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Thursday 24 November 2022

‘Final Acts’ Edited by Martin Edwards

Published by the British Library,
10 September 2022.
ISBN: 978-0-71235407-3 (PB)

Final Acts is a miscellany of crime stories set in, or related to, all things theatrical.  The collection begins with a 1905 tale by Baroness Orzcy, The Affair at the Novelty Theatre.  When a precious pearl necklace is stolen from actress Phyliss Morgan, suspicion falls on her jeweller.  Orzcy’s celebrated sleuth, The Old Man in the Corner, puts his intellect to work, however, and soon reveals the true culprit.

Next, we meet Inspector Gabriel Hanaud and his friend, amateur detective Julius Ricardo.  The pair must solve a burglary and murder in The Affair at the Semiramis Hotel (1917). Anthony Wynne’s The Dancing Girl was published in 1926.  In this story Dr. Eustace Hailey’s clinical and investigative expertise are put to the test in a particularly complicated case involving his old friends, Lord and Lady Rushmere.

In View of the Audience, sees George Brewster board a train that he believes will take him to Crewe, instead, a terrifying journey awaits him in this 1934 tale by Marguerite Steen. 

Then, Dorothy L. Sayers describes a near perfect murder in her highly enjoyable 1936 story, Blood Sacrifice   The next gruesome offering was originally published in a 1941 edition of Strand Magazine.  Brandon Fleming’s The Wrong Make-Up, describes how celebrated actor Sir John Furnival, is found dead in his dressing room.  The circumstances of his death “hint of a murder,” and Inspector Fay is called to investigate.

1944 saw the publication of a more light-hearted offering, The Case of the Ventriloquist’s Doll by Ernest Dudley, featuring Dr Morrell and his trusty assistant, Miss Frayle.  The good doctor is pursuing a cure for the common cold, when he is interrupted by Mr Voxio, a ventriloquist whose dummy, Joey, has been stolen.  Morrell’s medical investigation is briefly shelved whilst he solves the case with his usual efficiency.  Barry Perowne’s 1945, The Blind Spot, is a deliciously creepy tale of a chance meeting between two men in a bar and the perplexing events that follow.  Next, we read Ngaio Marsh’s 1946 story I Can Find My Way Out, in which playwright Anthony Gill awaits the opening night of his play with trepidation and for good reason.  Skulduggery is afoot and when an actor is found dead Inspector Alleyn is called bring order from chaos.

In Roy Vickers The Lady Who Laughed (1948) there seems to be something sinister when June Spengrave dies in unusual circumstances.  Officers attend and suspect Mr Spengrave of murder but are unable to find the evidence they need to get their man.  It takes Detective Inspector Rason from the Department of Dead Ends to unravel the truth.  The Thirteenth Knife, by Bernard J. Farmer was published in 1950 - enjoy the delicious twist at the end.  The next story, also from 1950, was written by John Appleby.  In Drink for an Actor Mervyn Corinth plays a role in which the script requires him to drink some brandy.  It turns out, however, that someone has been tampering with the props, and Inspector Bristow must work out who, where, when and why.

The final two stories involve productions of Shakespearian plays.  The first is Credit to William Shakespeare.  This, the third 1950 publication, was authored by Julian Symons.  Francis Quarles, private detective, happens to be in the audience when the first night of a production of Hamlet turns into a real-life tragedy.  This is followed by a 1958 story from the pen of Christianna Brand.  After the Event begins with an unnamed Great Detective regaling his companions with a case he successfully solved.  Unfortunately for the conceited storyteller, Inspector Cockrill is present and reveals that far from solving the case, the “Great Detective” arrested and charged the wrong man!

Final Acts: Theatrical Mysteries is published as part of the British Library Crime Classics series.  It is a collection that delights and intrigues.  As always in the series, Martin Edwards provides a comprehensive and informative introduction to the anthology.  Equally engaging and helpful are the short biographies of the authors which precede each tale.  A must read for all lovers of Golden Age crime fiction and highly recommended.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Martin Edwards was born 7 July 1955 at Knutsford, Cheshire and educated in Northwich and at Balliol College, Oxford University, taking a first-class honours degree in law. He trained as a solicitor in Leeds and moved to Liverpool on qualifying in 1980. He published his first legal article at the age of 25 and his first book, about legal aspects of buying a business computer at 27, before spending just over 30 years as a partner of a law firm, where he is now a consultant. He is married to Helena with two children (Jonathan and Catherine) and lives in Lymm. He is a member of the Murder Squad a collective of crime writers.  In 2007 he was appointed the Archivist of the Crime Writers Association and in 2011 he was appointed the Archivist of the Detection Club. He is a former chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and since 2015, he has been President of the Detection Club. Martin writes three series. He has also edited more than forty anthologies.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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