Monday, February 5, 2018

Act One, Scene One--Murder (Review)

Act One, Scene One--Murder (2016) by A. H. Richardson is the second novel featuring Inspector Stan Burgess, actor Berry (Beresford) Brandon, and Sir Victor Hazlitt. This time the trio gets involved in murder when Berry is cast for a part in a brand new play and someone decides to to poison the leading man when the cast gathers at the playwright's country home for a party that's supposed to smooth troubled waters. [Obviously that worked well....] And there was all kinds of trouble in the water.

Judson Morgan was definitely not well-loved. Not even by his wife, Carlotta Raffael, who costars in the production. She has quickly determined that marrying Morgan was a mistake, particularly given his womanizing ways. The rest of the cast, the director, and the playwright have all had a less than harmonious relationship with the star--either during rehearsals for the play or sometime in the past. It appears that determining who didn't have a reason to murder Morgan would be a much easier question to answer. But then another murder occurs and Burgess, Brandon, and Sir Victor must decide if they have even been asking the right questions at all.

Richardson's stories have a definite Golden Age feel. The setting is post-WW II Britain, but it seems more at home in the years between the wars. There are big, sprawling country houses with staff  to wait on guests. There is a very proper British butler at Sir Victor Hazlitt's aunt's house. House parties and Golden Age manners and the pre-cell phone and pre-computer era. It makes for a very enjoyable read and the plot has some interesting twists and turns to keep the armchair detective guessing. I also really enjoy our trio of heroes. Their interactions and their individual sleuthing styles make for an interesting mystery and a ★★ and a half rating over all.

I have just a few quibbles that keep this from a full four-star rating. First: coincidence takes the action back to the area near Little Shendon (scene of our heroes' first adventure). But there's really no good reason for this other than we decided to give Mr. Symeon, the playwright, a huge old house there. We don't even make much of Sir Victor's aunt in this story--her house serves as not much more than a hotel where Sir Victor can spend the night. Lady Armstrong is such a colorful character; it's a shame that she doesn't play a more integral part (especially since we took all the trouble to have the murder take place in her neighborhood, so to speak).

Second, while Richardson does make a great effort to follow in the footsteps of the Golden Age (with much success in a number of ways), I can't say that the plot is completely fair in its cluing. It is possible to spot the culprit, but I don't think the clues really explain the motive. There are hints, yes, though tiny. But looking back, I don't (as is often the case with Christie and others) say "Oh, yes, when so-and-so said that, I should have known that X needed to get rid of Y because Z." At the end of the book, we know that X needed to get rid of Y because Inspector Burgess received a packet of information from the Yard that told him so...and he doesn't tell us until after the culprit has been hauled away and we're having our little wrap-up scene.

My last quibble is the same as with the first book. In fact I can pretty much lift the words from the previous review: "the formatting is distracting. It is formatted with double-spacing between every paragraph. Absolutely unnecessary in a novel and it breaks up the page as well as the reading flow. It's as if it was decided ahead of time that we MUST have at least 270 pages [in this book] using this particular font size and, by golly, if we've got to double-space to get there, then we will." And, again, the paragraphs are, generally speaking, very short. The combination makes the book feel choppy. It's a bit better in this second outing, but still a distraction.

Thanks to Kelsey at Book Publicity Services for arranging the delivery of this review copy. My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate....The book was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments in this review are entirely my own honest opinion.

No comments: