London, 1936. Nina Land is a West End actress, and she is spending her afternoon in a hotel room with a married man. When she spots the face of the man the newspapers have named The Tie-Pin Killer, she faces a huge dilemma – will she report the man to the police, and risk her career and the reputation of her lover? