sjhstrangetales

BOOK REVIEW: DEATH OF ANTON by JOHN MELVILLE

Posted on: September 18, 2015

This is another in the British Crime Library’s elegant re-issues of vintage whodunnits from the Golden Age of crime fiction.  Death Of Anton particularly appealed to me because it’s set in a circus, and I love all that sort of thing.  I was a bit concerned I might find it a bit too arch and annoying, as it’s very much written in a light-hearted vein, but it wasn’t at all.  It is very funny in parts, but dark when it needs to be.

Inspector Minto of Scotland Yard has turned up in a standard provincial town to help organise his sister’s wedding.  Although it’s meant to be his week off, he finds himself getting drawn into some very shady activities at a touring circus, which is pitched in a field nearby.  Things take a very dark turn indeed when Anton, the German tiger-tamer, is found mauled to death in a cage.

It’s safe to say this isn’t your usual 1930s whodunnit.  There are no stately homes, no idiosyncratic sleuths unravelling a complex puzzle of a plot, culminating in a dramatic showdown, with The One You Least Suspect as the culprit.  I didn’t guess who the culprit was here, because frankly I was too busy enjoying all the rest of it!  It has a J B Priestley feel, with some wonderfully comic scenes.  Minto is great fun as the investigating cop, with a nice sardonic attitude (he reminds me of Leslie Banks’ cop in The 1939 Arsenal Stadium Mystery).  It’s also refreshingly unglamorous.  This isn’t a novel about high society, Bright Young Things, or the ritzy end of showbusiness.  And the seedy drug-dealing  behind the scenes at the circus gives it something we can identify with now.

I have the other John Melville re-issue Quick Curtain to read soon.  I don’t know how many he did in all, but if there are more I hope they get re-issued too.  Would love to see this one filmed – in the spirit in which it was written -although I appreciate in these days of Animal Rights that the tiger scenes could be tricky.  I’m sure it can be done though.

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