Book Reviews

Book Review: Final Acts, edited by Martin Edwards

Another fabulous Crime Classics anthology, this time with a theatrical theme!

Book: Final Acts: Theatrical Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

Publication date: 10th September 2022

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by British Library Publishing. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: violence, injury, death and murder.

“… and what a motive! Murder to save one’s artistic soul… who’d believe that?”

Behind the stage lights and word-perfect soliloquies, sinister secrets are lurking in the wings. The mysteries in this collection reveal the dark side to theatre and performing arts: a world of backstage dealings, where unscrupulous actors risk everything to land a starring role, costumed figures lead to mistaken identities, and on-stage deaths begin to look a little too convincing. . .

This expertly curated thespian anthology features fourteen stories from giants of the classic crime genre such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Julian Symons and Ngaio Marsh, as well as firm favourites from the British Library Crime Classics series: Anthony Wynne, Christianna Brand, Bernard J. Farmer and many more.

Mysteries abound when a player’s fate hangs on a single performance, and opening night may very well be their last.

You may not know this about me, but I used to be quite involved in theatre as a student, and so when I saw this collection was coming out from the British Library I was really excited to see how theatrical goings-on could be spun into mysteries – there’s certainly a lot of potential with cast and crew drama! As with the other themed Crime Classics collection, this is a really well-picked selection with a wide variety of styles and tones included, so there should be plenty of stories here to appeal to all tastes.

I know the stories are always arranged in chronological order, but if I were putting together this anthology, I might not have started with the first two stories, ‘The Affair at the Novelty Theatre’ and ‘The Affair at the Semiramis Hotel’ as I found them both to be quite long-winded and not necessarily the punchiest way to kick off. They weren’t bad stories, at all, but for me would have fallen better in the middle of the collection, once I was on a roll, because they’re both very long and dry. Once the collection hits its stride, though, it’s just great story after great story – to try to pull out favourites would have me listing them all! That being said, the Christianna Brand story, “After the Event”, was a particular highlight for me – I loved seeing Inspector Cockrill again, and the thing that Brand does really well is tension and relationships between her suspects, so this was a great little piece.

Others I really enjoyed were Anthony Wynne’s “The Dancing Girl”, which was very inventive, and I absolutely loved the gothic absurdity of Marguerite Steen’s “In View of the Audience”. Dorothy Sayers’ “Blood Sacrifice” is a creepy little story that really stuck with me after reading – it’s just so horrible! Barry Perowne’s “The Blind Spot” is another one that was very cleverly put together, even though it’s one of the shortest stories here, and the other very short story, Bernard J Farmer’s “The Thirteenth Knife”, has a great punchline. And Julian Symon’s extra-murderous take on Hamlet in “Credit to William Shakespeare” was a very entertaining read.

Overall, this is one of my favourite Crime Classics collections so far – one I definitely recommend if you have an interest in the genre, or indeed in the theatre! Five out of five cats!

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