A fairly short one today, life being life, only more so, just of late.
Our narrator, Vaughn Tudor, introduces himself and then leads us through the formation of a small amateur theatre group, in the period leading up to to the Second World War. We follow the fortunes, romances and rivalries of the troupe up until their staging of the play ‘Measure for Measure’: when tragedy strikes.
Witting’s series detective Inspector Charlton is called in to investigate. But can the police disentangle the complicated relationships to discover the real killer?
“As if she ran on invisible wheels, Mrs Mudge, with her string bag on her arm, swept serenely along Harpur Street, turned without slackening her pace into Cooper’s Yard, swung to the left under the central archway of the old Bakehouse and, disregarding the door over which some amateur hand had painted ‘Stage Door’, stopped dead at the door marked ‘Entrance’.
…it was like a breathless seal that she flapped up the narrow flight leading to the Lulverton Little Theatre.”
I have some mixed feelings about this one.
On the one hand, I really enjoyed the writing throughout, but especially the first half, introducing the theatre group through Vaughn Tudor’s evocative but sometimes naive eyes. The characters are well-drawn and there is much genuine humour and convincing detail.
Vaughn writes of himself:
“…nothing noteworthy about my face, except that, in later years it tempted people to borrow money from me.”
Whitehouse Cheesewright attempts to dissuade the troupe from staging that disgusting and licentious play ‘Measure for Measure’:
“Mrs Cheesewright fixed us all in turn with an accusing eye. (She relays Samuel Coleridge’s less than favourable review of the play)
“Those are the opinions of Coleridge. When we remember that he wrote the ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, we may safely accept his judgment.”
I also like how – when the point of view shifts to the police for the second part, so that we can follow the investigation – we see certain things and characters in a different light.
On the down side was the solution itself, which seemed to me disappointing and inadequately prepared for. And after such careful and largely affectionate characterisation throughout, the cartoonish depiction of a Jew near the end, though brief, was very unpleasant and jarring.
Also on the jarring side: while I can accept (possibly naively) that in the early 1940’s Elizabeth’s unpleasant last name had no more prejudicial connotations than calling her Elizabeth Meatball, I can’t believe that such an ambitious and fairly intelligent actress wouldn’t have changed it long since.
On the whole though, I really enjoyed reading this again and would recommend it, with the caveats above.
Any Other Business?
I learned that a ‘Parasang’ is ‘a historical Iranian unit of itinerant distance’ and – through my complete bafflement at Tudor’s nickname – that turtle soup used to be a notable tradition at the Lord Mayor’s Show (and that, blimey, them eating turtles are huge)
Finally, Vaughn Tudor is peculiarly fond of seal metaphors – they appear no less than four times in his portion of the book.