The script of the Unicorn Theatre’s new play uncannily echoes a quarrel in the star’s dressing room. And the stage drama gets all too real when charming Felix Gardener shoots his blustering rival, Arthur Surbonardier, dead-with a gun Arthur himself loaded with blanks. Or did he? How the live bullets got there, and why, make for a convoluted case that pits Inspector Roderick Alleyn against someone who rates an Oscar for a murderously clever performance.
Paper version picked up from my bookgroup. I originally listened to this back in 2011, but for some reason have never produced a review. This is the second of the Alleyn stories (before he marries Troy or starts working deeper in the Government), and it starts with Nigel Bathgate inviting him to watch a play at the Unicorn. There are underlying tensions, however, mainly due to some of the actors being snubbed over certain roles, and it’s during the performance that Surbonardier is killed. The question is: who killed him? Everyone knows who fired the shot, but no one knows who loaded the gun with live ammo.
It’s a multi stream story, where Nigel gets to talk to “do the dirty” in interviewing some of the characters – a method employed in later books by using Troy instead of Nigel. Surbonardier is in love with Stephanie, who in turn is in love with Felix. Throw in Surbonardier’s uncle Jacob Saint, the theatre owner who has an apparent side line in strong narcotics, as well as some of the back stage staff and there’s no end of potential culprits.
Still unmarried at this point, Alleyn does have his head turned by Stephanie Vaughan, a rather good actress, even though he knows he’s being played. Bathgate is kept on side by getting access to the exclusive part of the story, but only be allowing Alleyn to have first sight of his copy. There are a couple of red herrings – Saint for instance gets arrested – and for a while it looks like he’s going to be blamed for the murder, but in reality the police have enough evidence to pick him up for the supply of illicit drugs (including heroin).
It is clear that each of the major characters all have reasons to kill Surbonardier, and what frustrates Alleyn and his team is that he has too many motives, rather than not enough.
All the main players are followed, and when one of the policemen gets given the slip, he unfortunately makes what turns out to be a fatal mistake, but which gives Alleyn the chance to catch the killer during the standard denouement at the end where Alleyn brings everyone together in the theatre to recreate the scene in the play where Surbonardier is killed.
So overall, it’s early days still, and I dont think that this is the best in the series as the characters are still being developed. I must admit that it took me a while to finish the last 50 pages or so (bad, considering that the books is under 200 pages), so I seemed to have lost some impetus somewhere.