"Danse Macabre" is a Halloween-themed episode of the British mystery crime comedy-drama series Jonathan Creek. Although the episode's action takes place on Halloween and the days following it, "Danse Macabre' first aired on BBC One in the United Kingdom on January 24, 1998.
The series' title character (played by Alan Davies) is a man who uses the skills that he gained as the creative consultant to a stage magician to solve mysteries. The mysteries often appear at first to have a supernatural element to them or otherwise appear to be impossible, such as involving someone seemingly being in two different places at once. The mysteries usually involve a murder, or a death which at first appears to have been murder. Jonathan Creek uses his talent for logical deduction and knowledge of illusions to rationally explain what happened. In the first four seasons of the series, Jonathan Creek lives in a converted windmill in Sussex and works as the ideas man for a conceited and womanizing stage magician named Adam Klaus (played by the American actor Stuart Milligan). Jonathan is usually initially unwilling to help solve the mystery and is persuaded into doing so by a female friend. In the first two seasons of the series, that female friend is Maddy Magellan (played by Caroline Quentin), an investigative journalist and non-fiction writer with an interest in miscarriages of justice. Maddy has a gift for telling plausible lies and finds it easy to sneak into closed crime scenes.
In "Danse Macabre", a clergyman asks Maddy Magellan for help in investigating the murder of his mother-in-law, the famous horror writer Emma Lazarus. Emma Lazarus was shot dead on Halloween night by someone dressed in a skeleton costume. The murderer then appeared to vanish into thin air. Maddy's friend Jonathan Creek reluctantly helps her to investigate the case.
On the morning of November 1, a clergyman arrives at the London home of the investigative journalist Maddy Magellan. The clergyman's name is Stephen Claithorne and he is the vicar of a village in Oxfordshire. He knows that Maddy has an interest in mysteries. He wants her to help investigate the murder of his mother-in-law. The murder took place on the previous night, which Stephen calls All Hallows' Eve. Stephen says that the strange thing about the murder was that the killer seemed to vanish into thin air.
Stephen explains that the mother of his wife Lorna was the famous horror novelist Emma Lazarus. Some years earlier, Emma Lazarus had married an American hairdresser named Tom Terici and moved to California. Emma had been making a rare visit to England at the time of her death. She had been staying at the home of Stephen and Lorna and was accompanied by her husband Tom and her American bodyguard Hal Drucker. Stephen makes no secret of the fact that he and Emma did not really get along. Emma did not believe in God and mocked Stephen for his religious beliefs.
On Halloween night, Stephen went to see his Bishop. Emma, Tom and Lorna went to a costume party. Tom wore a skeleton costume, Emma wore a witch costume that consisted of a long black dress and a long white wig and Emma dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein. They all left the party early because Emma complained of a headache. Hal drove them home. They passed a man standing by the side of the road in the rain. Emma, Hal and Tom recognized him as an obsessive fan of Emma who had followed her from America. He had been standing in the same spot when they left for the party. At home, Hal took some photographs of Emma, Tom and Lorna in their costumes standing in front of some French windows. The windows suddenly blew open, giving them a fright. Hal said that it would be wise to make sure that all the windows and doors were locked that night. He went out to put the car in the garage.
While Emma was getting ready for bed, someone in a skeleton costume came into her room and shot her dead. Lorna rushed into her mother's room. Hal rushed back into the house and drew his gun. Hal saw the murderer grab Lorna and knock her unconscious. Speaking with a voice altered by an electronic device, the murderer ordered Hal to drive the car round to the front of the house and to leave the keys in the ignition. Hal did as he was told. Tom emerged from the house wearing just his underwear and rubbing the back of his head. Hal prevented the murderer from getting away by shooting two of the car's tires. The murderer then carried Lorna into the garage and shut its automatic door. The police arrived. After no sounds were heard from inside the garage for fifteen minutes, its door was opened by the police. Lorna was found lying on the garage floor. The killer in the skeleton costume was nowhere to be seen. Stephen explains that the walls of the garage are made of stone and its floor is made of concrete. Motion detectors around the garage set off lights, meaning that the murderer could not have left without being seen.
Maddy telephones her friend Jonathan Creek to tell him about the mystery. As usual, Jonathan does not want to help. Maddy pretends to Stephen that he does. Maddy accompanies Stephen back to his Oxfordshire home. She goes into the garage and feels its walls. She stands on a pail to look at what is on top of a shelf. She loses her footing, brings down the shelf and the empty paint cans on top of it and falls on top of a hacksaw. Maddy tries to ask Lorna about what happened the night before. Lorna is so upset by her mother's death, however, that her responses are completely unintelligible. After Lorna, Stephen and Tom have gone inside the house, Hal makes it clear to Maddy that he thinks that Emma Lazarus was killed by the stalker who followed her from America. He also thinks, however, that Emma was partially responsible for her own death because of the lurid horror fiction which she wrote. "Sick breeds sick', he says. Hal gives Maddy one of Emma Lazarus' horror novels so that she will know what he means.
Inside the house, Tom explains to Maddy that he went to fix the French windows, which had blown open because the frame was slightly warped. Somebody hit him on the back of the head with a hammer and took his skeleton costume. He says that he did not hear the gunshot. Maddy is shown a photograph which Hal took of Emma, Lorna and Tom in their costumes. Although Lorna does not want Maddy to have the picture because it is the last photograph of her mother alive, Maddy sneaks it into her purse anyway. Maddy notices some promotional literature for a man named Gary Lobo. Tom explains that Gary Lobo is a London-based psychic who was going to collaborate with Emma on the writing of her autobiography. As an expert in reincarnation, Gary Lobo was to help Emma write about the many past lives which she believed she had lived.
