“Thirteen at Dinner”

First of all–yes, I borrowed the title from the original American title of Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies. The plot, however, is far more Queenian, as you’ll tell if you read it…

I hope you’re all interested; this is one of those mini-mysteries I tend to write for party games and that sort of thing. Please leave questions, comments, possible solutions (marked off with a SPOILER label), etc., below.



“Thirteen at Dinner”

A Geoffrey Lord Mystery

Unfortunately for the renown of Mr. Geoffrey Lord, the amateur sleuth who solved the mystery with ease, the strange business of the Thirteen Club was rather quickly hushed up, involving as it did a fine lot of some of the most prestigious members of New York society, who were behaving as children playing at pirate—or, at least, playing until the first murder occurred. That good-natured, white-haired Irishman, Insp. James O’Leary, known the world over as “Pop,” brought the matter to Geoff’s attention, and Geoff—always ready to help a friend in need—savored the challenge despite the constant sighs of none other than his own private Watson, amanuensis, secretary, and all-around girl Friday, the pert and lovely Miss Paula Vale.

Sgt. Thaddeus Mack, the gentle giant with the absurd forename, was the first visitor at Geoff’s door on that wild-weathered day in April.

“It’s like this, Maestro,” he shot out in gravelly tones: “one of these fellas has gotta be guilty, but the Inspector and I ’ll be damned—sorry, Miss Vale—if we can guess who it is.”

Geoff, rising from the chair whence he was dictating his latest novel (The King of Diamonds Murder, you remember) to the ethereal Miss Vale, removed his spectacles and tapped his pipe on the table. “But, Sergeant,” he murmured, confused, “I’m still completely in the dark as to what happened, or even as to what this ‘Thirteen Club’ is.”

“It’s a wonderful title for your next book, though, Geoff,” Paula put in, “as good as the title to this book—you know, the one we’re supposed to be working on.”

“Hm, what? Oh, yes, of course, Paula. But…”

It was at that moment that Pop O’Leary entered the ever-bustling 87th St. apartment and shook off his drenched raincoat in the mudroom.

“‘Cruelest month,’ indeed,” he muttered. After some customary pleasantries, he sat on the Lordian sofa which had been—er—graced by kings and presidents, come to consult the Great Man about some case that had meant the security of nations.

“Miss Vale!” Geoff snapped, to which Paula only sighed, “Yes?” “Pen and pad ready?”

“Naturally, Mr. Lord,” she replied, having to keep herself from giggling.

“Well, Geoff, Miss Vale,” Pop started, warming his hands by the Lordian hearth, “the Thirteen Club—named to break the old superstition that it’s unlucky to have thirteen at dinner—is one of the most illustrious secret clubs in the City, made even more so by the fact that the entrance fee is…”

Pop mentioned a figure that caused everyone’s ears to perk up.

“The funny thing is, for this group of successful actors, businessmen, bankers, doctors, and lawyers, they’re not very bright as far as money is concerned.”

Geoff said, “I wouldn’t expect it of actors—having known a few in my time—but the rest of them?”

Pop nodded. “Not only that, but they’re so committed to their jobs that only a few of them married, and so each member of the Club decided, by and large, to will the majority of his fortune to the remaining members of the Club after he died…”

“A Tontine, eh, Pop?” Geoff put in. He stole a glimpse at Paula’s eyes, which were large and sparkling, and made the excellent, accurate, and amusing deduction she had forgotten all about the book they were supposed to type out before.

“Exactly. Bunch of fools, if y’ask me… Anyhoo, it seems that the Tontine will plan has backfired: the members of the Thirteen Club have ended up as unlucky after all. They seem to be killing each other for the money.”

“That’s terrible!” cried the innocent Miss Vale. “Geoff, we have to stop it before someone else is killed!”

Geoff put his arm around her. “What’s happened so far?”

“Four of the members have already kicked the bucket,” Sgt. Mack’s voice grated. “Milton Jackson, Jonathan Adams, and Fred Miller were each found at their apartments, shot through the head. Same gun according to the ballistics, Maestro.”

“But you said four, Sergeant. Who’s the fourth?”

O’Leary looked at Paula, then said, “George Johnson, the writer, was shot today in his living room; his wife and housekeeper were away, but, when Mrs. Johnson returned, she found her husband lying there and called an ambulance. He was rushed to the hospital and rallied for a while—Mack here was able to get there as he regained consciousness—but the docs weren’t able to save him in the long run. He died just about an hour before we got here.”

“The poor man,” Paula murmured softly.

Geoff said, “Any clues, Pop?”

“Besides the ballistics, just two—no fingerprints on the gun or around the apartment, worse luck. Mack, you tell Mr. Lord what you heard before Johnson died.”

“Well,” said the giant, “I only hears a few words, at the end, before he’s gone—y’know?”


“Johnson laughed to himself, Maestro, and spit out, ‘He’s the only one not part of it.’”

Geoff rose and stared at the fire for a good minute. “‘He’s the only one not part of it’! Oh, Heaven, I’ve dealt with some difficult dying clues in my time, but this one beats all the others!” He broke off. “You said there were two clues.”

“That’s right, Geoff,” O’Leary responded, “but I can’t imagine what the other one has to do with anything. It was on Johnson’s desk—must have been working on it when he was shot—but it was just a list of names, the members of the club.”

“Do you have it?”

They did indeed, and Geoff saw exactly that—a list of names. Other than the three men Pop had mentioned earlier, and Johnson himself, there were Laurence Marsden and Hal Quincy, the actors; Ken Flaherty and Bruce Nalley, the politicians; Pete Jeffers and Walter Davis, the bankers; the two Theodores, Ted Alton and Theodore Smith (the one a lawyer and the other a retired ad executive); and, last but not least, Leo Oscar, the grocery-store entrepreneur.

