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Curtain Call

Anthony Quinn
Jonathan Cape
Released

Curtain Call

All too often, novels that fit into the crime genre rely on the thrills and spills of the chase to cover up limitations in literary quality.

That is certainly not an accusation that could be directed towards Curtain Call, which certainly has a page turning plot but is also extremely well and thoughtfully written.

Atmospherically set in London a couple of years before the Second World War, on one level this novel is a story of amateur sleuths on the tale of a modern Jack the Ripper. On another, it is a portrait of theatrical and artistic life in those long lost, innocent days.

Curtain Call follows five main characters. James Erskine is a self-important theatre critic, the doyen of his day based on that supreme egoist, James Agate.

Life as his secretary / amanuensis / slave is not easy for young Tom, a budding writer in his own right but a man without the courage to resist almost any of the demands of his difficult employer. It is only on the sexual front that Tom Tunner has ever said no to a rampant homosexual who has to rein in his urges in order both to keep his job and avoid imprisonment.

The theatrical theme continues through the presence of a successful stage actress with silver screen ambitions. Nina Land is a woman whose insecurity is hardly helped by an unsupportive family and a loving relationship with a new man that has no future.

That is because artist Stephen Wyley is already happily married with a couple of precocious children. The landscape painter manqué finds himself condemned to unfulfilling work as a society portrait painter but also gets embroiled in some nasty goings-on with an offshoot of Oswald Mosley's blackshirts.

This quartet interacts loosely, partly through a connection with possibly the most innocent prostitute in literary history, the deliciously named Madeleine Farewell who is almost literally the proverbial tart with a heart of gold.

The plot weaves its way through a bygone era painting a delightful picture of theatrical life on both sides of the fourth wall, while at the same time depicting a series of grisly murders involving ties and tie pins that eventually culminate in a bittersweet ending.

Curtain Call will undoubtedly delight those with an interest in theatre and at the bargain price of £12.99 should be on everybody's gift list (for themselves).

Reviewer: Philip Fisher