Published by Williams and Whiting,
22 July 2019.
Although the Second World War has been over for five years, post-War London in 1950 is still a grey, dismal place that is in need of popular, attractive actors such as Toby Bowe and Alasdair Hamilton to lighten the public’s mood. Along with their co-star, Fiona Marsden, Toby and Alasdair are adored cinema stars. Their private lives provide entertainment in the gossip columns of newspapers and magazines, just as their acting, in many adventurous and heroic roles, delights cinema goers. Fortunately, the press and public are occupied with linking Toby and Alasdair with Fiona or the other attractive young women they are seen around with, and have no inkling that they are romantically involved with each other. The two actors take care to camouflage their love for each other, aware that homosexuality is illegal and their star status will not protect them. Indeed if their fans knew everything about them most of them would turn on their former idols.
An Act of Detection is divided into two adventures. The first, The Case of the Overprotective Ass, chronicles Toby and Alasdair’s first foray into detection when Actor Manager Johnny Fisher asks them to track down his secretary, Robin Pierce, who has disappeared. As Toby and Alasdair delve into the secrets of Pierce’s life, they discover how much fun detection can be, but when their recent on screen depiction of Holmes and Watson provokes threatening anonymous letters, they find themselves with two cases to investigate, and the chilling prospect that their own lives may be in danger.
At the conclusion of their first case, Toby and Alasdair had protested that their detective days were behind them, but then they are presented with The Case of the Undesirable Actor, in which a new co-star, George Howells, is murdered. The two friends had not known Howells particularly well, and had not liked what they did know, for Howells had been an unpleasant, violent man, but when the owner of their film studios asks them to help, they agree to investigate. Soon the actor sleuths find themselves with a remarkable array of suspects and their investigation leads to a final scene that is as melodramatic as any of their films.
Charlie Cochrane already has two series featuring male lovers investigating crimes, but in her contemporary series the couple can live together openly and one of the pair is a police detective. This new series featuring Toby and Alasdair has a lot in common with the author’s Cambridge Fellows series, but the Edwardian series has a darker more serious tone, partly because it is shadowed by the prospect of the Great War and also because the early academic world is, by its nature, less frivolous than the world of cinema. An Act of Detection does reference the Second World War, in which both Toby, Alasdair and their co-star, Fiona, served, and this is used skilfully to illustrate a stronger, more serious side to their characters. Toby and Alasdair still have to keep their relationship a secret, and discovery would result in public censure, loss of their careers and imprisonment. It is not easy to keep their private lives hidden when they lead such high-profile lives. They are often seen with beautiful young starlets at social events, but, despite Media speculation, none of these young ladies make it into their bedrooms. An Act of Detection is an amusing, delightful novel, with a fascinating setting and two appealing protagonists. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys their crime fiction light, lively and nostalgic, with a good spice of humour.
Reviewer: Carol Westron