THERE’S nothing quite like a good old-fashioned thriller in which dark deeds take on a kind of respectable cosiness.

More often than not, the crime is invariably committed with no blood shed or actual violence perpetrated.

And what would in real life be regarded as a tragedy proves to be little more than a minor irritation to otherwise respectable living.

However, you would be mistaken if you thought that this particular ripping yarn was just another exercise in slipping into that warm bath of twee familiarity.

For playwright Emlyn Williams’ fascinating – and at times quite quirkily disturbing - excursion into a genre more usually associated with the great Agatha Christie is actually a real edge-of-the-seat piece that will have you on tenterhooks right from the start.

The setting is the St James’ Theatre. Sir Charles Jasper (Paul Lavers), an eccentric who is obsessed with the occult, is due to inherit a couple of million quid on his birthday and plans to celebrate the occasion with a party on the stage.

The theatre is supposedly haunted because of several mysterious deaths many years ago.

But if Sir Charles should die before the clock strikes 11, his nephew, Maurice Mullins will cop for the lot… Williams’ play is set in 1930s London and is probably typical of the writing tone of the period, a mixture of Dick Dastardly meets dying embers of Victorian gothic.

The business of murder assumes an almost civilised mantle, the occupation of not-quite gentlemen, but gentlemen all the same… all in stark contrast to the unpleasantness going on in Europe at the time.

However, the passage of the years does not diminish the power – albeit it slightly seaside, end-of pier stuff - of this play, for it still manages to grab the audience by the scruff of its collective neck the moment the curtain goes up.

Sixties pop star Anita Harris turns in a polished performance as Mrs Arthur but it is Oliver Mellor as the utterly caddish Mullins who really steals the show.

Perhaps best known for playing the resident heart-throb Doctor Matt Carter in Coronation Street, his Mullins is a scheming bounder with murderous intent, a true villain of the old school.

Nicola Weeks as Beatrice Jasper also proves to be a force to be reckoned with, her commanding presence subduing all who come within range of perfectly honed upper class snootiness.

A Murder Has Been Arranged runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday.