Pure murderous fun

There’s nothing the English like better than a good murder mystery. We have produced the kings and queens of the genre from Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers to Ruth Rendell, P.D. James and Dick Francis. In fact, on Amazon there is a sub-category of British Detectives. We are also quite good at TV. Marry the two and you have the delicious spectacle of Prime Suspect, Cracker, and adaptations of every story by the above mentioned writers.

Why do we own fictional murder? My newly developed theory is that such a phlegmatic people cannot accept the idea of losing grip of our emotions to the point of murder. And yet we do. And so we are quietly obsessed with trying to understand why.

And what better way to do that then through parlor games! I’m going to start out with a game that doesn’t involve murder, but could easily lead to murder. The instructions need only be read aloud for entertainment.

The excellently named Stool of Repentance requires that one player leaves the room while the others write down a list “accusations” against the “culprit.” Then the person is called back in and the “Judge begins by saying ‘Prisoner on the stool of repentance, you are accused of being noisy, proud, etc.’” The prisoner then has to guess who has accused him of what. Hilarious and guaranteed to destroy many a friendship or relationship.

I have an excellent Crime Club Party Game titled Photo Crime in which you can “test your power of observation!” The clues are in the photographs, so I’m going to let you flex your detectives muscles here.

Harvey Blake
Harvey Blake was found dead from carbon-monoxide poisoning. His brother, Charles, told Inspector Cameron: “My brother went into the garage after lunch to overhaul the car. Some time later I heard the engine running, and glancing out of the study window I saw that the garage door was closed. Knowing the danger of running a car in a closed garage, I hurried out, opened the door, found my brother unconscious on the floor. By the time the doctor arrived he was dead. I have touched nothing except for switching off the engine.


Albert Berwick
Albert Berwick lay on the floor of the hall of his flat, dead from a bullet-wound, clutching a small dagger. His wife, Judith, lay near, beside an overturned phone. As Inspector Cameron opened the hall door with the caretaker’s pass-key, Judith opened her eyes, sat up, and was assisted into the lounge. She explained brokenly: “while I was awaiting my husbands return from the office, I heard a shot. As I opened the hall door my husband staggered in, and collapsed—dead. I grabbed the phone, managed to give my name and address to the police, then I passed out.”


And finally a kidnapping.

Peter Barker
Early one morning Nurse Evelyn is found gagged and bound in her bed beside an empty cot. Police headquarters are at once notified that one-year-old Peter Barker (heir to the Mason fortune) has been kidnapped. When Inspector Cameron arrives, Evelyn explains that she awoke during the night to find two men in the room. They tied her up and escaped down the ladder with the baby. As Cameron holds his lighter to the girl’s cigarette she concludes: “I closed the window before I went to bed. They must have climbed the ladder and forced the latch.” Cameron snaps: “You’re lying!”


I particularly like the thorough punctuation—never is a comma missed nor a hyphen skipped. And, because it’s the 20th century, women smoke.

We played this game in Slade’s lovely country house this past weekend in two teams. One team had an approach that was very big picture, intuitive, psychologically reasoned. The other was rigidly logical and pedestrian. The second team won.

Remember: the clue is in the photo. I know they are grainy, but I assure you, you can see the clues. Share your thoughts Sherlocks—answers later today.

23 responses to “Pure murderous fun”

  1. MF says:

    I’m stumped. It’s now going to distract me all day at work. I may even have to enlist the help of my colleagues. Fun stuff. We love our British friend!

  2. And yet we do

    Au contraire: best murder mystery ever is a Turkish novel, My Name is Red. Best murder mystery on the screen is British though, Witness for the Prosecution — this is a movie I could watch (have watched) many times over without tiring of it.

    No guesses (yet) on the photos. I assume Judith is not holding a pool cue, that’s just a fold in the paper or something.

  3. Oh how about this: The door to the Berwicks’ apartment was locked, suggesting that Judith is lying about the sequence of events when he came home — she locked the door after he came in and collapsed, dead. This is probably the wrong answer, because (a) it does not rely on the photo, and (b) the door could lock automatically when closed.

  4. Dave says:

    The answers are in the pictures. Seriously.

