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Late one Friday afternoon, London hairdresser Milo Tindle is invited to visit famous author Andrew Wyke, who specializes in old-fashioned detective fiction, at his country estate in Wiltshire. Upon his arrival, Milo searches through a hedgerow maze to find Andrew, who is dictating his latest novel. Andrew, who revels in games and toys of all kinds, shows Milo a secret panel that opens to the center of the maze and welcomes him. The aristocratic, wealthy Andrew then takes Milo inside, where the much younger man is amazed by Andrew's vast collection of board games, wind-up toys, automatons, mannequins and other amusements. Andrew is particularly fond of a life-size sailor, Jolly Jack Tar, which he has wired to a remote to make it laugh at his jokes. As they enjoy a drink, Andrew casually remarks that he knows Milo is having an affair with his estranged wife, Marguerite, and the nonplussed Milo states that he wants to marry her. Andrew assents, although he asks Milo about his background. Milo relates that his father, an Italian immigrant, married a poor Englishwoman and, because he wanted his children "to become English," worked tirelessly at his watch repair business to provide them with a good education. Milo admits that his now bankrupt father, whose single-minded ambition to assimilate embarrassed him, is a burden, but asserts that his two hair salons are doing well. The snobbish, bigoted Andrew makes Milo self-conscious about his lower-class accent and grammar, and further insults him by speaking disparagingly about Marguerite. Andrew stops Milo from storming out, however, by asking if he can provide Marguerite with her accustomed luxurious lifestyle. Milo asserts that in a year, his businesses will afford them a comfortable living, but Andrew scoffs, pointing out that he does not want Marguerite returning after he is "rid of her." Andrew admits that he has a mistress, Teya, with whom he would like to live, and in turn, Milo confesses that he and Marguerite hired a private detective to shadow Teya and Andrew in case Andrew changed his mind about granting Marguerite an uncontested divorce. Andrew presses Milo about his finances, then states that he has a proposal to solve their problems. As Andrew leads Milo to his study, he explains that he has invested £250,000 in jewelry, all of which is insured under his name. Andrew proposes that Milo steal it, and using Andrew's contact, fence it for £170,000 in cash, after which Andrew will be reimbursed in full by the insurance company. When Milo expresses both concern and interest, Andrew reveals more details of the plan, which will require Milo, dressed in a disguise, to enter through a second-story window and blow open the safe in which the jewelry is kept. Andrew insists that a disguise is essential on the off chance that a wandering passerby sees him, and so that his footprints will be disguised, thereby leading the police astray. Milo finally agrees and after deliberation, dons a clown outfit from a basket of costumes in the cellar. Despite the discomfort of the baggy pants, oversized shoes and full mask, Milo manages to drag over a ladder, ascend it, cut a pane of glass and enter through a window, while in the study, Andrew prepares a dynamite charge. Although Milo is disconcerted by Andrew's condescending attitude toward the police, who are always portrayed as dullards in his books, he is impressed by the older man's knowledge of explosives and the quality of the gems. Andrew then goes with Milo back to the drawing room and there insists that they ransack the area, as if Andrew had struggled with a real burglar. Milo succumbs to the revelry, throwing Andrew's manuscript in the air, but is surprised when Andrew suddenly punches him in anticipation of the fight that the "householder" must have with the "burglar." Although he angrily shouts about Milo stealing Marguerite, Andrew changes tone quickly to state that Milo must knock him out to make it look convincing to the police. When Milo expresses hesitation about hurting him, Andrew pulls a gun and says that it can be used to add realism to their fight. With increasing nervousness, Milo watches as Andrew fires two shots, one at a jug Milo is holding and the other at a photograph of Marguerite. Andrew grows serious, however, and chillingly declares that "seducers and wife stealers" are always "in season," then levels the gun at Milo. At first, Milo thinks that Andrew is playing yet another game, but Andrew explains that he concocted the entire plot to have a legally acceptable excuse for killing Milo, and as he stalks the younger man, Milo grows hysterical. Breaking down in tears, Milo pleads for his life, but Andrew, who calls him "a sniveling dago clown," puts the revolver to his head and pulls the trigger. Later, on Sunday evening, Andrew is preparing dinner when he is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Detective Inspector Doppler. The balding, pot-bellied inspector, who has a thick country accent, is deferential to Andrew, but nonetheless reveals that he is suspected in the disappearance of Milo. Doppler explains that a local barman knew that Milo was coming to visit Andrew, a passerby heard three gunshots on Friday and Milo has not been seen since then. Although Andrew denigrates Doppler's intelligence and methods, the inspector is dogged, finding the bullet holes and some dried blood on the stairs. Andrew is baffled by the bloodstains, as well as by a grave-like mound of earth in garden, but persists in his explanation that the two men were merely playing a game devised by Andrew to humiliate Milo. Andrew insists that although the first two rounds he fired were live, the cartridge with which he shot Milo was a blank, and that after he recovered from a faint, Milo changed back into his suit and departed. When Doppler finds Milo's clothes in Andrew's wardrobe, however, Andrew's composure unravels. Doppler accuses Andrew of murdering Milo, and when Andrew attempts to flee, Doppler pins him face down on the couch. As Doppler is telling Andrew, who cannot see him, that he will be imprisoned for at least seven years, the inspector peels off his fake eyebrows, mustache and wig. After removing a latex mask, Doppler is revealed to be Milo. Andrew is both outraged and bemused by Milo's successful trick, and pretends that he was not afraid. Milo sees through him, however, and when Andrew proclaims that they are even, Milo lashes out that because Andrew terrified and humiliated him so profoundly, the score is not settled. With icy determination, Milo announces that they will be playing another game, one of his making that began when he murdered someone in real life. Although Andrew believes it is a joke, Milo continues that he strangled Teya the previous day, after first having consensual sex with her, and that he has planted four clues to incriminate Andrew, including the murder weapon, for the police, who will be arriving in fifteen minutes. After Andrew calls Teya's roommate, who sobs that Teya is dead and Andrew the prime suspect, Andrew searches for the clues, with Milo providing him directions. Milo beams with gratification as Andrew grows frantic, although within ten minutes, Andrew finds the first three clues. When Andrew spits out more bigoted remarks, Milo answers in Italian, making it difficult for Andrew to puzzle out the location of the murder weapon, a stocking. Milo announces the arrival of the police but offers to stall them, and as Andrew locates the stocking, hidden on a clock pendulum, he hears, but does not see, Milo conversing with the sergeant and constable. After disposing of the stocking, Andrew rushes back to the drawing room and invites in the police, only to discover that Milo has again tricked him by using his mimicry skills to pretend that he was talking with the unseen visitors. Milo then reveals that Teya helped stage the elaborate game because she, too, had been degraded by Andrew in the past. Andrew's own humiliation is complete when Milo relates that Teya confided in him that Andrew is impotent. Infuriated, Andrew loads his revolver with real bullets while Milo is upstairs retrieving Marguerite's fur coat. Hiding the gun, Andrew tells Milo that he cannot let him go, as he possesses too much damning information. Milo laughingly confesses that on Saturday, he informed the police of the trick that Andrew played on him, so that if he attempts the burglar scheme again, they will not believe him. Andrew does not believe Milo, however, and as Milo departs, Andrew shoots him in the back. While reveling in his "win," Andrew hears the arrival of a police car and realizes that Milo was telling the truth. Crawling into the drawing room, Milo advises Andrew to tell the police that it was "only a bloody game," then sets off Jolly Jack with the remote and dies. With the now-mocking toys laughing, playing their instruments and spinning around him, Andrew cries in despair.