Curtain Call: by Anthony Quinn a less driven Agatha Christie with some great characters

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, London

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The tiepin killer is targeting prostitutes, and on an assignation with a married society portraitist actress Nina Land sees someone who she suspects is him. Meanwhile theatre critic Jimmy Erskine fears his fading career and his long-suffering assistant Tom meets a young woman who helps him after an episode – but we learn she too has secrets – that lead to the killer.

So, I read this book because I thought it looked like an Agatha Christie. And in some ways, it wasn’t far off. The setting and time period were similar, the characters endearing, flawed, dramatic and well painted and the sequence of events gradually affected by the deaths. I was drawn into the stories of the characters – but not so much the mystery.  From Jimmy Erskine, the self-absorbed famous critic whose late night assignations with young men put him at considerable risk, to spirited actress Nina Land whose affair takes up more of her heart than she had intended, to Madeleine Farewell, a kind girl fallen into prostitution our characters are colourful and well painted. Quinn does a good job of showing off human frailty and making even the most odious characters occasionally pitiable.

And as the novel continues, their story lines gradually converge and overlap, beginning to paint a picture of society and it’s prejudices and failings – all our characters struggle against these in various ways. Each storyline is well thought through and interesting, exploring the various different worlds that the characters live in.

And again, it being set in London I enjoyed recognising place names and being able to picture the settings fairly precisely.

Of all the plots however, I felt the mystery of the killer was the most neglected. Unlike a traditional mystery novel there is little personal association between many of our characters and the deaths, and there was no detective as a character: just policemen who are vaguely alluded to. I was disappointed – I like a good mystery and felt let down by that aspect of it.

This is an enjoyable read: the individual story lines and characters are compelling in themselves, and the way their different happenings affect each other is interesting – but I think that at the centre the mystery could have done with more of a driving force to propel the plot forward as a whole.

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