Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 820
Early one winter afternoon, a brutal murder occurs on Culver Street in Paddington. Witnesses heard someone whistling the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” just before the victim had screamed. Later that afternoon, in the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor, Mollie and Giles Ralston prepare for the opening of their guest house, worrying about the effects of the severe snowstorm outside and their own inexperience in their new venture. Giles leaves, joking that since they know so little about their guests some might even be criminals. Alone, Mollie turns on the radio, where a description of the Culver Street murderer is being broadcast. The announcer mentions the suspect’s dark overcoat, light scarf, and felt hat just as Mollie picks up Giles’s dark coat, scarf, and hat.
Shortly afterward, the first guest, Christopher Wren, arrives, followed by Mrs. Boyle and Major Metcalf, who had been forced by the weather to share a taxi from the train station. Mrs. Boyle immediately begins to criticize the manor and the Ralstons’s inexperience, but she refuses Giles’s offer to take her back to the station. Moments later, the last expected guest, Miss Casewell, rings the bell. After settling the guests in their rooms, Mollie and Giles lament that they all seem either peculiar or unpleasant. To their surprise, the doorbell rings once again and an elderly foreign gentleman, Mr. Paravicini, staggers in. He tells them that his car is trapped in a snowdrift and that Monkswell Manor would soon be cut off by the snow.
The next morning, Mollie receives a call from the Berkshire police, who tell her that they have discovered a connection between the Culver Street murder and the manor; because the manor is now snowbound, a Sergeant Trotter will ski there to provide them with protection. When Trotter arrives, they learn that the victim in the Culver Street murder, together with her husband, had several years earlier been convicted of criminal neglect after the death of the youngest of three children placed in their protection. A notebook found near the crime scene held two addresses, one on Culver Street and the other of Monkswell Manor. Underneath were written the words “This is the first” and the notes of “Three Blind Mice.” The police assume that one of the older children had chosen to avenge the brother. The girl in the case had disappeared long ago, and the eldest boy had deserted from the army after being diagnosed as schizophrenic. Trotter advises that anyone with a connection to the case should reveal it, since they could be in danger, but no one responds. After Trotter leaves to search the house, Major Metcalf accuses Mrs. Boyle of being the magistrate who had sent the children to the home. She admits this but denies having done anything wrong.
Trotter, returning to telephone his supervisor, finds that the phone line is dead and investigates. Mrs. Boyle enters the empty hall and shuts the door. When the door opens again, she turns nervously, but relaxes when she recognizes the person. Someone whistles the tune “Three Blind Mice” and the lights go out. A quick scuffle ensues, followed by the sound of a fall. Moments later, Mollie finds Mrs. Boyle’s body.
Trotter questions the remaining guests, but no one can produce an alibi for the murder. He dismisses all but Mollie, with whom he discusses his suspicions. Wren is the right age to be the eldest child; Casewell might be the sister; Paravicini is a possibility, too, for he walks like a much younger man and is wearing makeup; Metcalf could be the children’s father. When Trotter asks about Giles, Mollie reveals they had only known each other for three weeks before they were married. Mollie insists that Giles had been in the country at the time of the first murder, but Trotter shows her Giles’s coat, from the pocket of which he pulls a London paper.
When he discovers that his skis are missing, Trotter reassembles everyone. After examining alibis again, he suddenly announces that he has a clue but needs to reenact Mrs. Boyle’s murder. Each person is to duplicate someone else’s movements, while Trotter plays the victim in the empty hall. Mollie is assigned to the drawing room. Trotter calls her in and tells her that he is the oldest child. He plans to kill her because she had not responded when his young brother had written to her, his kind young teacher, for help. Mollie pleads that she received the letter too late, but Trotter does not listen to her. He is about to strangle her when Major Metcalf and Miss Casewell enter. Casewell tells Trotter that Mollie is his sister. Metcalf reveals that he is the real detective. When Mollie and Giles discuss their both having been in London, they discover that each had gone there to buy an anniversary present for the other.