“It all begins in a nice, quiet office, see? Yeeaa, it ain’t much, but it’s somethin,’ see? Business was slow and dreary. That is… until she walked in …”

That’s the legendary Sam Shovel, America’s favorite private eye of the 1930s, as he warms up for his audience at the upcoming Mystery Dinner Theatre at Lakes Inn in Grand Rapids, in which he’ll re-tell the story of how he solved “The Maltese Crow Caper.”

The Grand Rapids Players will present this spoof of the classic Humphrey Bogart movie and Dashiell Hammett novel, “The Maltese Falcon,” as the kick-off event for this year’s National Endowment for the Arts literacy campaign, “The Big Read,” hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Library.

Copies of “The Maltese Falcon” have been distributed to people throughout the area by the library. Several book groups are studying the novel, which The New York Times has called “a coolly glittering gem of detective fiction, a novel that has haunted generations of readers.”

Directed by Jean Goad with assistance by Kathy Linn, the cast of “The Maltese Crow” will transport the audience back to the 1930s and invite members to help solve the mystery. In true dinner theatre format, a social hour will precede the show.

As the mystery unravels, courses of the meal will be served, and audience members will begin to formulate “whodunnit.” During a coffee-and-dessert intermission, guesses will be submitted to the judges. Prizes will be awarded.

Playing the lead role of Sam Shovel, a slightly shopworn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics, will be Shane Troumbly. Then there are his partners-in-crime, Kesh Ascashcan, played by Ben Olson, and Billy Clubb, played by Tony Alzen. Kesh is known for his sneaky, conniving (and who knows what else) habits, while Billy is loyal, but not particularly bright. Also associated with Sam Shovel is Theodora, a.k.a. “Teddy Bear,” played by Ann Felix, who doesn’t trust a soul — not even herself.

Sam’s trusty secretary and right-hand ‘man,’ Izzie Ringing, will be played by Peggy Karstens. Then, last but not least, is “the dame,” Jewel Restorre, played by Karol Rae Rokala. Italian to the bone, Jewel is a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. She knows what she wants and gets what she wants.

Director Goad commented on the show, “It was Kathy Linn’s fortitude that brought this performance to fruition. She’s the one who searched, unrelentingly, to find a script, hunt down the author and persisted until she got the rights and script to perform it.”

“The Maltese Crow,” written by Katie Hassett, has been performed at the Gibson House in California, as well as at theatre houses throughout the San Francisco Bay area, since 2004.

The dinner show starts at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 1. Tickets are $20 per person, including a dinner of Mediterranean-glazed chicken dinner. Tickets may be purchased at Reed Drug or the Reif Center Box Office, by calling 327-5780 or visiting www.reifcenter.org. Reservations are required. General seating will be at 8-person banquet tables. For reservations for four or more at one table, call Jeremy at the Reif Center at 327-5780.