BOOK REVIEW: DEATH OF ANTON by JOHN MELVILLE
Posted September 18, 2015on:
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.