- Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
- Pub Date Jan 8 2015
- source: NetGalley
On a sultry afternoon in the summer of 1936 a woman accidentally interrupts an attempted murder in a London hotel room. Nina Land, a West End actress, faces a dilemma: she’s not supposed to be at the hotel in the first place, and certainly not with a married man. But once it becomes apparent that she may have seen the face of the man the newspapers have dubbed ‘the Tie-Pin Killer’ she realises that another woman's life could be at stake.
Jimmy Erskine is the raffish doyen of theatre critics who fears that his star is fading: age and drink are catching up with him, and in his late-night escapades with young men he walks a tightrope that may snap at any moment. He has depended for years on his loyal and longsuffering secretary Tom, who has a secret of his own to protect. Tom’s chance encounter with Madeleine Farewell, a lost young woman haunted by premonitions of catastrophe, closes the circle: it was Madeleine who narrowly escaped the killer’s stranglehold that afternoon, and now walks the streets in terror of his finding her again.
Curtain Call is a comedy of manners, and a tragedy of mistaken intentions. From the glittering murk of Soho’s demi-monde to the grease paint and ghost-lights of theatreland, the story plunges on through smoky clubrooms, tawdry hotels and drag balls towards a denouement in which two women are stalked by the same killer. As bracing as a cold Martini and as bright as a new tie-pin, it is at once a deeply poignant love story, a murder mystery and an irresistible portrait of a society dancing towards the abyss.
The King died at the beginning of 1936 and so this crime thriller is set firmly against that year: not only is there the scandal of the king-to-be's affair with the American Woman, and lurking in the background a gruesome murderer who has already claimed three victims; but Hitler and Mussolini both menace on the European horizon. The popularity of Moseley and Fascism are growing apace throughout the country, anti-Semitic sentiment grows in London society, while other institutions cling to the old ways, homosexuality is condemned and punishable by gaol sentence when detected, and the Crystal Palace burns down.
My rating: 4.6