When I came across Poppy Loves Book Club on Twitter, I just couldn’t resist joining in. Set up and run by London lifestyle blogger, Poppy, every month a new book is selected for women across the world to come together to discuss online and in person.
July’s pick was Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn, a dazzling murder mystery set in 1930’s London. I don’t read many crime thrillers, apart from ones which attract a lot of attention like Girl on a Train, but even then more out of curiosity than anything else. That’s the good thing about taking part in a book club; it encourages you to read genres out of your comfort zone and books you wouldn’t ordinarily look twice at.
Curtain Call especially appealed to me as it reads more like historical fiction with a murder mystery interspersed than a crime novel. Written in the third person narrative, Curtain Call follows a rich array of characters whose lives are cleverly interlinked and underpinned by a series of brutal murders by the so-called ‘Tie-Pin Killer’ who targets young working girls.
After a slightly slow start, we’re propelled into the action when West End actress Nina Land meets her lover, married society portrait artist Stephen Wyley at The Imperial. Walking down one of the hotel corridors, Nina hears a struggle in one of the rooms and opens the door to interrupt an attempted strangulation of escort Madeleine Farewell who flees past, allowing her to catch a glimpse of the ‘Tie-Pin Killer’.
Quinn next introduces us to James Erskine, an experienced theatre critic and indecently an admirer of both Stephen and Nina’s work. He’s constantly putting his job at The Chronicle and his reputation at risk by meeting young men after hours in unsafe places at a time when being gay was against the law. His loyal private secretary, Tom, not only edits his articles but manages his life, and falls for Madeleine after meeting her by accident, tying the five characters together.
We gradually get to know the cast of characters during a stream of glamorous society events and learn to like almost all of them despite their flaws. Whether it’s an affair, sexuality or an illness, they each have something to hide, making them even more authentic and believable as individuals. Their back stories are very well-developed and supported by a host of intriguing secondary characters so that you feel, not only like a fly on the wall, but a part of their lives.
Quinn’s prose is a joy to read and he achieves the perfect balance between action and atmospheric description, whilst keeping us guessing the identity of the serial killer until the very end. The ending felt a little rushed and melodramatic but it’s a minor compromise for being transported to 1930’s London. His detailed portrayal of life in Soho, from fashion to art and theatre, brings the decadence of 1936 to life, set against the royal crisis of King Edward’s abdication for love, the rise of fascism and looming threat of war.
A compelling story with both humorous and moving moments, Curtain Call is pure escapism. The book is in no way a pastiche but if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, you’ll enjoy Curtain Call.
If you want to join in with the next Poppy Loves Book Club you can find out more here.