Thursday, November 05, 2009


Last month, I had the opportunity to take part in a few of the events surrounding Barnes & Noble's annual Mystery Month.

Turns out, every Barnes & Noble in possession of a CRM - a customer relations manager - was supposed to host a murder mystery party sometime during Mystery Month. Since I'm buddies with the CRM in my local store, I got invited to be a part of the proceedings at the Barnes & Noble Cool Springs in Franklin, Tennessee.

Here is the cast and crew of our little play, all the suspects in the murder of Barry Underwood, late owner of Underwood Vineyards, whose body has recently been found under the hardwood floor in the wine cellar, after a little help from an earth quake. Barry has been missing for five years, and we're all gathered together to figure out whodunnit.

From the left we have moi, AKA Hedy Shablee, owner of a struggling vineyard (and a part-time counterfitter). Barry and I were old friends, and I knew about a secret tunnel into the winecellar where he was killed. He had figured out about my counterfitting, and I may have killed him to shut him up.

Next to me is Keith Donnelly, author of the Donald Youngblood Mysteries, who played Ralph Rottingrape, manager of Underwood Vineyards. After Barry 'disappeared,' Ralph took over the vineyard as well as Barry's fiancé, now Ralph's wife. Except he's not actually Ralph Rottingrape; the real Ralph died in prison, and his cell mate, Dario Santini, took on his identity.

Next to Keith is B&N CRM Robbie Bryan, AKA Otto van Schnapps, a German traveler in wine. He came to see Barry on the night of the murder, with a briefcase full of money that he left behind at Underwood Vineyards. However, he has been seen carrying the same briefcase since. He is also an art thief, whom Barry was blackmailing. (And let me just mention Robbie's totally kick-ass German accent. Go, dude!)

On the other side of Robbie is the wonderful Elizabeth Terrell (who wrote that marvelous blog post for us awhile back, about her dogs). Beth played Marilyn Merlot, Hollywood starlet, who carried on a flirtation with Barry until he ensured she won the title of Miss Grape, and then poof, she disappeared. On the very same night that Barry died. Coincidence? Or something more sinister?

Then we have Chester Campbell, who played Papa Vito Santini, the 81-year-old Italian vintner who started Underwood Vineyards with shoots from his family's grapevines in Italy, at the behest of the Underwoods some 60 years ago. Papa felt unappreciated by the Underwoods, who treated him like an employee instead of with the respect he felt he deserved. He's very handy with a ring knife, the murder weapon.

And lastly, there's Mary Saums, AKA Tiny Bubbles. Barry's fiancĂ© until he disappeared/died; Ralph's wife now. She really ought to be called Tiny Rottingrape, but who can blame her for keeping her maiden name under the circumstances? She claims she had no reason to want to get rid of Barry, but she was carrying on with Ralph AKA Dario under Barry's nose, and now she's got it all: Dario/Ralph AND Underwood Vineyards.

Feel free to try to guess who the murderer is, although I'm not sure I've given you enough clues. Or maybe I've given you too many. I've got an advanced reader copy of 'A Cutthroat Business' I'd be willing to donate to good cause, anyway, if anyone wants to play. Let's just see how it goes.

And if you haven't ever tried to host a murder mystery party, let me just tell you that it can be tons of fun, especially when the participants are willing to go out on a limb and get into character, maybe even with the addition of some costumes. Something to think about for the holiday season, maybe? There are lots of choices out there in addition to A Taste For Wine and Murder; just follow the link above, for Amazon, and see what you can find.

Until next time, I'm Hedy Shablee. Toodles! 


Annette said...

Oh, Jennie...err, I mean Hedy, this sounds like so much fun. I love murder mystery theater!

PatRemick said...

That sounds like a blast -- but I don't recall our local B&N doing something like that -- maybe hosting Dennis Lehane was ours!

We are playing a mystery theater game for entertainment at next weekend's banquet at the New England Crime Bake -- hope we have as much fun as you did!

Joyce said...

I've always wanted to play one of these games. Hmm. Maybe I should get one to take to Deep Creek Thanksgiving week.

I think we need more clues, JB. I can't even begin to guess the murderer!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Wish I had known about the mystery month. No B&Ns here did a thing.

I've been to murder mystery events before and they can be fun. Especially when alcohol is involved.

Jennie Bentley said...

I don't know... I think it's really all there. But here are a few more clues or red herrings:

On the night Barry died, I (Hedy) had an assignation with Otto in my hotel room. He arrived an hour late, dirty and disheveled. He said he'd had car trouble, but who knows?

The knife that was found with the body had Ralph's fingerprints on it. He admits that it was his knife, but that the fingerprints got there when he was cutting grapes.

Marilyn Merlot once posed naked for a magazine, and Barry knew it. She might have killed him to keep it quiet. Although she says that after she became Miss Grape, that didn't matter.

The silent partners in my counterfitting operation are from organized crime.

ramona said...

This looks like fun. Anything with Hedy Shablee and Marilyn Merlot has got to be good.

There's a new B&N going up in the mall in my town. It's massive--2 stories. Think of all the places for bodies. I mean, books!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Five CO/WY mystery authors did a panel event at a B&N in Colorado, but the murder mystery theater sounds like lots more fun. Nice idea.

Joyce said...

I've pondered this for a full day and I still can't solve it--unless they ALL did it.

Jennie Bentley said...

Nope, not "Murder on the Orient Express."

You want me to tell you?


Papa Vito did it. His last name is Santini, same as Dario AKA Ralph. When the Underwoods weren't treating Papa Vito the way he thought he deserved, he came up with the idea to have his great nephew (or however the relationship worked out) take on Ralph's identity. Ralph was the last living Underwood relative (on the mother's side) so when Barry disappeared, Ralph AKA Dario inherited the vineyard.

If it's any consolation, no one at the mystery event got it, either. Hedy was the hot suspect because of the counterfitting operation and because everyone assumed the Mafia wouldn't let Barry live after he figured out that Hedy was in cahoots with them.

Joyce said...

Thanks! Makes perfect sense now that you explained it!