Quick Curtain by Alan Melville

Define “witty”…

😦 😦

It’s the opening night of the new show at the Grosvenor Theatre – Blue Music, produced by the great theatre impresario Douglas B Douglas and starring perennial juvenile lead and heart-throb Brandon Baker, a combination designed to guarantee box office success. The theatre is filled with the great and the good in the dear seats, and the members of the Brandon Baker Gallery Club in the cheap ones. The scene where Brandon Baker is shot takes on an unexpectedly dramatic twist when it turns out the bullet was real, and he collapses onto the stage, dead. Fortunately Inspector Wilson of the Yard is in the audience, along with his journalist son Derek, so the pair are in prime position to investigate the murder.

This is billed as being “witty”. Wit can wear very thin very quickly if it’s not done well. It’s not done well. The Wilsons must have a claim on the title of most annoying crime fighting duo in history. Perhaps if they spent less time being “funny”, they might have been better detectives. I found myself speculating as to the mysterious lack of a Mrs Wilson – I concluded that if I were married to one of these and the mother of the other, I’d probably have run off to a different continent leaving no forwarding address, but perhaps the poor lady simply died of tedium after having to listen to them do their cross-talk act at breakfast once too often.

Realism simply doesn’t exist in this novel. Inspector Wilson acts like an amateur detective, using his son as his sidekick. They don’t interview any suspects or do any real investigation. They simply come up with a theory and then mangle the “facts” to fit. “Facts” is a term that must be used loosely in regard to this novel, since there are glaring continuity errors throughout, such as a man having a wife and children at one appearance and then being an unmarried loner next time he’s discussed. One feels that some editor at some point in the 80-odd years since it was first published would have picked up on these issues, but perhaps they were all laughing too hysterically to concentrate.

Challenge details:
Book: 47
Subject Heading: Making Fun of Murder
Publication Year: 1934

To be fair, it starts out quite well with some gentle lampooning of the whole business of putting on light musicals. Stars, producers, theatre critics and fans all come in for their share of mockery, but it’s done quite affectionately. In his introduction, Martin Edwards tells us that Melville was himself a successful playwright and this shows through in his credible, if caricatured, portrayal of the life of theatricals. It’s really the arrival of the Wilson duo that brings the whole thing down – in fact, it’s the attempt to make it into a crime novel that fails badly. Had Melville written some other kind of theatre based froth, then it may have come off better, but a crime novel really requires at least some pretence at a proper plot and investigation or it becomes nonsensical – and not in a good way. Edwards tells us that Dorothy L Sayers, a regular reviewer of the work of her contemporaries, had similar reservations as my own, saying Inspector Wilson “does all his detecting from his private house with the sole aid of his journalist son. Light entertainment is Mr Melville’s aim, and a fig for procedure!”

Alan Melville

So I guess it comes down to whether the reader finds this kind of arch humour entertaining. Some will, I’m sure, and will therefore be better able to overlook the major flaws in the plot and structure. Sadly I found myself getting progressively more irritated and bored as it went along and was frankly delighted to make it to the deeply unsatisfactory and rather silly end. Not an author I will be pursuing further, I’m afraid. Sometimes authors become “forgotten” for a reason…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

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42 thoughts on “Quick Curtain by Alan Melville

  1. I have been waiting for this review all weekend! And I am not disappointed, FF! It seems to have all the makings of a rather good, light-hearted GAD-style novel. I imagine Melville thought that the Wilsons were hilarious but it seems he has taken the ‘bumbling detective’ stereotype a step too far. I feel I should read this, if only for a lesson in how not to do witty detective fiction. Is is a long book or mercifully short?

    • Haha – always happy to oblige! 😉 I could have put up with the “humour” if the plot had been good, but the combination of annoyingly smug comedy duo with rubbish plot was too much for my sensitive soul. It’s probably average length, but it felt much longer somehow… 😪

  2. You have carried out a public service by reading this book for me – I can feel my personal irritation factor rising just thinking about the writing style & so shall pass this time 🙂

    • Haha – always happy to be of service! 😉 Yes, I could probably have coped with the annoying “humour” if the plot had been worth it, but sadly not for me! Oh well, onwards and upwards!

  3. Everyone has a different view of what’s ‘funny’ and what’s not, FictionFan. So I can see how you wouldn’t have found this nearly as witty as it was billed to be. What really gets me is the lack of continuity and those related errors. Someone – author, publisher, editor, whoever – needs to check books for that sort of thing. That lack of continuity is enough to pull me right out of a books. Hmm…..nope – not for me. Not even with Martin Edwards providing the introduction. And that’s saying something!

    • Absolutely, and I’m sure some people will enjoy the humour in this more than I did. I could have coped with that aspect though if the plot had been good, but oh, what a mess! I wonder if later editors kinda feel they shouldn’t make changes to books that have been published before? Whatever the reason, I found myself checking all the time to see if I’d misunderstood the first references – annoying!

  4. This justly forgotten novel” – sometimes, they are forgotten for a reason! I’m not a huge fan of funny or witty ‘tecs – even Ellery Queen wore thin for me quite quickly.

    • Hahaha! Yes! Funny you should say that – I remember nothing about Ellery Queen except that I didn’t enjoy them – I wonder if that was the reason… wit only works for me very rarely.

  5. So you didn’t particularly like this one, huh?!! I love to read your reviews when you come across one you don’t enjoy, FF, and this is no exception. I’ll gladly pass on reading it myself, though, as Lucy says, perhaps I should read it to find out what *not* to do, hee hee!

  6. Humour is such a personal thing; I’ve read quite a few books that other people have described as hilarious and not found them very funny at all – and vice versa, I suppose. I don’t think I’m in any hurry to read this one, especially while there are so many of the other Crime Classics that sound more appealing!

    • Yes, humour is so subjective. And I’m sure that for some people the humour in this will work, and that will make it easier to get past the dodgy plotting, but I was so irritated I was getting pickier by the moment! The Crime Classics are definitely variable in quality, but I always enjoy reading them for the glimpse back to Ye Olden Days of crime fiction… 😉

  7. Oh dear! It is hard to get humour pitched right at the best of times but combined with a mystery is especially problematic I think. I did however find your review very witty indeed and will make sure i give this particular book a miss 😉

    • Haha – always glad to be of service! 😉 Yes, humour is so subjective and this just didn’t work for me at all, and my irritation meant I was being even pickier than usual about plot issues. No need to trouble your TBR with this one, I think (not even from the library… 😉 )

  8. This review took me right back to a book I read in the 90s! It was a book called Last Act by Christopher Pike, who wrote children’s and young adult horror novels. In the novel, a new girl in town (name Melanie!) lands the starring role in her high school play, but in a scene that involves her shooting a gun with wax tips in order to puncture a blood bag the other actor wears, everything goes wrong, and the recipient of the bullet actually dies. The problem is Melanie tested the tip of the bullet before she put it in the gun and made sure it was wax, so what happened?! Looking back, I’m wondering what kind of high school let kids use any bullets whatsoever 🙂

  9. I had better avoid this one. I frequently don’t understand what passes for humour even when everyone else does, so if this is challenging others it will clearly not be for me. I have found this series very hit and miss as it is.

    • Ha – I’m not very good at humour in books either, but this one was really just annoying! I agree – some great reads in it, but also some rather odd choices of books that could probably be happily left as “forgotten”…

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