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Dressing up for a murder on a cruise

By Tammy Keith

This article was published September 10, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

When I was a little girl, I loved dressing up as characters.

Whether it was as a gypsy at Halloween, with an armful of bracelets and a colorful skirt I could twirl, or putting on a wig and my mother’s old dress and pretending to be Mama from The Carol Burnett Show, I loved acting.

I also loved scary stories and mysteries — I read every Nancy Drew book available until I outgrew them — and as an adult, I’ve read every true-crime book written by Ann Rule.

As a friend of The Director, as we affectionately call her, of the former University of Central Arkansas Torreyson Library Murder Mysteries, my husband and I got to help write and “act” in the farces several times. I got to dress up as characters such as a nerdy librarian and a beauty queen with beehive hair.

When we were invited to a murder-mystery dinner at a couple’s house a few weeks ago, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. We got hand-delivered confidential letters with our characters and some clues. We were supposed to keep our characters secret until we got to the party.

Until the day before, my husband and I didn’t tell each other who we were. He told me he’d been working on his costume, and I’d already decided what I was wearing. My character was Winona Fanini, movie starlet and party girl. The description said, “Winona adds glamour wherever she goes. She is relaxing away from her grueling schedule of filming, drinking champagne and being temperamental.”

I also had a questionable reputation before I became a movie star, but it’s always fun to play a bad girl.

Finally, my husband and I had to reveal who we were, since we were riding in the same vehicle. He was First Officer Robert McTavish, and he put on a blue-and-white seersucker shirt, white shorts and boat shoes, and we bought him a captain’s hat at a local party store.

I’d already decided to wear my mother-of-the-bride dress, a silver-sequined floor-length gown that I’d worn to my older son’s wedding three years ago, along with the silver sparkly shoes to match and costume diamond necklace. I was happy to get a second wear out of them, but I miscalculated that my body hadn’t changed in three years. The sleeves cut off the circulation in my arms, but I managed.

The setting was the Dolphin Cruise ship, and this couple did an amazing job of transforming their living room to set the scene. One wall was covered with the scene of the ocean view from a ship’s rail, one room was set up like a casino, and there was a bar and a galley, from which the hostess and her daughter served amazing food — lobster, chicken and salmon. I’ve never been on a cruise, but I’m pretty sure the food couldn’t get any better.

As guests arrived, it was fun to try to figure out who they were, but thankfully, we got name tags. My husband and I had crammed for two weeks to learn all the characters’ names, and we still couldn’t remember them all.

The captain of the ship had a huge blue hat made of construction paper and decorated with stars. At one point, we joked that the captain had knocked Major Batty, a passenger, overboard with his hat.

The host and hostess were characters, too, and the husband was the inspector. He dressed the part by having a hat, glasses with a patch that shifted from one eye to the other throughout the night, and a cane.

We received additional clues and had to deal with more twists throughout the evening before having to try to solve the murder. My group did not win, but it was well worth it to get to play dress-up again.

I’m already plotting my next character, even if I don’t have a party to go with it.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or


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