Quick Curtain gives us a jaundiced view behind the curtain when a famed actor is murdered right in the midst of his performance on opening night. I know that plot may seem done to death, but this book was first written in 1934 and would have been fresh and new then. It also draws back the curtain on the Scotland Yard investigation headed by Inspector Wilson ably and saucily assisted by his reporter son Derek Wilson.
Despite a couple murders and an apparent suicide (murder?), everything is very droll. Melville slices and dices every kind of theater habitue and the denizens of small towns. There is no one exempt from his wit except for Inspector Wilson and son who use their wit to score off each other mercilessly. This is a book full of unkind people.
The best thing about this book was the ending of it–and I am not being snarky. There is a surprise ending that really turns things on their heads, though I was also very happy to get to the end of the book, too. I don’t mind wit and banter. I love Peter Wimsey and Tommy and Tuppence and Nick and Nora. This wit, though, seemed mean-spirited and spiteful, as though scores were being settled. Few people escaped it.
I also thought the banter between Inspector Wilson and Derek was off-putting. I ended up disliking them both. They believed a woman was kidnapped, but let her stay in the custody of her abductor for what possible good reason? So she could be murdered? After all, that is what happened. Her death is directly attributable to their decisions and this does not seem to trouble them one whit.
I wanted to like this book. I enjoyed his other recently republished book Death of Anton quite a bit, but this one just rubbed me the wrong way through and through. It is witty, there are several clever sendups of the various theatrical types and of village characters. One by one, they are funny, but when piled on one another and taken as a whole, it’s just too mean for me.
I received an e-galley of Quick Curtain from the publisher through NetGalley.