to prepare for the night’s activity. Unfortunately, the lighting was terrible and we did not get any good photos of the eight of us in costume. The other characters were in no particular order:

  • The gypsy fortune teller played by our hostess. Her possible motive was her previous association with the murder victim as a pair of con artists. She was wanted in numerous eastern European countries and had been madly in love with him.
  • Her boyfriend, and my good friend, played a magician and recent widower. It was implied the character frequented the lounge bar to drown out his sorrows. The family of his widow was investigating him as the actual murderer of his wife who turned out committed suicide by hanging herself. As it turned out, I had to accuse him of being an expert at lassos and thus, the perpetrator of that crime.
  • A militant feminist writer and frequent patron matron of the bar. The woman played the character as hyper-critical of the male characters and protective of the other female characters. This was particularly comical as a chauvinistic character was actually played by a woman. She was secretly pregnant by one of the bar patrons. She became a regular to try to find the father.
  • A bar fly cougar on the prowl at the bar. She turned out to be the accomplice of the murder victim and the murderer. The two had an argument which escalated into a physical struggle. The victim shot himself with his own gun.
  • The corrupt politician meeting the bar fly for a first date after meeting through an online dating site. The character was rapidly disillusioned as the bar fly used out of date photos. I could certainly sympathize. However, he was already married and was looking for an affair. To compound his excellent and upstanding character, he was pretending to be another politician, was only successful in politics because of the influence of his in-laws, and admitted during the murder-mystery of removing crucial evidence after the scene of the crime.
  • The formerly engaged macho bar owner and the bitter bar waitress. The two characters truly stole the “show” as it were. They kept passively aggressively sniping at each other throughout the evening. As my character was hired by the former following their break-up, I was also the target of the waitress’ bitterness.

We were given a booklet describing our characters, indicating whether or not we were the murderer, a drawing of the murder scene immediately after the crime and after the midway point, and finally scripted questions and answers we were to deliver during each of the four acts. The hostess then played an audio file of the murder which transpired int he bathroom, away from the eyes of everyone (except the murderer of course). With background piano music playing, gunshots were heard and the sound of glass shattering and panicked patrons moving about. The hostess then read us the scene. The victim was a private eye who demanded all the characters, except for myself, to attend the bar that night to pay 25,000$ in blackmail.

Without an apparent motive, a clear alibi, the knowledge of my innocence nor any stake in the investigation, I chose to listen and observe the events just in case I could be the next victim. I didn’t know at the time this particular game was just about figuring out the identity of the killer. I remained quiet throughout the first two acts, except to respond to the far-fetched accusations leveled at my character or make accusations of my own based on the script. The only noteworthy exchange was the first accusation against me by the magician. Apparently, he looked over my shoulder and saw I was writing an obituary about the eventual murder victim before he died. My character’s response was to explain he wrote obituaries as a side job. I was bored between performances and so decided to write the obituary of the newcomer at the bar I had not seen before.

Things turned just plain silly after act two. I excused myself to use the bathroom. Upon my return, I was immediately confronted by the corrupt politician. He claimed to have access to secret police databases and outed me as an undercover police officer. I was taken aback by this and quickly read my response to myself. In the spur of the moment, I acted out revealing a badge underneath my dinner jacket and became more active in the investigation. As a cop, I thought it was now my responsibility to try to find the killer.

Later, in act 4 it was revealed I was a corrupt undercover cop who was protecting higher ups in the police hierarchy. My superiors were participating in an illegal poker game in the bar’s basement with several elements of organized crime. Nevertheless, my final accusation was leveled at the bar owner. I slammed my hands against the table; startling everyone. I read aloud the lines in as threatening manner as I could. Demanding the bar owner reveal what he was truly hiding. To add a bit of levity, I also grilled him on his whereabouts the day of the JFK assassination, the secret of the Caramilk bar, and what size shoe he wore.

In the end, no one guessed the culprit correctly but we had a lot of fun. Surprisingly, the person playing the bar owner approached me while we were cleaning up and told me: “There were so many questions I wanted to ask you, but I felt too intimidated to do so.” He went on to explain my stoic demeanour throughout most of the evening was likely responsible for this impression. This was an eye-opening revelation to me. I’ve met him a few times since, and we’ve had several lengthy conversations now that he knows me better. It’s something I have tried to work on to be more approachable.

However, despite our enjoyment of the proceedings, I felt there was a lot that could be improved. If it were not for the general enthusiasm of the participants, this could have been reduced to a simple line reading between those involved. There was no replay value either as the “killer” was set from the start without any variation. Besides playing the first time, you could only host it going forward.

In part two, I’ll discuss how I plan to write my own variation of a murder mystery. I end this post with a tribute to the singer:

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