Quick Curtain by Alan Melville – A British Library Crime Classic

This is an extremely fast review. This book was only available last Wednesday or Thursday. Of course, it was originally published in 1934, so there are apparently some very old copies around. Either way, this is an enjoyable addition to the British Library Crime Classics collection.

As it was written in the 1930s, it is obviously a dated book, a crime novel written in that Golden Age period so well documented by Martin Edwards. He writes the introduction to this edition, quoting no less a person than Dorothy L.Sayers. She recognises that this is “Light entertainment”, calling the main character “This happy policeman”. She is a little disapproving of the absolute lack of procedure in this book, but Edwards points out how difficult it is to write a “witty whodunit” and sustain the joke. This something that I think the book just about manages, and is basically a funny , if slightly cynical book.

The book opens on an opening night, as the London show “Blue Music” starts its run. There is much here about the rather dubious encouragement of fans who camp out for seats and spend a fortune to see the not so talented but well promoted stars. Before long someone gets killed, and the attention of Mr Wilson, a senior policemen at Scotland Yard is caught. With only his journalist son to help him (he never goes into the office), Mr Wilson tracks down actors, stage hands and sundry wives in a story that not only takes in London but also a lovely little village, in which yet more characters behave to type. The story twists and turns, but is always funny. The relationship between Mr Wilson senior and junior is very funny, and the series of telegrams from the undercover son keeping his father get more and more surreal. I enjoyed reading the exchanges, especially when the disappearing cook/maid is seen. While some things are obvious, the plot twists are often unforeseen. Even the smallest character, such as the postmistress, feels real in a very amusing way. This is in no way great literature, and arguably not a serious murder mystery. It is possibly one of the funniest mysteries I have read. I would recommend it as a good, light murder mystery if there is such a thing, and I would be keen to read anything else written by this author. It is especially good for all those interested in the theatre of the early twentieth century in a light, cynical vein.

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