Murder Mystery Idea – The Intriguing Letter

A letter from the Discrete Investigation Bureau

Over the weekend I was going through my grandfather’s old briefcase which I have kept for sentimental reasons. It’s a battered old brown leather case and it contains various papers, mainly dividend receipts from his investments. It smells of old documents and I find it a very comforting thing which reminds me of a wonderful man.

In among the papers was a letter which I hadn’t noticed before. It’s dated 19th January, 1963 and it’s from a time when my grandparents owned and ran a school. The matter it addresses is Parkfield Schools Ltd -v- S.Faux and it’s from the wonderfully named ‘Discreet Enquiry Bureau’. Sadly this no longer exists and Google earth shows me a residential house at the address. It’s likely that the Bureau was a lone self-employed private investigator; a ‘gumshoe’.

The Bureau had been contracted my my grandfather to track down this Faux fellow, who they were suing for some reason and who appears to have done a runner. Perhaps their solicitors put him in touch with the Bureau, as they forwarded the letter to him. A more romantic idea is that he found it in the small ads in the back of a newspaper. My grandmother was a wonderful lady and she would not have been directly involved in such matters, but I know that she would have followed the shenanigans with great interest.

The Bureau followed the rogue Faux to the address he had given as a forwarding address and found that his name was not on the nameplate. Instead there was the name ‘Raux’. Faux is French for ‘false'; had he given a false name, even using it in court, and been so brazen as to taunt with wordplay?

The false fellow had moved on again and had given a forwarding address, but cancelled it after four weeks. At this point he goes off radar. However, the Bureau, no doubt by discreet enquiry, ascertained that Faux or Raux was known to frequent the infamous Curzon Club in W1. Now we really are starting to get the measure of the man. A rogue, a gambler, in my imagination now sporting a thin pencil moustache and wearing a sharp pinstripe double breasted suit.

It is just one chapter of a bigger story. We don’t know what this chap had done in the first instance, nor do we know what happened next. Did the Discreet Enquiry Bureau ever find their man? Was he called up to explain his nefarious activities. You don’t use an alias in life without good reason, and having the sangfroid to stand in court and swear by it certainly implies a villainous nature. My search for further documents sadly yielded none.

I was delighted to find this letter. It made me feel close to my grandparents again, whom I adored and who died over 30 years ago. However, the writer in me would have been intrigued by this letter even without that connection. The wonderfully named Discreet Enquiry Bureau harks back to a time long gone. These days almost everything in the letter would have been discovered using the internet and much of the investigation would have been conducted using it. Has the internet made it easier for rogues to vanish and hide, or has it made it more difficult? Locard’s Exchange Principle is one of the principles of forensic science and it is summarised as ‘every contact leaves a trace’. Then we have a respectable private school being wronged by someone who appears to go by an alias. I wonder what happened. No doubt it was some financial matter and nothing too serious, or I would have heard about it I’m sure. The final piece of intrigue is his frequenting of the Curzon Club, which throws in glamour and a little extra seediness.

I am probably imbuing the story with more romance than it deserves, but I shall continue to develop the story and it will be the starting point for my next murder mystery script. It began with the discovery of an intriguing letter.

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Batman – The Plot

The Caped Crusader. The Dark Knight. 50% of the Dynamic Duo. Call him what you will, he’ll always be Batman to us. Like Doctor Who or James Bond, everyone with an interest in pop culture, will have their own definitive Batman. For children who grew up in the 70’s, Adam West will always be their guy. It remains to be seen how Ben Affleck’s latest take on the character will go down with fans, but both Affleck and Christian Bale owe a lot to a Batman that many people have forgotten about. Despite the mantel changing a number of times throughout the franchise, Michael Keaton’s Batman from Tim Burton’s 1989 film of the same name set the dark standard that others have been following ever since.

It’s hard to think of a time without regular Batman movies appearing in the cinema. In recent years we’ve been spoiled thanks to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but before Michael Keaton donned the cowl, Batman hadn’t seen the inside of a movie cinema since Adam West’s camp hero in 1966; Bat shark-repellant anyone? There had been a few aborted attempts to kick start a new version of Bob Kane’s creation but, for one reason or another, they had all failed to materialise. That was until self-styled ‘Gothic’ director Tim Burton came along. The movie had been drifting through development hell for a number of years until Burton signed on. Once on board, one of his first choices was a controversial one amongst fans. Michael Keaton, up until that point, had been primarily known as a comedic actor so when Burton cast him his Batman, many fans were outraged. If the decision to cast Keaton was causing concern, the casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker was inspired, not to mention expensive.

For the first time, the distinctive style and architecture of Gotham City of the comics was finally realised on the screen. Using Burton’s flair for the dark and the macabre, the aesthetics of the movie were stunning to behold. From the Batmobile to the buildings through to the dark, shadowy citizens that populate the city, Burton and his team went to town to create a look as far removed from Adam West’s version as possible. With its distinctive look overshadowing everything else, you could argue that the film is style over substance, one of the main criticisms of the film and all of its subsequent sequels. Either way, audiences loved it.

As is the problem with many original stories, Batman the movie struggles to build a film around a linear structure that must include the incident that happens many years before which gives Batman purpose and the creation of its villain. If you can remember the plot of the film you’d be doing well. To recap, Gotham City finds itself in the middle of a crime wave, spearheaded by criminal Jack Napier (Nicholson). Napier and Batman’s alterego Bruce Wayne are both fighting for Gotham. One to destroy it, one to save it. They are also fighting for their shared love interest; Vicky Vale, a newspaper photographer played by Kim Basinger. After an accident at a chemical factory where Batman almost catches him, Napier fall into a vast of acid and is transformed into The Joker. Now a maniacal sociopath but with more make-up, Napier takes control of organised crime from his boss Carl Grissom and sets out to destroy Batman, armed with a toxin to turn the people of Gotham into disfigured freaks, just like him.

As Batman figures out Joker’s plans and attempts to stop him, the question for the people of Gotham becomes one of trust. Do they trust the clown prince of crime or the man in the bat mask. What a choice! They are both victims of what Gotham City has made them. Batman’s mission is to avenge the death of his parents. His links to the past have made him a man out of time. He can’t truly find love or peace in the present, however hard he tries. Napier, as it turns out, was responsible for the death of Wayne’s parents although not directly. The catalyst for the man he must defeat.

Whatever shortcomings the film has, it created a Batworld we now recognise as definitive. It also revolutionised modern movie marketing; the Batman symbol was everywhere and the Prince soundtrack was heard on radio stations around the world. Batman had come of age. The franchise may have skewed away from Burton’s vision and into neon lights and Bat nipples but Keaton was a revelation. There was only one more film with him in the lead role, but he remains the best Batman for many, with or without the mask.

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Basic Murder Mystery Writing

The murder mA shadow of a person writing behind wet glassystery genre has become very popular since Agatha Christie. This particular genre need to include an exciting cliffhanger and a storyline that needs to be created in such a way that it keeps you interested in reading.

The first thing you need to do is figure out the basics of the novel and its structure. Note down who will be murdered, the reason, the suspect, where the murder takes place and if there are any witnesses to the murder. Once you nail this information down, you need to go to the next step.

Now you need to expand on those questions by wring down more ideas and expanding on the ones you already have. After doing this, a good idea is to write the opener, where you basically introduce the setting and characters.

Once you do that, you need to write the murder scene. As this is the main subject of the book, you need to treat it with a great importance, and describe it in detail. You might want to hold on to some information in order to introduce it in later chapters, but do what you can to describe the murder as well as possible.

After that, you should try and write the discovery sequence. Who finds the body? A suspect or a random person? Is this tied to the murder, is there any significant information? Integrate this portion into the overall story.

Once you write the discovery, you also need to bring the suspects in. To make the plot as thick as possible, bring as many suspects as you can, and broaden the overall plot with how each suspect might be tied to the murder. You should also add the discovery of new evidence and eliminate suspects as you go along.

