A Bullet in the Ballet
Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon
First published Michael Joseph 1937
This edition Sphere, 1969
ISBN: None listed
Investigator: Detective Inspector Adam Quill
Chalk outlines: 3/5
Bought for £3, Amnesty Bookshop, Mill Road Cambridge – a small second-hand bookshop punching above its weight in terms of crime fiction.
A great opening line – ‘Since it is probable that any book flying a bullet in its title is going to produce a corpse sooner or later – here it is.’ – gets A Bullet in the Ballet off to a racing start. The Ballet Stroganoff is losing its Petroushkas and it is up to Inspector
Quill to find the killer amongst a mass of personal and professional rivalries.
The News Chronicle described this as ‘One of the funniest stories I have ever read’ and it is genuinely funny with some great one-liners: ‘The ease of an angel and the toes of a martyr’.
The humour reminds me of Cold Comfort Farm in that it relies on taking stock characters to a satirical extreme. Thus we get the flamboyant, melancholic impresario Stroganoff, the ageing seductress Arenskaya and her elderly husband Puthyk, still believing himself able to dance leading roles, and crackpot modernist choreographer Nevajno.
A stand-out moment is a cameo appearance by Quill’s landlady, an uncompromising figure in a raw pink flannel dressing gown. She knocks his door ‘with a knock that somehow combined fury and prudery in equal proportions’ before ushering in an unsuitable guest. ‘She tightened her tassel and bade them an acid good night.’
A great book, still funny and with no padding. Terrible cover.
Reviewed by Rich
If you like this, try Joyce Porter’s Dover One, another comic crime novel.
Final destination: Green Metropolis