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The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

In the dark theater, before the curtain rises, the audience hears the tune of “Three Blind Mice.” This music yields to a shrill whistling of the same song as the curtain rises on a dark stage. A woman screams; other voices shout, “My God, what’s that?” Police whistles sound; then a moment of silence is followed by a radio voice announcing a murder. The stage lights now disclose the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor. Outside, snow is falling heavily. First to appear is Mollie Ralston, who has just come in from the outdoors. Her husband soon joins her, and shortly afterward five guests arrive. Four have been expected; the fifth, Mr. Paravicini, a foreigner, claims that his car overturned in a snowbank and that he has happened on the Ralston house.

Cut off as they are by the blizzard, the Ralstons nevertheless receive one more visitor in the next scene, which is set the following afternoon. Detective Sergeant Trotter claims that the person who murdered Mrs. Maureen Lyons left a notebook behind and that in it were two addresses. One was that of the victim; the other is Monkswell Manor. He has therefore skied over to protect the occupants. Trotter wonders whether anyone might know the deceased, whose real name was Stanning. More than a decade earlier, three Corrigan children—two boys and a girl—were sent to the Stannings at Longridge Farm, not far from Monkswell Manor. The foster parents abused the children, one of whom, Jimmy, died before they could be removed and the Stannings imprisoned. Mr. Stanning died in jail; Mrs. Stanning survived until someone, probably a Corrigan, killed her.

In the notebook left with the body of Mrs. Stanning, below the address of Monkswell Manor were written the words “Three Blind Mice.” The murderer also left a piece of paper with the message: “This is the First.” Trotter fears that the other intended victims are trapped in the guest house. Still, no one admits to any connection with Longridge Farm. While Trotter goes outside to investigate the phone’s suddenly going dead, the various guests and their hosts disperse. Then a hand turns off the light in the Great Hall, a scuffle ensues, and Mrs. Boyle falls to the floor, strangled to death like Mrs. Stanning.

In the second and concluding act, Trotter attempts to discover the murderer. No one has an alibi, since each person was alone when Mrs. Boyle was killed. Moreover, both Ralstons had secretly gone to London the previous day, and both have coats and scarves liked those Mrs. Stanning’s murderer was seen wearing. Christopher is the right age to be Jimmy’s brother, George, and is behaving very strangely; George supposedly is mad. Paravicini has disguised himself to look older than he is, and he enjoys playing “Three Blind Mice” on the piano. Katherine Casewell, who has just returned to England from abroad, refuses to explain why she is in the country and why she has chosen to stay at the remote manor. Even Major Metcalf is not above suspicion, for he is the correct age and occupation to be the Corrigans’ father.

Then Trotter’s skis disappear. Presumably, someone in the house has hidden them. Christopher, who has spoken of fleeing, is suspected of having taken them. Or perhaps there is a concealed person on the property, which as a former monastery has many crypts and curious passageways. For the moment, Trotter puts aside this matter to concentrate on Mrs. Boyle’s murder. He wants to re-create the scene to test each person’s story, but he asks people to go to different places where they claimed they were at the time of the killing. Thus, Christopher Wren is sent to the kitchen, where Mrs. Ralston said she was, Major Metcalf goes to Mr. Ralston’s bedroom, where Giles had been checking the extension phone, Miss Casewell descends to the cellar, where the major maintained he was exploring the cupboards, and Mr. Ralston leaves the house, as Trotter had, to check on the telephone line. Mrs. Ralston takes Paravicini’s place...

(The entire section is 5,358 words.)