Rule the suspects out one by one and, in the end, leave only two or three suspects that give the reader the impression that any one of them could have done it. Once that is done, you should concentrate on the ending, and how you want to finish the story. Will the murderer be sent to jail, or he will live on to kill once more?

A good writer will also proofread and rewrite some portions of the novel at least two or three times. If you want your novel to be perfect, you should try and revise it yourself or hire additional help.

This is very basic advice and professional writers will have much more sophisticated techniques. However, for the new writer the biggest challenge is the first story. Not only is it a challenge to start a story but finishing it is often the most difficult thing. Many stories are sitting out there unfinished. Your first may be a short story, but it’s important to put pen to paper that first time. Good luck!

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Work Hard, Play Hard: A Modern Adaptation

Monday morning.

The lights switch on and the first waves of bleary-eyed workers trickle through the door and take up residence in their own little corners of the office. Here they remain for the entirety of the week. Shackled to the monotony of a well-rehearsed weekly planner; daydreaming the endless possibilities for fun and liberation at the weekend; staring into the empty abyss of the long working week ahead. Work is a necessity; the less to be done, the better.

While this type of working environment, for some, has long been considered the norm, we are starting to see a trend rising, among forward thinking organisations, who believe that introducing fun into the workplace can have a profound effect on employee morale, productivity, and ultimately, your bottom line.

The idea started with the tech boom of the 90s, where young business owners were starting their own organisations. The freedom of the start-up culture allowed for deeply engrained ideologies, which helped foster innovation, encourage collaboration, and most importantly, gain the respect and loyalty of its employees. This raised the notion that we don’t have to force our workers into submission any more. Work and play can co-exist. And increasingly, employers are saying it should.

What are the benefits?

Productivity increases when teams and individuals are feeling good about their work and the purpose of the organisations end goal.  Fun activities and informal discussions between staff dissolves the perceived boundaries that a hierarchical organisational structure comes pre-packaged with. This allows management to become more approachable, which encourages those who would normally stay quiet to raise ideas and lead us down innovative new avenues for problem solving or dealing with disputes – not to mention boosting morale by genuinely taking an interest in their suggestions.

Without the pressures of an unapproachable boss looming over your every move, it helps create a stress free working environment. Stress free working environments have been proven to cut numbers in employee turnover and dramatically decrease the level of stress related absenteeism in the work force (stress related absenteeism reportedly costs UK companies around £6.5 billion a year). So it’s worth thinking about! By making each employee feel like a valued member of a team you foster a culture of happiness and willingness to help. However cynical you may be about this concept, togetherness and happiness does resonate with customers and prospects, leading to improved customer service.

Along with improved productivity, citizenship between colleagues, and the fostering of innovation; fun, team building activities also help create a cohesive brand ethos. This will become paramount in creating your compelling brand story when marketing the business – something informed consumers are becoming increasingly drawn too. Wouldn’t you rather your team enjoyed being at work? And took an interest in the company’s performance? And respected you for valuing their opinions? And wouldn’t you rather your employees listen to you in staff meetings? Or even chimed in with their own suggestions? Rather than sitting there blank faced and unenthusiastic.

How to foster a productive, collaborative culture, through fun

• Introducing periods of down-time to have informal discussions on tackling difficult tasks or suggesting forward thinking ideas.

• Invite open communication between staff, of all levels. Open communication gives employees a chance to take responsibility for their own tasks, air their grievances, offer collaborative support to others, and generally feel more compelled to take an interest in the company’s performance.

• Hire fun, creative people who can help to champion your new playful efforts. New blood in the workplace can often be a good catalyst to get the fire burning in your existing staff too.

• Introduce incentives. Try setting fun challenges for staff to complete, where the winner gets a small cash prize, or extended lunch breaks, or a trophy that signifies their victories. The sense of competition can be great for improving productivity.

• Decorate your office accordingly. Add colour to the room, display inspiring pictures and famous quotes, encourage staff to bring in silly toys, create areas for recreation or collaboration, and make an achievements board to celebrate a job well done.

• Use fun to take the edge of mundane tasks. Think of creative ways to get your staff motivated about the daunting task ahead: If you have to change thousands of database entries, split the task between staff and set targets so the first one to complete wins prizes. You’ll be amazed at what a little competition can do!

