In three years at Western Washington University, Meagan Malone says she's had great fun meeting dozens of fellow students "under suspicious circumstances."
She's in her second year as president of "Foulplay: A Murder Mystery Club." It's an official - and highly popular - Associated Students role-playing club heading into its fifth year in January.
Mysteries have long intrigued Malone, who grew up on Bainbridge Island. She discovered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes stories when she was just 14.
Question: Meagan, what's the latest at the club?
Answer: We participated in "Murder, She Voted" on Dec. 1. Three of the founders of Foulplay wrote the game: our founding president Maddy Vonhoff, Kristen Johnson and Stephen Peterson.
Our first two games this school year were "Immortal Murders," dealing with fantasy figures at a costume ball, and "Murder on the 99th," set in 1929 on a train from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Q: Do members participate in costume?
A: We do, although it's not mandatory. But it's a large part of the fun. We solve a "murder mystery" once a month, on Saturday nights at the Viking Union. It takes a maximum of three hours.
Q: Is your club mainly for theater majors?
A: We have several; I have a double major in theater and English. But among our more than 40 members are students who represent a huge range of majors.
Q: Are the mysteries you solve written by members?
A: Yes. I've written some of them. The writer or co-writers assign the roles to our members after the members have listed the three characters they would most like to play. If a member isn't given one of those roles, we guarantee that member one of their requests in the next game.
Q: How soon is the "murder" committed?
A: The murder always occurs 10 to 15 minutes into the game, when we pop a balloon during the "speech" we use to get everyone together listening. The lights go out, so nobody knows who the murderer is, and the victim falls to the floor.
Then we pass out "secret books" that the secrets and motivations of all the characters. Members are asked to work out the situations while trying to solve the murder within our three-hour game limit.
Q: So your players don't learn all of the plot twists until after the murder occurs?
A: Right. They have to adapt to the secrets, plot twists and motivations, both their own and those of others. The game can get real complicated. Eventually an investigator announces who the murderer is and we learn who has solved the murder. It can be more than one person. We give points for solving the murder, for best costumes and for best actor and actress.
Q: Who's the main protagonist in "Murder, She Voted?"
A: She's U.S. President Patricia Robinson, who is campaigning for re-election. In this play, I was her campaign manager. She has been criticized for being pro-big business.
Roles include people in her cabinet and family who are trying to get her re-elected. But her son is a gambling addict and her husband is cheating on her and he has to decide whether to stay with her or to leave for his mistress.
Q: What got you interested in the club?
A: When I first got to Western I saw Foulplay on the list of student clubs. I've always loved reading, especially science fiction and mysteries, and I thought this would be a great way to have fun and make new friends. I've always been a gamer, so this connected a lot of my interests.
Q: What's your career goal?
A: I'd love to work in the creative aspects of television or video games.
Q: E-reader or real books?
A: That's no mystery - real books! I've always loved the feel of books.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.