Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn
London, the summer of 1936, and things seemed to be changing at an alarming rate – not always for the better. One of the less pleasant things happening was the discovery of two women, strangled by the murderer they called the “Tie-Pin Killer” due to his gruesome skewering of their tongues. When the up-and-coming actress Nina Land accidentally foils a third attempt, allowing for the escape of his intended victim while getting a look at his face, London suddenly becomes a very dangerous place for these two women.
Who doesn’t like a good murder mystery? One that takes place in London and involving the theater just makes it even more interesting. Author Anthony Quinn heightens this fascination by including more than just the murder and the theater, with several other unsavory elements to the story. We have the homosexual theater critic, Jimmy Erskine and his (straight) secretary Tom, together with Nina Land and her married lover, the portrait painter Stephen Wyley as well as the intended victim, Madeline Farewell, a woman (ironically) forced into prostitution after losing her job when she repelled the sexual advances of her boss. Into all this, Quinn adds the complications of homosexuality being illegal and the Black Shirts attempting to align Britain with Hitler’s vision for Germany.
All that sounds like some exciting stuff and Quinn brings it all together nicely. He does this by constantly switching the focus between his major characters, and weaving the plot through their various (and sometimes overly coincidental) encounters with each other. Yet each character has a part to play in this story, and Quinn makes them both believable and sympathetic. In addition, he aptly uses his lovingly drawn minor characters to the proper, measured amounts to push the story forward without distracting from his protagonists. This he does this with easy-flowing prose with just enough inclusions of artfully wry passages and mid-century colloquialisms to help the reader feel the proper atmosphere and era. Furthermore, when he comes to the climax, you may feel your adrenalin levels rising with the tension of the action.
From this, you can probably tell that Quinn’s talent for storytelling is evident throughout this novel, as he places these fictional events on the backdrop of history and weaves us through to a surprising conclusion. However, I did have a small problem with this book. Maybe it is just me, but I felt like the whole crime solving parts of this novel took a backseat to the characters. With their lives and problems at the forefront, there were times when I almost forgot about their direct and indirect involvement with this murderer and his stalking the two women who could identify him. I also found that the investigations by the authorities were practically non-existent. While this may be a reflection on the abilities of the police at the time, I would have thought that the forces would have been more forthcoming in trying to get this killer. Apparently, with only one detective assigned to the case, he hardly deserves any mention. Moreover, his few appearances make him sound disinterested in the case, even though Quinn adds one tidbit that makes him seem both highly intelligent and able enough to get the job done.
This isn’t to say that I disliked this novel, but rather was somewhat disappointed in how this all panned out. On the other hand, it could be that I prefer a real detective or investigative drama to one where ordinary citizens are seemingly hapless pawns in the sinister goings on. Because of this, I have a feeling that most lovers of the crime/mystery genre will enjoy this book much more than I did. This is why I’ll still recommend it but for me, it only gets three (and maybe a half) out of five stars.
“Curtain Call” by Anthony Quinn, published by Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, released January 8, 2015 is available on Kindle from Amazon, other eReader formats from Kobo, as an iBook from iTunes, or in hardcover from The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery). I would like to thank the publishers for giving me an advance reader’s copy of this book for review via NetGalley.