I really enjoyed the first Melville I read from the British Library Crime Classics ('Quick Curtain'), it was light, funny, took itself in no way seriously, and saved the best joke for last. I'm very much in the mood for more of the same right now so 'Death of Anton' really hit the spot.
The British Library Crime Classics series is full of forgotten gems (it's just such a brilliant idea - and imagine being the person who gets to hunt through that vast archive for likely candidates). As someone who likes her crime cosy, and with an opportunity to examine real period details and attitudes where possible it could have been tailor made for me. So far though these two Melville's have been something of a high point, as well as it being particularly baffling as to why he's fallen out of print.
The crime in this pair of books is fairly incidental - there has to be one, but it's the dialogue that really matters. That said 'Death of Anton', set in a circus and where the Tiger tamer is found apparently mauled to death by his charges, has far more tension and suspense than 'Quick Curtain' did. Detective Inspector Minto happens to be present when the body is found, and immediately perceives foul play (Anton has been shot, the Tigers couldn't have done it) which is lucky or the crime would have been neatly covered up. He has a handful of suspects - Miller, Anton's partner in the act who had been sacked for drinking, Lorimer the trapeze artist who wasn't happy about the gossip around Anton and his wife, Dodo the clown who appears to have go a bit to close to the Tigers, and Carey the circus owner who seems to be up to something very dodgy indeed.
A further complication is that all the suspects are Catholic, and one of them has confessed to Father Minto, the detectives brother. He obviously can't say who, and it's a somewhat unlikely plot development, but it does add a certain piquancy to proceedings.
There is a real sense of danger around the Tigers though, and also the activities of the trapeze artists, both of which show how easy it is to make something go wrong and have it appear entirely accidental. It seems like a circus would be an excellent place to dispose of someone.
Melville was a well known television broadcaster, playwright, producer, and scriptwriter, as well as novelist. He clearly knew the world he describes, certainly knew it well enough to throw in details that carry the reader through some of the more unlikely plot points. The real pleasure though is in his humour. He has something in common with P G Wodehouse or Noel Coward, though with much more restraint than Wodehouse. It's what makes these particular books so re-readable. Who did it is a fun enough puzzle first time round, but the humour will remain an evergreen joy. I won't quote because I wouldn't know where to stop, but this book is going straight on the shelf reserved for books guaranteed to cheer me up when I'm feeling a bit down.