Death of Anton – Alan Melville – Another British Library Crime Classic

There has been a gap in posts caused by a line breakage – our somewhat overgrown area of garden through which the phone line stretches had to be investigated. The rest of the garden looks wonderful thanks to the efforts of Northernvicar, but perfection is difficult to achieve!

This is another keenly awaited edition from the British Library Crime Classic series. I actually went into the bookshop at the British Library the other day, only to discover I had the full set so far! It has not quite filled a shelf, yet…

I had high hopes of this book having enjoyed the comedy of Quick Curtain so much recently. This novel from Alan Melville also features Detective – Inspector Minto of Scotland Yard, and while he sits light to police procedure and back up once more, I did not find it as funny as the previous murder mystery. Quite possibly this is due to the absence of his son, with whom he enjoys all the fun and games in Quick Curtain, but he does have family represented here; his brother who is a Catholic priest ( important to the story) and Claire, his younger sister whose wedding he is due to organise/attend/go in fear of throughout.

The main action takes place in a circus, where Anton is the short lived tiger tamer and many nefarious activities are taking place. There is murder, mayhem and mauling, as Minto tries to sort out what is going on, and his list of suspects gets shorter. Minto has to get out of some narrow scrapes, and not all relate to writing a speech for the wedding. He has to become acquainted with a dubious pawn shop as well as the inhabitants of the circus. The setting of a circus is soon evidently well chosen, as the dangers of live acts involving animals and heights add to the danger to the hapless detective. When he actually sits to watch the performance he discovers the danger of sitting in the cheap seats as he leans back too far and has to be rescued.

This is a good read, as are most of this series, as the plot becomes increasingly convoluted and coincidental. It is not a high literary effort, and I daresay the plot does not bear too much examination. It is funny, and absorbing, the sort of book to be kept on one side for a free day as you will undoubtedly want to read on. The death of characters is a little too easily dismissed, which gives Melville ample opportunity to make ironic comments at audiences disappointed by the absence of serious injury in any particular performance. I get the impression that this book was as enjoyable to write as read, as the author has fun getting his character covered in mud, dismissing non Scottish porridge, as well as discoursing on the personalities of performing animals. Such circuses are a thing of the past, with their bad treatment of animals and performers, but this book is a very enjoyable historical murder mystery, and well worth seeking out for the character of Minto alone.

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.