Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dinner, Dress-up and Murder- Or How To Throw a Murder Mystery Party, Downton Abbey Style

Last Saturday we hosted a party very special to me, a combination of two things I always wanted to do: a fancy sit-down dinner out on the front lawn, and a murder mystery. Preparations started a few weeks before. Pick the theme. Search the web for a suitable script.  Ponder the guest list. In the end, it was fifteen of us, as you can see in the picture below. 

Being a big fan of Downton Abbey, it was important to find a script that takes place in a manor house in England. That gave me the opportunity to use my fine china and silver (remember, I wanted a fancy sit-down dinner, al fresco). Finding a story that has the required number of characters, setting, and era took a bit of time looking around.  Finally having decided to use "The Mysterious Affair at Stirling Hall", by Shot In The Dark MysteriesI sent out the invites and made sure that all of the guests are able to attend.  There is nothing worse than having a party where one absent guest throws off the whole game. Once everyone confirmed, we ordered the game (you can pick the version depending on the number of your guests), and emailed attendees their roles. As you can see on the picture above, my friends all came dressed the part. 

The centerpieces for the table had greens from 
my yard and flowers from the florist.

Once all the game materials were sent out and prepared,  planning for the actual dinner could start. Throwing a fancy dinner and mediating the game while cooking for fifteen is not my idea of a good time, so outsourcing the cooking seemed like an ideal solution. We emailed out links to Downton-era dishes (google Downton cooking or dinner party), and everyone picked an item to prepare and bring. We had a delicious dinner, with a lovely variety of English food. 

The three centerpieces were arranged in crystal and silver bowls.

The weather cooperated perfectly: we had an (almost) full moon, clear skies and no wind.  This was especially helpful since there were dozens of candles set up around the garden and on the table.

This is the front yard just as we started setting up. We put three 6-foot 
tables in a row creating one long dining table to seat all fifteen of us.

Not owning three matching long table cloths I decided to rent the linens. This also saved me time not having to starch and iron all the napkins. We used my old family porcelain service and silver, wine and champagne glasses, and borrowed the beautiful water goblets from my friend Jodi (who played the Countess).

The gold chargers came from Pier 1 Imports.

We put silver candlesticks and small votive holders as well as some glass hurricanes on the table, and lined the side of the garden with more glass hurricanes with white pillar candles. Here the table is almost ready, only the napkins and some small items (such as salt cellars) are missing.

You can see the hurricanes along the areca palms on the ground. My wonderful husband also hung twinkle lights on the fence and palms. 

Here is the completed look, right before the guests arrived.

We enlisted our two older children to be the serving staff for the party, and they did great! As the guests were arriving, they announced each character, and gave them their name tag. We then took pictures of  all the couples and then a few group shots.

Cheers to a fun evening everyone! Can you find me? 
(Hint: I was the Dowager, aka the grandma)

Then the mystery started. We played the introduction (an audio file) on the computer, and everyone dove right into questioning one another. After about an hour of gathering information, it was time for dinner.  We all sat down and the kids served us just like Mr. Carson and the footmen do it in Downton Abbey. They were so attentive, the guests were really impressed with them.

Christmas lights on the tree house and candles on the
table and lawn were the only source of illumination.

Conversation during dinner revolved around the plot. Everyone stayed in character. We had a great time calling each other by the characters names and slowly unraveling all the hidden information and scandal. 

I was very impressed with everyone's costumes. We had a voting for best costume at the end, as well as best actress and actor. We also gave out a trophy to the best detective, for solving the murder. (It was not an easy mystery to figure out, in fact, only one out of the fifteen of us guessed the correct answer. Could it have had something to do with the amount of champagne and wine consumed?)

As the mystery wrapped up, and the voting finished, we all gathered around the computer once again to listen to the confession. Votes were counted and prizes distributed. 

The evening wrapped up with more champagne and wine, while the downstairs staff helped me clean the dishes. We all had so much fun! I have a feeling that though this was our first murder mystery dinner ever, it will not be our last. If you want to host your own party, check out the fabulous scripts at Shot In The Dark Mysteries. You can customize their plots for your exact number of guests.

Want more murder mystery? Check out our Great Gatsby-Style murder mystery New Year's Eve party here.


  1. How wonderful! You did amazing with your party. Murder mystery parties are the best!

    1. Thank you Valerie! It was a lot of fun. Getting a good script and casting the characters well is crucial, then the party just flows by itself. I hope to do another mystery again soon!

  2. Swung by to see your party photos. Love the table set up! I'll have to host a Downton Abbey party one day :)

    1. Thank you Bryt! Theme parties are so much fun! The clothes, the food, the music. What script did you use for your 1920s murder mystery?

  3. ya Valerie realy Murder mystery game its wonderful and best you can enjoy with murder mystery party with differen theame and dinner party

  4. Hello Zsuzsa,

    We're a start-up Murder Mystery Party company based in the UK, and we'd like to offer you one of our host-it-yourself games for free, in the hope that if you like it you might blog about us :)

    They're terribly easy to organise - our website sends out the invitations directly, by email. Also, the scripts can be previewed. See

    If you're interested, get in touch at, and also please feel free to pass the offer on to other bloggers.


    Martin (for Daggerville Games)

    1. Hi Martin,

      Thank you for your offer. I checked out your web site, and was intrigued by the possibilities... Will contact you soon! Aloha,


  5. How long did the dinner take? My last one lasted until 1 am! Would love a shorter script!

    1. We finished with the whole mystery around 11:00 if I remember correctly. Since then we have done two more and are definitely getting better at playing it. We did a Great Garsby and an Oscars Night theme and they both were great!

  6. Totally fabulous. It was one of the best murder mystery themed parties I have ever seen. My cousins and I will be together soon after a long time so I am also planning an enjoyable bash. I will be booking rooftop event venue for this bash. Hope everything goes as planned.