Sam(antha) Clair makes her fourth appearance in this mystery. Set in London and involving the theater and theater people (make that theatre since this is British through and through), the plot makes a cracking good start with the director of Thomas Kyd’s 16th Century play The Spanish Tragedy being found suspended, dead, and in costume and stage makeup, when the curtain opens the third act. Based on other reviews I’ve read, this isn’t the first theater-based mystery from this author.
Sam narrates in the first person with a witty stream of mostly self-effacing barbs. The author is a master of hyperbole. I would say mistress, but that sounds too salacious so I’ll settle for the sexist “master.” But then, a sexist master sounds salacious, too. Oh well. Anyway, every description is cleverly overstated. Sam has known earthworms with more upper body strength than she has. She picks up enough Chinese food to feed a few battalions. Her solicitor (that’s a “lawyer” for us Yanks) mother Helena is so formidable the mere tappety-tap of her heels produces “frissons of fear even in the hearts of Supreme Court Judges.” You get the idea. The style is lighthearted but there’s still a rather good murder mystery there. Sam has the advantage of having a husband at Scotland Yard and the aforementioned bulldog lawyer-mom to sweep away those niggling obstacles to crime-solving, like access to confidential lab results, interview notes, and other police material. If you’re looking for blood and guts, gunfights, and passionate sex scenes, you won’t find them here (except quite a bit of fake blood in the play, apparently).
The pace could have been faster and the ending less mundane, but the witty style kept the story going well enough to suit me. The aha moment was too contrived for my taste, dependent on Sam seeing something the reader couldn’t see, or at least which isn’t described well enough for the reader to pick up on as the critical clue. That puts this mystery in the “unfair” class in my book, but the intelligence of the writing style and the inside knowledge of the theater were more than enough to overcome that.