Joan Lowery Nixon

The Name of the Game Was Murder

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The Name of the Game Was Murder Summary

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The Name of the Game Was Murder (1994), a young adult mystery novel by Joan Lowery Nixon, reads like a children’s version of an Agatha Christie classic. A novelist throws a party, planning a scavenger hunt for his latest manuscript, which contains all of the deepest, darkest secrets of his guests.

The story takes place at the seaside mansion of author Augustus Trevor, who is about to be murdered. On Santa Catalina Island, he assembles his guests, all of whom are quite high-profile individuals: There’s Laura Reed, a movie star; Buck Thompson, a retired NFL quarterback who is now a popular sportscaster; Julia Bryant, a rival novelist; Arthur Maggio, an unscrupulous US Senator; and Alex Chambers, a fashion designer. Also at the house are Trevor ‘s wife, Thea, and his young niece, the aspiring writer Samantha Burns. Samantha, the book’s protagonist, works hardest to solve the central mystery of the book. To help pad the list of potential suspects, there’s also Mrs. Engstrom the housekeeper, the maid Lucy, the butler Thomas, and the cook Walter.

Trevor’s newest, yet-to-be-published novel apparently contains secrets about all of his high-profile guests. He has also a hidden a copy of the manuscript somewhere on the island. The “game” of the weekend will be for the guests to find the manuscript, as Trevor sends the crew on an adult treasure hunt of sorts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trevor’s murdered body is found just hours after announcing his game.

As the group tries to find the manuscript—and, to a lesser extent, the killer—the guests’ secrets are slowly revealed organically. The movie star, Laura Reed, had a husband who died in an apparent sailing accident, but in reality, she killed him. Thompson, in debt to a bookie due to his gambling addiction, influenced the outcome of games as a quarterback. The novelist, Bryant, recovered a manuscript written by a friend who had committed suicide, then passed the manuscript off as her own. Arthur Maggio, the US Senator, took sizable campaign donations from the Boninos, an organized crime family. Alex Chambers, the fashion designer, makes his dresses using sweatshops under fake corporate names.

There’s also a storm going on, which maroons everyone on the island. Meanwhile, everyone has clues that are cryptographically obscured on paper. Luckily, Samantha is an amateur cryptologist.

Eventually, Samantha figures out everyone’s secrets. She locks everyone in the wine cellar except the housekeeper, Mrs. Engstrom, and Thea—whom Samantha implicitly believes is not the killer. From there, she tries to deduce the identity of the killer until she realizes it is Mrs. Engstrom. Mrs. Engstrom has always been very protective of Thea. Trevor’s manuscript includes a secret about Thea, as well—that a young boy in Acapulco, trying to rob her, fell on his own knife, but Thea never reported it to the police. Mrs. Engstrom kills Trevor to protect Thea’s secret.
In the end, Samantha convinces Mrs. Engstrom to come clean to the police about her crime, presumably for a reduced sentence.