Thursday, July 9, 2015

Quick Curtain - Alan Melville

I think I'm still recovering from the effects of our long trek home - after the night in the boat I can't seem to get enough sleep. Between that and work I'm behind on everything, but with any luck will start to catch up soon. (I went to bed early last night with every intention of waking up at 6 to write this. It didn't happen.) People in their 40's who say they still feel 20 baffle me. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. 

'Quick Curtain' on the other hand positively fizzes with energy. I say this every time, but I'm a big fan of the British Library series of crime classics. I love the packaging, love the idea of digging through that vast archive for treasure (at least that's how I like to imagine the process), and most importantly love the books too. It's a collection which has really expanded my conception of 'golden age' crime. 

With 'Quick Curtain' and Alan Melville the revelation is his humour. Had P. G. Wodehouse and Dorothy L. Sayers collaborated on a murder mystery it would probably have been a bit like this. Fans of Anita Loos wouldn't be disappointed either. As it is Sayers simply observes that Melville 'Blows the solemn structure of the detective novel sky high...' He does, and it's wonderful. 

Published in 1934, the setting is a lavish musical replete with dozens of chorus girls and an ageing juvenile lead who is unfortunately shot in the second act. When the man with the gun is found dead in his dressing room it looks like an open and shut case of murder followed by suicide, that is until Inspector Wilson and his journalist son Derek get involved. 

As Sayers also pointed out 'Light entertainment is Mr Melville's aim', he happily satirises the procedural detective novel always looking for, and finding, the laugh. Derek's experiences under cover as a hiking cyclist are a particular joy but it's hard to say much without giving away whacking great spoilers - the twist at the end though is brilliant. 

Melville is undoubtedly overdue for rediscovery, it's a funny and charming book, perfect for a lazy afternoon or light reading before bed. Because the humour takes centre stage and it's packed full of show business jokes and details it's also a book that I'm likely to re read regularly in much the same way that I might re watch a favourite film from the same period. It truly is a brilliant find from the British Library. 


  1. Oh, I hope this one is out in the US! We get them eventually, and it's been hard to wait. This one is going to the top of my list.

    1. I hope so too, it was a lot of fun, and just what was needed when I read it. We all deserve books like this one!

  2. It's SUCH a fun book. So glad you also enjoyed it!

  3. Loved it, especially the end which is genius!

  4. I acually remember seeing Alan Melville on (British) TV (probably the 'Tonight' programme or sonething similar) in the early 60s. I liked him as a genial, witty man then, and had forgotten him until I read a review of this book, and bought it as a result. A really fun read, which brought forth many audible chuckles. Turns out Melville was educated at one point not far from my childohood home in Edinburgh.