It started with Nancy Drew, the girl detective with the robin's-egg blue eyes that matched exactly the color of her 1930s roadster.
The summer Janet Rudolph was nine, "I read every one of those books, my mother's old ones with the blue covers," she recalls. Her dad sat beside her, equally absorbed in Ellery Queen mystery magazines.
Call it the "Case of the Passion that Led to a Career." Rudolph began teaching mystery fiction in the 1970s and went on to earn a PhD in literature and religion. Meanwhile, she founded a pair of businesses, Murder on the Menu and Teambuilding Unlimited, offering creative problem-solving experiences for corporate groups.
Murder on the Menu specializes in highly customized interactive dinner theater parties and events for a clientele that includes lawyers, bankers, law-enforcement organizations, medical students, software geeks, hospitality-industry groups...you name it.
"What we do that's unique is write the script around the client," Rudolph says. "We investigate what the company is about, who's going to be at the event, the individualism, the jargon. I get really involved."
The Teambuilding Unlimited division of the enterprise also incorporates sleuthing into corporate agendas, often through scavenger quests tailored to fit a company goal.
The "Mistress of Mystery" doesn't live by team building alone: She also blogs, Twitters, hosts a mystery book club and edits the Mystery Readers Journal, a publication she founded.
Her life might be tied up in mysteries, but the key to Rudolph's success is no secret: Hard work and keen business sense are the clues that give it away.