One of the best parts of a great mystery story is being transported through time and space to exotic locations around the world as our determined detective follows the trail of his or her criminal. If you have a penchant for mysteries like Miss Party does and love an intriguing theme, how about mixing things up a bit with an exotic, “Mystery on the Orient Express” theme?
This theme is taking an imaginary trip on the elegant Orient Express train, last stop Istanbul! We’ll imagine each impeccable, compartment has been booked by a world-famous Detective, Personal Investigator or amateur sleuth. For fun, you get to be a guest at our party first!
Let’s pretend you received an elegant invitation to a cocktail party a few weeks ago from a dear friend. You were invited to a “Mystery on the Orient Express”, departing from London’s ‘Victoria Station’ at 8:00 PM, with stops in Paris, Venice and, finally, Istanbul. How intriguing!
Imagine you have arrived at the party. The hostess greets you and, with tongue-in-cheek, informs you that several world-famous detectives have also joined us this evening on the Orient Express. The mystery for tonight is, “WHO has joined us?” and if you would like to take a ‘stab’ at solving the mystery, small arrangements are set up throughout the party giving clues to the identities of the famous detectives. The identities will be revealed towards the end of the evening. With a drink in hand you socialize with friends and nosh on delicious hors d’oeuvres in the ‘Dining Car’. You wander a bit, checking out the ‘mystery detective vignettes’. You discuss the various possibilities of one of the arrangements with a new couple. You’ve figured out most, one or two are still giving you trouble…
Study the pictures above for a minute. Let’s do some detective work of our own to deduce the mystery. On the table sits glass jars full of loose tea, a stack of books and an old clock. The person appears educated and worldly, but a bit messy. There is tea prepared for two, so the detective has a partner they work and travel with. The detective smokes an unusual pipe, clearly a man, …got it!
Towards the end of the party, once dessert and coffee has been laid, the hostess takes a stack of tent cards and places the correct detective’s name at each vignette. You were right on all but one! Nicely done, for an amateur sleuth! You’ll settle for a slice of cheesecake as your just reward!
Miss Party made the photographed vignette very easy to guess. Having a few that are easy gives everyone a chance to say, “Yup, knew that one all along,” at least once. As you most likely guessed, the answer is, “Elementary!” –Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
The Orient Express train is very luxurious with beautifully appointed, wood-paneled cars done in 1920s Art-Deco design. For the color palette of the party, Miss Party likes black and gold with rich jewel-tones added here and there. Use a mix of international decor, with influences from France, Italy and Asia – ‘East meets West’! See Miss Party’s post on using jewel-toned, Pashmina-style scarves in lots of fun ways, use black tablecloths on food and beverage tables with a layered runner for color. Generally, go for a 1920s elegance.
Here are a few famous detectives (some may be familiar mostly to American guests, so look for replacements if necessary) and their ‘tells’ unique to them:
-Sherlock Holmes (and Dr. Watson): Author-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Private Investigator, deerstalker hat, tweed cape, pipe, magnifying glass, lives at 221B Baker Street, London, drinks hot tea.
-Miss Marple: Author-Agatha Christie, amateur detective, elderly spinster, English, always wears hats, old-fashioned pocketbook drinks tea, knits, usually dressed in tweed.
-Hercules Poirot: Author-Agatha Christie, “Murder on the Orient Express,” Belgian Detective living in France, (lay a place setting of Belgian waffles or Belgian chocolates as a clue), usually drinks espresso, pocket watch, extremely neat dress and habits, Captain Hastings often assists him, uses pince-nez glasses, travels often throughout Europe and Middle East.
-Nancy Drew: Authors-ghostwriters under pseudonym of Carolyn Keene, amateur girl-sleuth, 18 years old American in 30s-40s, pocketbook, car keys for her Roadster, note pad and nice pen, binoculars, makeup compact, 40s camera.
A few others: Sam Spade, Encyclopedia Brown, Adrian Monk (tv-“Monk“), Jessica Fletcher (tv-“Murder, She Wrote…”), Inspector Clouseau (film-The “Pink Panther” series).
You could also make tent cards to set near the table arrangement that gives additional facts about the detectives that can’t be visually illustrated.