It was a long while that Geoff considered those names and said nothing. He was obviously deep in thought, going through every possible permutation of the…

“Of course,” Geoffrey Lord muttered to himself. “How simple.”

“Oh, yes,” sighed Miss Vale. “How very simple.”


“Well, I see the pattern too, Geoff. I’m just agreeing with you that it’s so simple.”

“We certainly ain’t seein’ it!”—this from a disgruntled Sgt. Mack.

“Ah!” said the Great Man. “Well, you go first, Paula.”

“Thank you, Geoff,” said the fair Paula. “The murderer is…”


Who is the murderer?How did Geoffrey Lord know?

What was the meaning of George Johnson’s dying words?

Enjoy, amateur sleuths!
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13 Responses to “Thirteen at Dinner”

  1. Ho-Ling says:

    My first guess would be (ROT13):

    “Ur’f abg cneg bs vg” -> Gur bqq bar bhg va gur pyho vf gur zheqrere. Bs gur fheivivat zrzoref, jr unir gjb npgbef, gjb cbyvgvpvnaf, gjb onaxref, n ergverq rkrphgvir naq na ragrcerarhe (ohfvarffzra) naq bar ynjlre, fb gung znxrf gur ynljre gur zheqrere (naq V nffhzr gung bs gur sbhe ivpgvzf, gjb ner qbpgbef, naq gjb ner jevgref, bar bs juvpu Wbuafba).


    • Nope, sorry, Ho-Ling! It’s a bit more complicated–there’s a code in there somewhere. Many thanks for your response!


      • Ho-Ling says:

        You know, I did poke around a bit in that direction in the beginning, but I couldn’t work that angle out, so I decided to try out the simple solution first 😛 Oh well, back to the drawing board!


      • No worries, and thanks just for trying it. Am I correct in recalling that you’re a big EQ fan, Ho-Ling? I wrote the tale as a near-pastiche, right down to the name “Geoffrey Lord,” though of course I’d like to do more with the character than simply have him be an EQ clone. I hope you’re enjoying the story–I’ve been writing these kinds of mystery puzzles for a while but have never really tried them out on other mystery fans!


  2. JJ says:

    I shall ROT13 my thoughts, too, to keep things secret:

    Gur xvyyre vf Uny Dhvapl — rirelbar ryfr’f vavgvny bs gurve fheanzr vf n zbagu va gur lrne (Wnpxfba, Synuregl, Zvyyre, Nqnzf, rgp), ohg gurer’f ab zbagu fgnegvat jvgu D fb Dhvapl’f “abg cneg bs” gur pnyraqne.

    Avpr sberfunqbjvat jvgu gur ‘pehryyrfg zbagu’ guvat — gung’f gur xvaq bs bofpher pyrjvat V pna trg oruvaq!

    V’yy or ubarfg, V fcrag n ovg bs gvzr nffhzvbat gur qlvat zrffntr unq orra zvfurneq, naq jung jnf fnvq jnf rvgure “Ur’f Gurb…” be “Ur’f Yrb….” ohg boivbhfyl gung qbrfa’g tb naljurer. Fgvyy n avpr yvggyr snyfr fprag, rira vs V znl unir vairagrq vg zlfrys…!


    • Thanks for the kind words, and excellent work in getting the solution, JJ!

      V’yy or ubarfg, V qvqa’g vagraq gur “zvfurneq qlvat zrffntr” fbyhgvba, ohg dhvgr pyrire whfg gur fnzr. V qvq vagraq Cnhyn’f [snyfr] fbyhgvba gb or H.F. cerfvqragf’ anzrf–r.t., Wnpxfba, Wbuafba, Nqnz–naq gung gb or jebat bs pbhefr orpnhfr bs nyy gur anzrf gung nera’g cerfvqragf’.

      I hope you enjoyed the puzzle; does anyone want some more? I’ve written a few of these. Congrats again, JJ!


      • JJ says:

        I certainly enjoyed it, and the “Aha!” moment of figruing it out — which I’m delighted to see was right — was a lot fo fun to achieve. I definitely fell into the trap you describe, too, though extricated myself for the reason you give.

        More, I say, more!


    • Oh, and JJ–I forgot to let you know that I was happy to see that…

      … lbh fnj ubj gur “pehryyrfg zbagu” ersrerapr jnf vaqrrq n pyhr. V jnf jnvgvat sbe fbzrbar gb frr gung!


  3. Brad says:

    Karl, I love that you do these stories! I’ve wanted to try my hand at it as well. (Well, I did on my blog just once for the Hardy Boys!) I scrolled down and didn’t read any other responses, and frankly, I’m stumped. I figure, in suitably Queenian style, that you have to figure out the answer from the information you are given, and all we are given is 1) their names, and 2) their obsession with the number 13. I added up the letters of all the names. Three out of the four victims add up to 13 letters, but the odd man out is also dead. And there seems to be no one person sticking out from the larger list. (Both Theodores add up to 13; that’s all.) So I give up and will now find the answer from one of your smarter readers. But I’ll add your blog to my list so that I can read your other adventures. Thanks for the fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks for the kind words, Brad.

      One of these days we all ought to collaborate–less in Ellery Queen style, perhaps, than in the way that the Detection Club members did The Floating Admiral!

      I shall say that you’re on the right track–there’s an “odd man out,” à la EQ’s “The Inner Circle”–if you’d like to try your hand again.


  4. Brad says:

    Oh, geez, guys! WHAT is “rot13???”

    Liked by 1 person

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