Friday, 7 August 2015

Forgotten Book - Quick Curtain

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.


4 comments:

John said...

For some reason these two Melville books are not for sale in the US. Poisoned Pen Press doesn't list them in their catalog and they're the US distributor for the British Library Crime Classics. I've been waiting for them to appear but I can find them nowhere except at UK based websites. There are few US dealers selling copies at third party bookselling sites like abebooks.com, but all are at inflated prices. Since you have a relationship with the British Library I'm wondering if you know why they restricted these two titles?

Kacper said...

Oh, this sounds great!

Re: Joyce Porter - I agree both that her output is mixed and that she was very funny at her best. I loved her books when I was younger but these days I find the humor to be so very undercut with malice that it wears a bit thin - much of Porter's humor seems centered around making every character as odious as possible. Yet she has written some very good novels and her not-very-good novels have some very good moments in them. She was an idiosyncratic writer in many ways (her denouements tend to be very dark and sometimes rather melodramatic, jarring terribly with the tone of the rest of each novel) but I'm glad Bello reissued her books.

Re: humor in British crime fiction in general - Martin, have you read any Pamela Branch? I read The Wooden Overcoat a year or two ago and I found it utterly delightful.

Jamie Sturgeon said...

He is very dismissive of the books in his autobiography MERELY MELVILLE. My favourite crime novel of his is WARNING TO CRITICS which was originally going to be called THE CRITIC ON THE HEARTH (brilliant title!)

Anonymous said...

@John: You could just order it here:
http://www.bookdepository.com/Quick-Curtain-Alan-Melville/9780712357890

@Martin and Kacper: Which Joyce Porter novels would you recommend to someone who has never read anything by her?

Thanks --
Susan