So what happens when a mystery author (me) attends an Agatha Christie-style dinner in an actual mansion? Does she solve the crime and command everyone to gather in the drawing room for the astonishing reveal? Let’s just say I may never get a shot at that guest star role on Murder, She Wrote…
I don’t remember where I spotted the ad for Mystery Café’s Clue-themed dinner theater last September, but I immediately jumped at the chance. Billed as a “Dead and Breakfast” deal, this was my big opportunity to solve a “murder” in a real, live mansion (okay, not live) and stay overnight in an elaborate guest room. The soonest I could book was mid-January. And I would be attending solo, because my husband suspected Major Ice Fishing Plans might regretfully conflict with his very favorite activity: interactive dinner theater.
The day of the big event, I rushed home from work to pack—but what did guests wear to murder-themed dinners? Black tie? Business casual? Costumes? In a panic, I tossed a vintage-y looking hat, scarf, and shoes into a bag. I really wanted to wear my mom’s fur stole—the kind with the nasty-looking minks, fastened together by the mouths and tails with the beady eyes and claws, but I decided that might be overkill. Plus, I didn’t want anyone to throw red wine or blood at me. (I chose a red cocktail dress, just in case.)
Two hours later, I arrived at the Endicott House just outside of Boston (it’s now owned by MIT, and used as a conference center and wedding venue). I was truly awed as I pulled the Subaru up the long, winding drive and got a load of the French-chateau-style mansion. The windows were practically glowing a welcome to me.
The first thing I found out as I was handed an old-fashioned-looking key was that I was, quite unfortunately, not staying in the mansion with everyone else. The hotel was overbooked and I would be right next door at the modern conference center, all by myself. (Well, with another couple or two.)
I’d love to tell you that I gracefully swallowed this disappointment and headed straight to my room to get ready for cocktails. Nope. My eyes filled with huge tears. I further humiliated myself by arguing that I couldn’t possibly have been bumped—I’d booked in September and I was a mystery writer, dammit. And I’d just driven two hours and…and…
It was futile. The conference center was perfectly nice, but I was crushed I wasn’t going to stay in the gorgeous rooms filled with Oriental rugs, marble fireplaces, and antique furniture. Well, fine. The house was probably haunted, anyway, and I’d never get any sleep.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the party was that I was the only person in costume. Except for the cast, of course. (Oops.) Each group of guests got their pictures taken with the actors—and I was dubbed Miss Marple. (Time to up the nighttime moisturizing routine?) Here I am with my fellow “castmates.”
We were all ushered in to various rooms set for dinner, as we awaited the arrival of our host, Mr. Boddy. Periodically the MC would pop in to let us know that Mr. Boddy was unavoidably detained, but he would be with us shortly. This drove a group of drunk young women in the next room to yell “Because he’s DEAD!!!” each time, which totally ruined the surprise, of course.
We made our way through the whole dinner without Mr. Boddy showing up. I found myself staring at a portrait of the real-life, second Mrs. Endicott. Something about the way she had posed fascinated me. Was she angry about something? Defiant? What had happened to the first Mrs. Endicott?
I can’t talk too much about the storyline, because I don’t want to provide any spoilers. But my favorite character was Col. Mustard. He was quite chatty, in a pip-pip sort of way.
The guests divided into teams to “investigate” and try to determine which character had committed the shocking crime (I don’t think anyone was that sorry about the passing of the cantankerous Mr. Boddy, to tell you the truth). I was delighted when a fun group of women asked me to join them—one was a fellow Jessica Fletcher fan. It was the highlight of my evening. Here we are, the “Concerned Citizens of Cabot Cove” (and we might have another body on our hands):
Unfortunately, I was completely useless as a member of the detective team. I never saw the white roses we were supposed to spot easily, nor a single murder weapon. There were plenty of guns in the Gun Room (not to mention a plethora of taxidermy, plus a fully-stocked bar), but no revolver, sadly.
What kind of sleuth was I, anyway? As it turned out, a terrible one. But I did learn something about my detective (and author) self. I’m not terribly observant, I’m easily distracted, and I’m all about using motive to solve a crime. (What about clues and evidence, you ask? Oh, just add those in later.) Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close enough to most of the characters to talk to them much (except for Col. Mustard), so…that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. End result: We all got summoned to the dining room for the big reveal and I’m sorry to report the Concerned Citizens of Cabot Cove did not win a prize. But we did have a lot of fun!!
After many of the guests went home, those of us who were staying at the mansion (and the conference center) hit the Gun Room bar for a nightcap and played board games in front of a roaring fire.
Oddly, I didn’t sleep very well that night. I had the weirdest feeling I was being watched. Was it Mrs. Endicott, in the Conference Center bedroom, with a sawed-off hairdryer? Snicker if you’d like…but this is what I found on my phone when I got home. Next time, J.B. Fletcher, you’re going with me!
Readers, have you ever been to a mystery dinner or weekend–or know anyone who has? Think you could solve the crime? Let us know in the comment section below!