Murder at the Manor

By Merilyn Tompkins

The Chantecler Hotel in Botha’s Hill was the appropriate setting for our “Murder Mystery” weekend of the SAWriters’ Circle. Some folk noticed a certain ambience. After registration we met in the conference centre. Brigitta set the ball rolling with a quiz on crime writers and writing. She divided us up into groups of four. We allocated names for each group so that each group could be identified when Brigitta marked the quiz sheets.

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There was Starsky & Hutch, Jane Doe, the Crippin Cripples and I was with the Chantecler Rippers. To our great surprise, the Rippers won the quiz. Wendy Greeff, who is with the NPA and our expert on crime and criminology, gave us a talk on “How to catch the bad Guy”. She took the role of criminologist which naturally suited me perfectly. It seems the police rely heavily on informers and are paid for information which leads to an arrest. Wendy told us computers are a great help when matching fingerprints; a far cry from visually checking individual prints to try and make a match.

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John Tyne, our Master of Ceremonies, explained the format of our weekend, followed by supper. During supper, the Assistant Manager, Andrew, introduced himself and regretfully informed us of the sudden demise – the murder of our keynote speaker, Giovanni Camorra. His body had been found in the Chapel in a pool of blood. Highly tickled with our murder theme, Andrew could barely keep his face straight, but was unable to suppress the merry twinkle in his eyes. He added that the body had been removed, but blood was everywhere.

After supper we re-convened in our conference room where Ginny Porter showed us an episode of Murder She Wrote, starring Angela Lansbury. The title of this episode was South by South West. I remarked to Wendy Greeff that one of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies was entitled North by North West. True to form, Jessica Fletcher unmasked the true culprit; a very neat twist in the tale and in the process, outsmarting the FBI.

Attendees were allocated various roles/characters. Ray McNulty was the ex-seaman complete with eye patch and given the name of Spyder Hook. Each character had a highly dubious background. John Tyne was Dr. Crippen, complete with stethoscope. My name was Felicity Furr, the “merry widow”. Felicity, it seemed, was now on husband number five. The previous husbands disappeared in mysterious circumstances and were subsequently found in poor states by police. Some she divorced, others died. My prop was an ostrich feather. Shades of Daisy de Melker…

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Clues were handed out and we were given the list of allocations where clues could be found. Ginny informed us that there would be another murder and this time there would be a body. We were seated in our dining room, the Leopard Room, when Peter, the Chef, charged into the room at a rate of knots, screaming loudly about a dead body on the stairs, closely followed by two African staff equally agog.

There was a paralysed silence, then we moved to the stairs where indeed a ‘dead’ man lay sprawled. He lay with his head at an awkward angle and there was a spot of blood on his face.

Most of Saturday morning was spent walking around the various locations where clues could be found and later, back in the dining room analysing the clues. We also interviewed each other to gain material and a plot plan for our crime story competition.

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Congratulations to Brigitta, Ginny and the committee who put together a cleverly planned fun and entertaining weekend. There were some new faces in our midst and we hope we will garner new members.