Clive has fun...solving a murder!

Clive Agran turns detective this month after a dastardly murder has been committed but it's all in fun of course

Although roughly one in three of the boys in my primary school class wanted to be an engine driver, I never did. Nor did I aspire to be an astronaut, rock star, politician or double-glazing salesman. Simon Atkinson, whose name came after mine on the register and consequently had to sit next to me, was desperate to be a policeman like his dad. Being made to watch Dixon of Dock Green on television because there was nothing else to do on Saturday evenings and we only had one channel because my father couldn’t see the point of ITV, put me right off the idea of a career fighting petty larceny and drinking endless cups of tea.

Rather more appealing than PC George Dixon’s extraordinarily dull job behind the desk at Dock Green would have been the altogether more glamorous lifestyle of Hercule Poirot. However, by the time I saw Albert Finney star as the Belgian detective in the classic movie Murder on the Orient Express I was already too committed to a career in journalism to turn back. Almost as intriguing as who was bumping off the passengers one by one is the unanswered question of how good a detective I might have been.

To find out, I’ve come with my wife Rose to Flackley Ash Hotel near Peasmarsh, just north of Rye, where rumour has it that something rather dastardly will occur tonight at the hotel’s annual Murder Mystery Weekend.

We’re warmly welcomed by Penny Brown, the general manager, who is extremely friendly and polite. This immediately makes me suspect that she must be the killer. The menu she hands us contains a number of suspicious dishes including a starter ‘To Die For’ a main that’s ‘Dangerously Delicious’ and a blood orange sorbet among the ‘Just Desserts’ called ‘A State of Denial’. Perhaps the chef is her accomplice. Aha!

The other 85 guests are in the bar sipping their drinks. As no-one falls to the ground clutching their throat and gasping, I reckon it’s safe to order a Guinness before we enter the dining room. There’s a table plan and Rose and I are on table one, which immediately makes me suspicious. Quite why I don’t know.

Seated on my left is Robert, who says he’s come all the way from Ruislip to celebrate his friend Luke’s birthday but can I believe him? Luke is from Horsham and could be a Sussex Life reader and therefore above suspicion. Equally almost certainly innocent are the two ladies sitting opposite, Bernadette and Katherine, who are from Eastbourne. On Rose’s right, at the end of a table, is Nikolay, a Russian, and his Japanese/American wife whose name I don’t catch. They are a delightful young couple living in London who look perfectly innocent. But they are foreigners and therefore immediately rise to the top of my list of suspects.

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There is a loud clap of thunder and, after welcoming us, a disembodied voice explains that we are divided into nine tables and that each table is a team. If this announcer is to be believed, and I’ve no grounds for yet thinking him a liar, I must revise my opinions and treat those around me as fellow detectives rather than murder suspects. Sorry, Nikolay. There’s a bloodstained information sheet on each table which contains helpful background information on the four characters involved in a gruesome murder – known as The Case of the Invisible Corpse – that took place in Edinburgh in 1835.

It’s all highly plausible. Victor Frunkelfurter is a widower whose wife drowned shortly after the wedding when she fell through the ice on Lake Geneva. Did he push her? Involved in Frankenstein-type medical research, he fled to Scotland after being declared bankrupt.

Grigor is made up of various body parts and is one of Victor’s less successful creations. Wearing a heavily bloodstained blouse, she struggles to control her limbs in general and left arm in particular and inexplicably screams whenever she hears the word ‘curse’.

Berk is engaged in what was once the lucrative second-hand body business and, in partnership with his female cockney cousin Rabbit, supplies corpses to Victor Frunkelfurter. However, trade is slow at the moment and consequently prices have been “slashed”. Are you with it so far?

Maybe those who ordered the homemade tomato soup might have struggled to enjoy it if we had witnessed Viktor’s grisly demise. Instead, we learn of it just before the first course is served and, for those who have the stomach for it, a drawing of the crime scene is passed around. Our task is threefold; to find out who did it, how they did it and why they did it. Points are to be awarded during the evening for asking intelligent questions of the three suspects and applauding the actors enthusiastically. This latter incentive helps generate what might politely be called interactivity between cast and audience.

Considering the appalling circumstances that have brought us together, the atmosphere is extraordinarily relaxed and everyone, with the obvious exception of Victor Frunkelfurter, seems to be having a good time.

Grigor comes to our table and we have 3� minutes for cross-examination. My team-mates subject her to the third degree before I come in with the telling question, “Did you kill Victor?” “No,” she replies, which is a tad disappointing, but adds, “Berk killed him with the stare of death.”  A rumble of thunder indicates that her time with us is up and the composite Grigor staggers to another table as we revert to discussing the remarkably mild weather of late.

Rose, who hasn’t drunk two pints of Guinness and therefore seems far better able to followed developments than I am, confidently declares that Victor must have been stabbed. “By whom?” I ask. “I don’t know,” she replies, “but would you mind passing the vegetables?”

The cast return and we learn a little more about Berk and Rabbit’s cadaver supply company and how they tried to dupe Victor into buying invisible bodies. Did Victor see through this ruse thus obliging them to take him out? “I’ve changed my mind,” says Rose, “I think he must have been electrocuted.” I’m so confused I can’t even remember if I ordered the fillet of beef or the pan seared halibut.

Berk comes over to our table to be questioned. Although I can’t say I approve of exhuming bodies from graves and flogging them for research, he seems a perfectly decent fellow and I consequently cross him off my list of suspects. Rose is now convinced Victor was poisoned but I remain open-minded about everything except the desserts. It’s got to be the meringue with blood red berries, fresh cream and raspberry coulis.

Although I might literally be losing the plot, Robert on my left is taking copious notes and seems quietly confident that he knows what happened. Reluctant to appear totally clueless, I promulgate the latest in Rose’s long line of theories and suggest Victor must have been poisoned.  Meanwhile Bernadette advances the theory that he was probably strangled by Grigor while Nikolay at the end of the table is convinced the KGB must somehow be involved.

In between a violent clap of thunder and coffee, we learn the disappointing news that our questions have not been terribly impressive because our table is lying eighth after round one with a seemingly modest total of 142 points. We’re 15 behind the leaders, table three, who are ecstatic. A discernible mood of despondency descends upon us. Nevertheless, following an animated discussion, we hand in our sheet stating who we think did it, how and why.

Whilst we sip coffee, the cast re-enact what really happened to Victor and our spirits are raised because it would appear we more or less got it right. But have we done enough to overhaul smug table three? Victor, miraculously now fully recovered, announces the result in the time-honoured reverse order. After the bottom six tables are eliminated, we are one of three tables asked to stand. Table six is then told to sit down, leaving only ourselves and loathsome table three. The atmosphere is so tense you could cut it with a dagger before it is announced that (loud clap of thunder)… we are the winners. Hooray! Rabbit presents us with a bottle of Champagne and, confident that it’s not been poisoned by table three, we drink a toast to the memory of Victor Frunkelfurter.

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