• Lead by example. If you want your staff to have fun at work, you have to be seen doing the same. Show them that you are open to fun and encourage them to embrace it.

• And remember to laugh. Laughter releases endorphins into your blood stream which clear you mind and boost your energy levels. Try your best to get your team laughing along with you.

It’s a scary thought to allow your employees time to have fun when they’re meant to be working hard. And it’s important to ensure they don’t take your new found playfulness and generosity for granted. But there are benefits to be had and whether you like it or not, the next generation of workers will be far more expectant of working environments like this.

Have you tried introducing fun into your organisation? Has it worked? Or do you think this is a scary concept designed by slackers? Have your say in the comments below.

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Overcoming The Monster

Man in a Halloween maskIf there is one thing that film audiences love, it is rooting for someone or the little guy in a battle against a monster. Thanks to the magic of the movies, the monster can take the shape of many different things. In the case of Jaws, the monster was obvious; it was a massive shark with a huge taste for human blood, killing and destruction.

In Home Alone, Kevin may not have been up against an actual monster, he was pitted against two hapless criminals, but to a small boy, his opponent was as big and nasty a monster as you could hope to find. It is clear that Home Alone and Jaws are two massively different films that probably don’t have a lot in common but both films feature a monster that has to be overcome.

One of the most important things in a monster film is to signify how brutal or scary or dangerous the monster can be. In Jaws, this is simple, the shark kills people. In Home Alone, it is two robbers who are having a lot of success breaking into people’s houses and stealing all of their belongings. You also need a premise or situation where the monster can do a lot of damage. In Jaws, it is the holiday celebrations that promise to draw a huge number of people to the beach. With the authority figures determined to keep news about the shark attacks quiet so as not to hamper the tourist crowd, there is a real risk of lots of people being injured or killed, and there will be people who are culpable for this.

Monsters don’t have to be physical monsters
In Home Alone, the threat of the monster is present because so many people go travelling for the holiday season, allowing thieves and robbers the opportunity to break into homes undetected. When you add in the additional premise that Kevin is left home alone due to his chaotic family forgetting all about him, there is double danger. The robbers may be able to break into the home and steal belongings but they may decide to put Kevin in danger as well. While both of these settings are decidedly different, they are quite scary.

With this in mind, and bearing that there will be twists and turns along the way, the battle to overcome the monster begins in earnest in both films. In Jaws, there is the natural wastage of people in the film before, at the very last minute when all hope looks to be lost, the hero of the day ensures that the monster is killed and their reign of terror is no more.

In Home Alone, there are some points of danger and while there are times when the hero is winning, there inevitably comes a point when all hope looks to be lost. There is a slight twist in Home Alone with the fact that the main character, the supposed hero, is actually saved by someone else. There is also the neat touch that the actual hero is someone who is considered to be an outcast at the start of the movie. When it comes to making winners out of losers and heroes from zeroes, you cannot beat a film where a monster has to be defeated.

The differences between these two films are stark but at the heart of both films lies a similar storyline and the need to overcome a massive and at times dogged opponent. There is not one single definition of monster and the differences between these films indicate how well a monster story can be constructed. People like to see good triumph over evil, especially when the evil element seems so big and nasty that a victory seems unlikely. This has been a huge plot style since David squared up to Goliath and it will be a massive plot style for many years to come.

The villains in our Murder Mystery plots are sometimes portrayed as monsters, for example Herbie Ravioli in Little House Of Horrors. He’s a mafia hitman and the challenge for the actor in this role is to overcome that and to try to portray a more redeemable character. This makes him a very interesting character to play.

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The Plot Of The Film Memento

Long before Christopher Nolan was a mere bat-glimpse in the Dark Knight’s eye. Years before he went charging forward towards Director superstardom, he made a film that was completely backwards. Literally. As the new millennium dawned, Christopher Nolan adapted his brother’s short story Memento Mori. Shortening the title to simply Memento, the basic plot seems fairly routine. Wife is murdered, husband tries to find who did it. This simplified outline belies the fact that it was a murder mystery like no other.

