Final Acts – Theatrical Mysteries Edited by Martin Edwards
Fourteen stories, fourteen mysteries are selected by Martin Edwards for publication in the British Library Crime Classics series in this excellent volume. Like other anthologies in the series they share a common theme, this time being theatrical settings. In his fascinating Introduction, Edwards considers why the theatre is such a popular background for tales of murder and mystery, and some of the authors who have seized on the theme for some of their most successful novels. These include Ngaio Marsh whose love of the theatrical world is well known, and Agatha Christie whose work was not only successful on stage but who enjoyed writing about actors in her mysteries, as did other authors who appreciated the skills they used when involved in deceit and trickery. Life backstage provides a rich setting for murder and mystery; Edwards mentions the clever “Measure for Murder” by Clifford Witting which I have reviewed, in which an amateur drama group becomes an enclosed community for mystery. These fourteen stories range from 1905 to 1958, arranged in chronological order, and Edwards writes a short Introduction to each author, giving an outline of their writing career and where the selected story appears in the context of their writing as a whole. Beginning with Baroness Orczy, and working through to the subtlety of Christianna Brand, this is a collection of brilliant tales of actors and actresses, writers and performers, murder and mysteries. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this exciting book.
Like other stories of theatrical life, there are many possibilities in the stage props, costumes and make up that feature in these stories. Giving the impression of opulence with simple tricks is a standby in several of these stories. Actors and actresses are desperate to make their mark, get the best parts, dominate the stage. Sometimes that prompts them to desperate action, and in the confusion of entrances and exits audiences and others can be fooled. Dorothy L Sayers writes of a former actress who observes carefully the comings and goings of a theatre, but she cannot predict the intricacies of feelings involved in the story “Blood Sacrifice”. Another desperate writer features in the chilling “The Blind Spot” by Barry Perowne from 1945. An ambitious friend gives Roderick Alleyn problems in Ngaio Marsh’s “I Can Find My Way Out”. Ernest Dudley’s “The Case of the Ventriloquist’s Doll” features his ongoing characters Doctor Morelle and Miss Frayle in quite a forensic case with a demanding theatrical client. John Appleby’s 1950 story “Drink for an Actor” is set in one of Shakespeare’s plays being performed and is a subtle question of motives. Christianna Brand’s story is also set in the highly charged world of backstage to a production of Othello, though the recounting of the case is also a fascinating element to cover in a short story length.
Like the other anthologies in the series, this collection serves as a taster or introduction to some lesser known authors whose books are being reissued. It also includes strong favourites indulging in the rich opportunities presented by the atmosphere of theatrical productions. Tricks and deceptions, impressions and literal acts can deceive both the amateur and professional detective, and all of these authors excel at literary sleight of hand. I found much to enjoy in this book, with all the stories being based on original ideas freely adapted even though the endings were frequently not traditional. This collection will appeal to not only the classic mystery reader, but also those who enjoy the glitter and deliberate deceit of the theatrical world.
One thought on “Final Acts – Theatrical Mysteries Edited by Martin Edwards – an Anthology of classic crime stories from the British Library Crime Classics series”
It’s a good collection, isn’t it – of their best, I felt!