Later, Maddy goes to Jonathan Creek's home to tell him everything she knows about the case. The only point which Jonathan appears to find interesting is the fact that the paint cans in the garage were empty.
The following day, Maddy goes to see Gary Lobo. Gary tells her that he last saw Emma Lazarus the previous Monday. They spoke about life and death, especially death. When Emma left, Gary said that he would see her in a week's time. Emma smiled weakly and said nothing. Gary tells Maddy that he does not think that Emma expected to be alive in a week's time.
Jonathan Creek's employer, the magician Adam Klaus, has had a one night stand with a stripper named Bridget who wants to be an opera singer. Bridget is now threatening to sell her scandalous story to the newspapers unless Adam gives her a fifteen minute spot as a singer in his stage show. Since Bridget is not a very good singer, Jonathan is sent to her apartment to try to pay her off. Bridget, however, genuinely wants to be an opera singer and turns down all of Jonathan's offers of several thousand pounds. Bridget is getting ready to go out while keeping an eye on her young son. She asks herself where her shoes are. This simple question gets Jonathan thinking.
Someone breaks into the home of Stephen and Lorna Claithorne, opens Emma Lazarus' coffin, cuts off the dead woman's head and takes it away. The following day, Maddy returns to the Claithornes' home with Jonathan. Stephen explains to them that, since Emma Lazarus' head has been stolen, the funeral which had been planned for the next day will be postponed. There will, however, still be a memorial service that day.
Jonathan goes into the garage for the first time. He looks into one of the empty paint cans and sees what look like crumbs at the bottom of it.
Lorna is not at home. She is visiting the home of one of Stephen's parishioners, a very old man named Mr. Snetterton who has recently been in a hospital to have a wart removed. Jonathan and Maddy join Lorna there. She tells them that Mr. Snetterton died a few minutes ago. She adds that, before he died, Mr. Snetterton said that on the night of Emma Lazarus' murder he saw a skeleton climb over his back wall and run away in the direction of the river.
That evening, Maddy and Jonathan discuss the case. Maddy now understands that the skeleton never left the garage and that its disappearance had something to do with the empty paint cans. When Jonathan asks Maddy how many people walked into the garage, she at first answers, "Two." She then realizes that only one person walked in, carrying someone in a long black dress with a long white wig.
On the day of Emma Lazarus' memorial service, Jonathan and Maddy confront Tom and Lorna. Jonathan has contacted the hospital where Mr. Snetterton was treated. He has found out that the wart that the old man had removed was on his vocal chords, meaning that Mr. Snetterton could not possibly have spoken to Lorna before he died. Lorna admits that Mr. Snetterton was already dead when she arrived at his house. Jonathan also explains that Bridget asking herself where her shoes were got him thinking about another problem with the case. An intruder could have kept all of his clothes on and put on Tom's skeleton costume over the top of them. From the photo, however, Jonathan could see that the costume had built in shoes. The intruder would have had to have taken off his shoes and left them in the Claithornes' hose. Those shoes were not found.
Jonathan and Maddy put it to Tom and Lorna that they planned Emma Lazarus' murder together. Tom shot Emma. He then pretended to knock Lorna out in front of Hal. When Hal went to get the car, Lorna put on Tom's skeleton costume and put the voice-distorting electronic mouthpiece into her mouth. She and Tom put her witch costume on a dummy. When Hal shot the cars' tires, Lorna in the skeleton costume went into the garage, carrying the dummy in the witch costume. After she closed the garage door, she took off the skeleton costume and put her witch costume on again. She then cut up the dummy with a hacksaw. She hid the parts of the dummy and the skeleton costume in some of the empty paint cans. She disposed of them the following day, although some rubber crumbs from the dummy were left behind.
Tom has to admit that Jonathan and Maddy are right. Emma Lazarus was seriously ill and had only a few months to live. Instead of dying a slow lingering death, Emma wanted a death more suited to her gothic imagination. She had come up with the idea of her own staged murder. Tom adds that the plan had originally been for Lorna to drive off and be found alone in the abandoned car the following day. After Hal shot the car's tires, Lorna was forced to improvise.
Lorna and Tom had nothing to do with the removal of Emma Lazarus' head. Maddy believes that was done by Emma's obsessed American stalker. Later, the stalker is seen on a flight to America. He has a cardboard box in his hands and he does not want to let go of it, even though the flight attendant repeatedly tells him that he has to put it in the overhead locker during take off.
At the end of the episode, Jonathan, Maddy and Adam Klaus are having lunch in a restaurant. Bridget arrives at the restaurant. Maddy goes up to her and briefly talks to her. Bridget leaves with a broad smile on her face. Adam asks Maddy what she said. Maddy says that she told Bridget that being associated with such a sleazy person as Adam Klaus would not help her singing career and that she would be better off trying to get as much money out of him as she could. Adam congratulates Maddy on being such a great liar.
- Alan Davies - Jonathan Creek
- Caroline Quentin - Maddy Magellan
- Peter Davison - Stephen Claithorne
- Pippa Haywood - Lorna Claithorne
- Meg Davies - Emma Lazarus
- Mark Caven - Tom Terici
- Gavan O'Herlihy - Hal Drucker
- Jimmi Harkishin - Gary Lobo
- Stuart Milligan - Adam Klaus
- Martina Laird - Bridget
- Christopher Adamson - Stalker