Quick Curtain by Alan Melville very definitely counted as a Forgotten Book, at least until a few weeks ago, when it reappeared in the British Library's Crime Classics series. Originally published in 1934 by Skeffington, it was one of a handful of books that Melville dashed off as a young man in the Thirties, before making his name as a wit and broadcaster.
Melville was a humorous writer, and the simple fact is that humour is a very personal thing. What one reader finds hilarious may leave another reader cold. There haven't been many major British writers of "comic crime" over the years whose books have stood the test of time. Colin Watson is an exception that proves the rule; Joyce Porter was rather more variable, although at her best she is very funny. So I must admit that, when I first sat down to read Quick Curtain, my expectations were not especially high.
This was also partly because I was aware that Dorothy L. Sayers, who herself had a robust sense of humour, had reviewed the book rather negatively in the Sunday Times. But much as I admire Sayers' reviews - has there ever been a more outstanding female critic of crime fiction? - this is one occasion when I didn't agree with her. Quick Curtain really did amuse me.
It's a skit on the theatre world, a world that Melville knew well. The story, and the detective work, are not to be taken too seriously, but this is a mystery that begins with a death on stage, and entertained me right to the end. And I'm delighted to report that there seem to be plenty of readers out there who enjoy the book as well. I'm told by the British Library that, on the basis of sales to date, it's shaping up to be one of the most popular entries in their remarkably successful series of Crime Classics.