  5. Marleyfan says:

    Harvey Blake- If the brother was working on the car, there doesn’t appear to be a light on, and with the door shut, the garage would have been very dark. Secondly, who put the tire in front of the garage door to prop it open? Is that the brother in the photo, if so, when he “hurried out”, he wouldn’t have had time to put on his overcoat, hat, and gloves?

  6. Marleyfan says:

    Nurse Evelyn- The curtains are all drawn, but there is no curtain covering the open window.

  7. Gale says:

    “Stool of Repentance” is great title in many regards.

  8. Scotty says:

    “Stool of Repentance” gives me a childish giggle. Sorry.

  9. Stella says:

    Marleyfan is correct about Harvey Blake! It’s the tire against the door. The brother said he had touched nothing but he had. In fact, I just realized there’s a whole scripted answer that gives the details of the murder, but it’s at home. I’ll post the full thing later. Anyway, brother killed brother and lied about tire. Congratulations.

  10. Stella says:

    Will have to check out the Turks.

  11. Will have to check out the Turks

    I hope you do! But also, I should back off from my assertion that it’s the greatest murder mystery evar — it is one of the greatest novels I’ve read; but its greatness may lie not as much in the murder mystery which is its central plot, as in the philosophical arguments going on underneath and around the murder mystery and in the character development undergirding the whole structure. Look at this quote from the beginning of the book, to see what hooked me. (The book is narrated by 13 different voices, one of which is the murderer’s unidentified voice.)

  12. LP says:

    OK, Stella must have shown me these cards at least three times over the years, and every time I couldn’t guess the answer, and every time I went “Oh yeah!” when it was revealed.

    This morning, I am reluctant to report, same thing happened.

    Even with that “AB” monogrammed briefcase staring me in the face.

    So much for that detective career I always dreamed of.

  13. trixie says:

    WHERE ARE THEY??????????????????????

  14. Kate the Great says:

    Okay, LP obviously beat me to Albert Berwick, and I’ve been staring at the third pic, trying to figure it out. My only hypothesis: Is that a rope hanging from the top rung of the ladder? Perhaps she pulled the ladder up from the window with the rope.

  15. Stella says:


  16. Stella says:

    Harvey Blake – correctly guessed by MarleyFan. Here is the full solution (note the absence of articles – giving that detective notebook feel!):

    “Although Charles stated he’d touched nothing except for switching off engine and dragging body outside, the presence of a tyre leaning against open garage door proved that tyre had been placed there AFTER garage door was opened. Charles confessed that he gassed is brother in his bedroom, carried body to garage to fit in with this story, carelessly omitting to remove the tyre his brother had been working on earlier.”

    Now, you may be wondering how he gassed his brother. I’ve been thinking about this and in English homes built before the second half of the 20th century there would be a fireplace in every room including bedrooms. But during the 20th century, gas fires would be fitted into those fireplaces. In fact, if you look at the Albert Berwick picture, you can see such a fire fitted into the traditional fireplace to the left of Judith Berwick. So I think he turned on the fire unlit while his brother was sleeping and left it running until his brother was dead.

  17. Stella says:


    “Albert Berwick’s brief-case was found in the lounge (note initialed brief-case on chair). Had Judith’s story been true, the case would have been found on floor in hall!”

  18. Stella says:


    “Ladder projects above sill of casement window, which opens outwards. Therefore ladder must have been placed in position AFTER window was opened, which indicated that Evelyn was an accomplice of the kidnappers. Confronted with this clue, she confessed.”

  19. Stella says:

    By the way, in my box of PhotoCrime, there is an aged piece of paper labeled “Elsie” with possible solutions written in that lovely old-fashioned script of people my grandparents’ age in pencil. Elsie correctly solved the Berwick and Blake crimes. However, she thought that Nurse Evelyn was lacking marks on her wrist from being tied up — a totally valid observation but not the correct one. I hope she enjoyed her PhotoCrime party.

  20. Something tickles me about the phrasing “carelessly omitting” in the Harvey Blake solution.

  21. Kate the Great says:

    The outside-opening window: Yeah, I would have never guessed that. And I can’t see that from the picture… arg.

    Good game, though. You don’t want me playing it in real life– I would be screaming in protest and pulling my hair out and making it very not fun.

  22. Gale says:

    This was a fun post. It’s like they say, “Everybody lies.” Everybody dies, too, but that’s a different story all together. Though not always…

  23. Also, everybody’s in show biz.