Final Acts, edited by Martin Edwards – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Will the curtain ever come down on the British Library’s Classic Crime collection?
Let’s hope not, otherwise fans of the genre would miss out on anthologies such as Final Acts, in which series editor Martin Edwards has pulled together 14 short theatrical-themed mysteries published between 1905 and 1958.
As ever, Edwards has also penned an informative introduction to the entire tome, as well as profiles of the authors whose work has been included. Some are giants of the genre, others are less well known; learning about the latter group is always far more interesting and usually inspires me to delve into their back catalogues for more – which is surely something of which the British Library would approve.
Getting the tome under way is Baroness Orczy, the Hungarian native who settled in Britain as a teenager and is now best known for creating The Scarlet Pimpernel. But here, it’s her enigmatic character ‘The Old Man in the Corner’ who regales listeners with his solution to ‘The Affair at the Little Theatre’.
It’s a good start to a book that perhaps peaks with 1934’s ‘In View of the Audience’. It was written by Marguerite Steen who, according to Edwards, was ‘not generally thought of as a crime writer,’ but nevertheless fashioned a compelling tale involving strangers on a train and a terrifying trip to a provincial theatre. Incidentally, Edwards also tells us that Coronation Street icon Pat Phoenix took her stage surname from Steen’s novel Phoenix Rising, which is one of the most unusual tidbits he’s perhaps ever given his readers!
The likes of Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Julian Symons are among the other luminaries whose tales grace the tome, and none of them disappoint.
Fans of crime will lap it all up, obviously, but those interested in the history of the stage will find much to enjoy here too; each plot takes us behind the scenes of an industry which has changed much over the past 60 or so years – repertory theatre has gone, with touring productions taking its place; there’s now an emphasis on crowd-pleasing spectaculars based on familiar stories too, rather than new writing.
But one aspect is, perhaps, the same – the egos of those involved. If the titles included here have one thing in common, it’s probably the artistic temperaments of most of the main protagonists – and having a chance to watch from the wings as they come unstuck is a true joy.
‘Final Acts: Theatrical Mysteries’ is published by the British Library, £10.99 paperback