There are the eternal questions: What is the meaning of life? Who am I? Is there life after death? And whodunit?
Whodunit may be the one most often contemplated by us mere mortals. After all, one out of every four fiction books sold in the United States is a mystery or suspense novel. But today you don’t have to remain an armchair detective. Use these clues to add a little mystery to your life:
Cook a guest’s goose--A new whodunit series of games called Murder Mystery Party, by University Games, supplies you with all the ingredients for a suspenseful evening. Each player is provided with an identity (flight attendant, spy, jet-setter), a sordid past and clues to help interrogate fellow suspects. Someone is the murderer, and the object is to detect who and why. This is not a board game. It’s played throughout the day or evening. There are three in the series: Icicle Twist, Willing Dead and Revenge in Rome. Available at Walden Bookstores, Robinson’s and game stores. Price is $16.
Become a gumshoe--They’ll show you how at the Nick Harris Detective Academy, where they’ve been turning out private eyes since 1907. For information on the 14-week training course, call (818) 981-9911 or (213) 273-6101. Or learn about the basics of the business in Keith Rohman’s three-hour course, “The Private Investigator,” offered Wednesday by the Learning Network, (213) 476-1267.
Unravel an enigmatic book--Visit the Scene of the Crime or Sherlock’s Home Mystery Bookstore. Both bookstores are packed with new and out-of-print mystery novels. At Scene of the Crime, 13636 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 981-2583 (last four digits spell out CLUE), you can rub shoulders with some real killer authors at autograph parties. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sherlock’s Home, 5614 East 2nd St., Long Beach, (213) 433-6130, has some good bargains in their “murdered price” section and lots of mystery memorabilia, including Maltese falcon replicas for $25. Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, noon-6 p.m., Friday, noon-7 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (It’s a good idea to call first.) Holmesian honorifics--Dust off your deerstalker, grab your magnifying glass and join the Non-Canonical Calabashes, otherwise known as the Sherlock Holmes Society of Los Angeles, which is a chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars. They celebrate many Holmes-related holidays each year, and they are planning the centennial celebration of the publication in 1887 of the first Holmes case, “A Study in Scarlet.” Upcoming events also include the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Memorial Dinner on June 14 and the Gasfitters’ Ball (for which guests are required to come as characters from the Holmes stories) in November. For more information, call Sean M. Wright at (213) 465-6374.
Wicked weekends--Go away for a few days and get mixed up with some questionable characters. On murder-mystery weekends, hotel bed-and-breakfast guests or train passengers mingle with actors who play victims, suspects and investigators in a bizarre permutation of the scavenger hunt. Expect to pay $100-$500 per person. Among the many who make mysteries their business: the Plot Thickens Ltd., (213) 465-6374, operated by Baker Street Irregulars member Sean M. Wright, offers plots with name detectives, such as Sherlock Holmes and Sam Spade. Keith and Margo’s Murder Mystery Weekend, (213) 661-4018 or (818) 842-3407, can set up a game anywhere in the United States. Capers, (213) 223-7727 or (818) 760-4357, emphasizes action-mysteries with a repertory company of 30 actors. Pickwick Productions-The Mystery Train, (714) 494-6800, boards guests on a train at Union Station for a trip that includes solving a mystery unknowingly committed by one of the passengers. All the guests, plus the actors, become part of the plot. The assemblage presents its solution of the case to a judge at the end of the trip.
Get a clue--Remember Clue, that great board game from your childhood? It’s more than 30 years old now, and it just gave birth to a VCR version. The object still is to determine the weapon, the murderer and the room where the dastardly deed was done, but now you have video-taped scenarios to work from. Eighteen murders occur in the three stories fabricated by Parker Brothers. Available in VHS and Beta formats for $39.97 at Toys R Us.
Map your course--Follow in Philip Marlowe’s footsteps. See the spot where Geiger took “The Big Sleep” in the book of the same name. The Raymond Chandler Mystery Map of Los Angeles will lead you to locations that are described in the Marlowe mysteries. Available for about $5 at Larry Edmunds Cinema and Theatre Bookshop, 6658 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 463-3274, or at Sherlock’s Home (listed above).
Compute an arrest--Solve a crime with your computer. It’s 1938 and you’re the chief detective in a small town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. You’ve got a dead body and an unconvincing suicide note on your hands. You have 12 hours to break this case. That’s the premise of the Witness, an interactive fiction software program from Infocom. Your actions can change the course of the story as you follow up leads, interrogate suspects, send clues to the lab to be analyzed and make an arrest. Available at Egghead Discount Software for $29.99. Study the masters--Create your own mystery matinee. With so many classics available on videotape, the only problem you may have (apart from burning the popcorn) is deciding which films to screen. Try “The Big Sleep,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “The Thin Man,” “Chinatown” or “The Maltese Falcon.”
Suspect your friends--Host a mystery party. Paddy Wagon & Co. Mystery Troupe, (213) 596-0108, will show you How to Host a Murder, a mystery dinner-party game using the parlor game of the same name. In addition to seeing that the festivities run smoothly, they’ll provide two actors, help you cast your guests, give costume suggestions and more. Prices begin at $475. Capers (listed above) will devise a mystery tailor-made for your guests. The fun may be on land, at sea or on a train. Prices start at $850 for a party of 30 at Capers. Both companies do personal and corporate parties.