Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Bullet in the Ballet: Review

Synopsis: Murder runs rampant among the members of the Stroganoff ballet company.  It seems that the title role in the ballet Petroushka is an unlucky one.  When the dancer Palook is shot just at the moment of the character's death, Inspector Adam Quill is called in to discover who might have wanted the dancer dead.  Just when he settles on fellow dancer Pavel (who just happens to move into the vacant starring role) as his culprit, someone eliminates the newest Petroushka before he even gets to make his entrance. Is it possible that someone hated both dancers? Or does someone have a real dislike for the ballet itself and hopes to cancel the show? Quill hunts among the dressing rooms for clues and interviews all and sundry in the company....but it will take one more performance of the ill-fated ballet before the case will be solved 

According to the blurbs in the International Polygonics edition of A Bullet in the Ballet by Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, everyone from Sir John Gielgud to Sir Alec Guinness to Andrew Lloyd Weber thought this book was the wittiest, funniest book ever--or at least when the edition was published in 1984.  Ned Sherrin who wrote the introduction says, "There have been three great English comic novelists of high style in this century--Waugh, Firbank, and the combination of Brahms and Simon." Well...okay.  

Maybe one has to be a little more conversant with the ways of the ballet world or have knowledge of the ballets which are mentioned or something....because this one did not find this book to be all that hysterical or witty.  Mildly amusing at times--yes.  But great high comedy? Not so much.  It is full stereotypical prima donnas, stereotypical Russian ballerinas, a stereotypical ballet company owner, and a stereotypically dense policeman (who wouldn't recognize the murderer if s/he had a giant "M" painted on their forehead--and s/he might as well). There is all the little jealousies and love affairs and preening and temper tantrums that one would expect backstage in any of the arts--overplayed and larger-than-life.  The mystery (as hinted in reference to the dense policeman) isn't particularly mysterious.  I spotted the murderer in one of the earliest appearances--Quill isn't quite so quick.

The most interesting character is Stroganoff, the company's owner.  His single-minded "the show must go on" attitude in the face of his rapidly diminishing stock of lead dancers is the most amusing part of the whole book.  He simply can't understand why the police are so upset that he had Palook's body whisked off-stage while the grand finale continued virtually uninterrupted.  The audience never suspects that the star is really dead--and, in fact, a few critics remark that the death of Petroushka was rather unconvincing.  It is on Stroganoff's behalf that I am assigning two and a half stars to A Bullet in the Ballet.


Anonymous said...

Although I am a fan of dance and tend to read books that incorporate ballet, this doesn't sound like it is for me. All of that stereotypical hub bub is kind of a turnoff. Thank you for the great review.
-Dilettantish Reader

Ryan said...

I think I'm going to skip this one.... I tend to avoid the "humorous" mysteries anyway. I never find that that funny.