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Whodunit? You're the sleuth for an evening, day, or weekend of mystery.

Wealthy heiress Isadora Calmpeace, up to her neck in bubbles, breathed her last in her bathtub--succumbing under dubious circumstances, of course. Her death occasioned a gathering of the tearfully bereaved to hear the reading of the will.

What better place to sleuth out the murderer? Hence the heroic presence of Hercule Poirot to discern greed-wrung tears from the real McCoy. But the plot thickens when, before the eyes of the gathered throng, the lawyer is shot mid-codicil.

Now, Hercule needs help; he turns to the group, who in truth are 40 of Louise and Herb Gordon's guests, pictured above, invited to an evening of mystery-solving in their San Fernando Valley home.

The stage for this intrigue has been set by one of a growing number of mystery companies. They script the plot--and infiltrate a handful of actors to advance the action.

Started up mostly in the past year, these "producers" offer an evening, a day, or a weekend of entertainment in which "guests" sift through planted clues to solve a play-acted crime or two.

The setting provided by the producer might be a private Amtrak car speeding toward Santa Barbara, a Victorian in San Francisco, a resort in the Rockies, a bed-and-breakfast inn outside Los Angelers. It could even be your own house, if you custom-order the mystery--as in the scenario shown above.

Formats are roughly the same. The mystery producers ask that guests come in appropriate costume--it adds to the realism and fun--and if you ask, they'll even write you a role to play in the script.

When you and other guests gather (you can't tell guests from actors), a murder will shortly occur, and a famous private eye will arrive on the scene--possibly Holmes, Spade, Marlowe, or even Bond. He'll ask you to inspect and interrogate, to mull over clues like incriminating snapshots, shady business cards, torn maps, cryptic notes slipped under your door. The experience is akin to a scavenger hunt. In your interrogations, expect witnesses to suffer amnesia--and suspects to hint darkly of the malicious motives of others. All guests are asked to suggest a denouement, with prizes awarded to guests who show the deftest powers of deduction.

Following is a list of companies planning, at our press deadline, to stage mysteries in the West this spring and summer. In the course of your sleuthing, count on being festively wined and dined; many mysteries include elaborate off-site touring (indicated by higher price). "Weekend" refers to a two-night outing, Friday evening through Sunday, with per-person prices based on double occupancy.

Some companies, like Capers, only produce plots for private parties and fundraisers.

Southern California

Capers, Suite 218, 7715 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046; (213) 223-7727. Produces tailor-made whodunits, starting at $850 for 30 people.

Casa Laguna Inn, 2510 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Laguna Beach 92651; (714) 494-2996. Weekends at 1930s inn; $525 and up.

Eastlake Inn, 1442 Kellam Ave., Los Angeles 90026; (213) 250-1620. Weekends in 1887 Victorian inn; $175.

Gold Mountain Manor, Box 2027, Big Bear City 92314; (714) 585-6997. Summer-only weekends at 1926 inn; $350.

Murder Mystery Weekend, Suite E, 3650 Clark Ave., Burbank 91505; (818) 842-3407. Weekend stays at elegant old small hotels; $350.

Mysterious Affairs, Suite 705, 8033 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90068; (213) 466-7061. Private parties only; $700 to $1,200.

Pickwick Mystery Tours, Box 162, Laguna Beach 92652; (714) 494-6800, (213) 467-2583 for recorded trip information. Day trips by train, boat, bus, $100 to $140; weekend trips, $425 to $925; custom mysteries, $3,300 for 30 people.

The Plot Thickens, Suite 205, 5333 Russell Ave., Los Angeles 90027; (213) 465-6374. Weekend rail trips along the coast; $285.

Robin Leslie McCaul Productions, 10824 Ventura Blvd., Studio City 91604; (818) 980-3749. Mystery in your home; $1,400.

San Francisco Bay Area

The Gables Inn, 4257 Petaluma Hill Rd., Santa Rosa 95404; (707) 585-7777. Overnight stays at 1877 inn; $100.

Murder Unlimited, 630 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco 94102; (415) 474-8005. Weekend stays at ranches, small inns; $395.

Mystery Weekends, Box 206, 1347 Divisadero St., San Francisco 94115; (415) 931-6285. Weekends in small hotels; $275.

Whodunnit Productions, Box 9970, STanford 94305; (415) 323-5185. Weekends at new hotels, historic inns; $230.

The Northwest

Lindy's Who-Dunit?, 12029 N.E. Summer St., Portland 97220; (503) 252-5272. Weekend trains to Columbia Gorge; $180.

The Mystery Company, Box 1764, Billings, Mont. 59103; (406) 657-1610. Weekend stays in first-class resorts in Rockies, Utah, Oregon, California, Arizona; $200.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1986
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