‘Dear me,’ said Mr Minto. ‘And I always thought that circus people were just one big, happy family.’
‘You’ve been reading the novelists who join up with a circus for a fortnight and then go home and write a book about it,’ said the clown. ‘There’s crime going on at Carey’s right now – plenty of it.’
My last Alan Melville review – Quick Curtain – opined that: ‘Heavy on the theatre and light on the detection, this is the Golden Age at its frothiest, perhaps not an absolute classic, but good fun nonetheless.’
So I was looking forward to Death of Anton, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The circus has come to town, and flooded the hotels and guest houses with a variety of weird and wonderful performers (most of whom seem like typical boring citizens in their street clothes – Dodo, King of Clowns, looks like a bank manager).
The star attraction at Joseph Carey’s World-Famous Circus and Menagerie is Anton and his seven Bengal tigers. If you’ve read the title, you’ll already know that Anton meets his maker near the beginning of our story. And no real surprise – he is found dead slap bang in the middle of his seven tigers.
Inspector Minto of the Yard happens to be in town for his sister’s wedding to a nondescript vacuum-cleaner salesman, and jumps at the chance to think about something other than his speech. He soon narrows the field to four suspects and sets about the investigation with gusto – Minto loves a mystery and pulls out all the stops to get this one resolved before the wedding.
Whilst he never reaches the unprofessional heights of Quick Curtain‘s Inspector Wilson, Minto is still quirky enough to entertain throughout a fairly simple mystery. Here he is collecting an autograph from one of the performers.
‘Have you a good collection?’ asked —-
‘Almost ever murderer except Crippen,; said Mr Minto, and went out of the dining-hall leaving —- a little worried by the remark.
Death of Anton is as easy to read as Quick Curtain, but has more of a sense of danger. There is quite an unpleasant edge to circus life. Danger is never far away – be it bad-tempered tigers, drunk doctors, drunk clowns, unlocked boxes containing the circus revolvers, or trapeze acts without a safety net…
‘You were late that time,’ said Loretta. ‘I nearly didn’t get hold of you.’
‘I know,’ said Lorimer. ‘You see how easy it is, don’t you? You shouldn’t have put that jealous husband idea into my head, dear.’
Loretta stared at him. She was trembling – a thing she had never done all the time they were playing this act.
A worthy addition to the British Library’s list.
Death of Anton
First published in the UK by Skeffington, 1936
This edition The British Library, 2015
Source: Review copy from the British Library – thanks!
Final destination: A keeper
crossexaminingcrime: At the start of this novel I would have said it was entirely like Quick Curtain in its light heartedness, but as the story progresses there are perhaps some more poignant and darker moments, deaths and injuries which are not just signifiers for the detective to interpret and actions and decisions taken by the detective which are not dubious for their lack of respect for correct legal procedure but for their blasé attitude towards the protection of other innocent people. This was not a feature I expected, but I think it actually made it a better book as a consequence.
In Search of the Classic Mystery: Ah, the circus. Haven’t been to one in decades but things have changed. At the one being advertised in my local newsagent – the Canadian State Circus, I think – the main attraction seems to be a Transformer. No idea how they pull that off, but I expect a lot of kids might be disappointed. Although no more disappointed by the recent movies of course…