The film opens with Leonard, played by Guy Pearce, killing the man he believes perpetrated his wife’s murder. Showing this at the beginning is a strong statement of intent for any murder mystery film, but it’s the only way Memento could have opened. You see the whole film is presented in reverse, or at least half of it is. Confused yet? Don’t be.

If losing his wife wasn’t bad enough, Leonard has other issues. In an attempt to protect his wife during the initial attack, he suffered a head injury. Coming round afterwards he finds that not only has he killed one of the two attackers, but has also developed anterograde amnesia. This psychological disorder impairs his ability to create new memories. He remembers everything before the attack, but struggles to recall new information. More than a small inconvenience when you need to piece together a murder! Crucially the police don’t believe there was a second attacker leaving Leonard to undertake his own personal man hunt. Undeterred by their lack of support and inability to remember new things, Leonard has a novel way of tracking his investigation. Before he forgets any new information he has learned, not only does he take Polaroid photographs and make notes but, for the really important clues, he gets them tattooed them on his body. A permanent reminder of his very personal mission. This way, every day, he can wake up and revisit where he is in his enquiry.

Memento has two threads running throughout. Black and white flashback sequences tell Leonard’s story as an Insurance Investigator prior to his injury and these run chronologically giving context to the story. The other modern day scenes are in colour and tell Leonard’s narrative as he tries to piece together clues to find the killer he believes is still out there. After the threads converge at the start of the movie, they split into their respective timelines to give us an insight into his life, his struggles and his motives. This is more than director trickery. We get to see the world the way Leonard does, in disjointed, confusing imagery.

Leonard isn’t alone in his search. He is aided, if that’s the right word, by Joe Pantoliano’s Teddy and Carrie-Anne Moss’ Natalie. The question becomes whether Leonard can trust them or the information they give him. Are they manipulating him or genuinely trying to help? Will he remember in time to take stock? Little by little, Leonard begins to piece together the mystery away from its shocking beginning to an even more amazing end.

Memento was a huge critical success upon its release, if not a massive box office triumph. Many large studios were put off by its unusual structure and passed on the opportunity to distribute it. Eventually a small, independent company called Newmarket took the brave step and released it. Despite winning numerous awards, the film didn’t reach the huge audience it deserved until it was released on video and DVD. It has subsequently been released a number of times, also now on blu-ray, with an ever growing list of special features. In some regions the disc even has a hidden option to watch the entire film in chronological order but, trust me, backwards is the only way to go.

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Murder Mystery Clues

An old fashioned typewriter

Creating the clues is one of the most interesting parts of putting together a Murder Mystery. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a master at creating clever clues for his Sherlock Holmes series of books. Holmes was renowned for his powers of observation and in A Case Of Identity he deduces that a lady is right handed by noting that the forefinger of the glove on her right hand is stained with ink from a pen. In the same story Holmes remarks that a typewriter is as unique as an individual’s handwriting because once it has been used some letters are more worn than others, and some wear more on one side than others. This makes their print unique. In fact type writer forensics has been used in real cases, for example the case of Levy -v- Rust in New Jersey as long ago as 1893 when a judge took into account the evidence of a typewriting expert.

In the sort of murder mysteries that are run over dinner most of the clues are paper based. Put together they form a sort of jigsaw which tells a story. There are tools online for creating receipts, bank statements and other documents. Fodey is particularly useful for generating realistic looking newspaper snippets. These can be used to create a background for the suspects, so they might indicate that someone is prone to violence or make a link between two suspects which adds to the case. It’s important, when creating the clues, to keep a note of how they interact and any dates and values which may need to be changed for future events.

One strategy is to create three clues for each suspect. The balance of the clues is very important, so make sure that the real murderer doesn’t have everything pointing at them. The removal of one clue in a well established script can completely change the way the audience perceives the story, just as the addition of a clue can tip the balance. It’s a fascinating area and, once you are really comfortable with a show, it can be interesting to add or remove clues and make small adjustments. However, avoid changing too much in one go. One change at a time will enable you to monitor the effect that it has on the show.

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