Looking for murder and intrigue, wrapped up in a meaty story with lots of twists? Women’s Murder Club: Death in Scarlet, a combination hidden object puzzler and detective adventure, should do the trick.

Women’s Murder Club is based off of the popular Women’s Murder Club James Patterson novels and the spin-off television series of the same name. The character’s personalities and appearances resemble their fictional counterparts rather than the television actors (which is probably a good thing considering the show’s Nielsen ratings). If you’ve read all the books or seen all the episodes, don’t fret – the mystery is completely original, so there’s no chance of spoiling your fun.

Now, about the murder…the body of a strikingly beautiful young girl is discovered at Marin Vista Point. Forensic analysis indicates she’s been poisoned with an overdose of aphrodisiac. No one’s reported her missing, and there’s no clues to her identity, other than a mysterious lotus tattoo and eerie Chinese branding across her chest. Who could do this, and why?

As you investigate the murder, uncovering new victims and suspects, you’ll have the chance to play from three character perspectives – Lindsey Boxer, a homicide detective with the San Francisco police, Claire Washburn, a talented forensic examiner, and Cindy Thomas, a news reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle who’s got a knack for digging up dirt. Assistant district attorney Jill Bernhardt does a few cameo scenes, but ultimately works behind the scenes.

In true hidden object style, you’ll find yourself searching through suitably cluttered rooms and crowded crime scenes. During each investigation, you’ll have a list of items to find in each scene, plus a list of tasks to accomplish before advancing, such as getting a victim’s fingerprints or doing an identity search. Game play is untimed, and there’s no penalty for clicking useless objects, so feel free to explore the surroundings. You’ll also get 5 clues during each investigation, just in case you get stuck.

During the course of your investigation, you’ll also gather inventory contents. Your inventory holds these special items, which you’ll need to use in order to solve the in-game puzzles. Puzzles are different from normal game play, and have you doing a variety of tasks which reveal further information about the case. For example, Claire often has the job of putting her chemicals in order using logical clues, and then testing each chemical in a Petri dish to note reaction and determine the nature of each substance.

Cindy has the tedious task of arranging microfiche in proper order (by color and category), and then deciding which film will reveal an article pertinent to the case. There are also word games reminiscent of wheel of fortune, a bunch of jigsaw-type assembly puzzles, and one suspect chase through a hedge maze to name a few more. If any of the puzzles have you stuck, or you’d rather just play the hidden object component, you can press “solve” to skip them.

If you want to review your clues, or need advice on what to do next, you can check your evidence cards and investigation docket. These will include everything you’ve uncovered, along with hints at what you still need to solve the case.

Women’s Murder Club goes beyond what you’d expect from a hidden object mystery. The use of inventory adds depth to the puzzles, and there’s a great deal of realism to the detective work. You’ll find yourself examining the faces and bodies of victims, using blacklight to search for bloodstains, and finding ways to "accidentally" open letters without a warrant. Perhaps the best part is that the story is detailed and engaging, with plenty of twists to keep you guessing, but still offering subtle foreshadowing so that you can speculate as you play.

The production values are very high, with suitable background music fitting each atmosphere, and some really exceptional artwork (particularly the character art). It’s worth noting that this is one of the few hidden object games where virtually all of the items look like what they should. Granted, some are exceedingly small, but still fair. Plus, the majority of the items in the scenes make sense and are fairly logical additions to the rooms. You’ll still have an array of butterflies and the occasional boomerang, but it doesn’t spoil the mood. Although replay value is limited once you’ve solved the case, you can expect at least 5-6 hours of solid gameplay, and many of the objects are different each time you play.

While there’s heaps of things to praise, there’s always things to look forward to in potential sequels. For one, it would be nice to see a bit more variety in some of the mini-games. Some got repetitive after they were used a few times in the game, like the microfiche and chemical sorting that needed doing in practically every investigation. It would also be great to see more objects in the rooms, since generally they contained less than a dozen, often fewer.

With excellent production values, solid gameplay, and a strong storyline, Women’s Mystery Club is an addictive and intriguing hidden object mystery that should please fans and newcomers alike. It manages to be suitably creepy and detailed without relying on gore, and offers enough realism to give the player a real “detective” feeling.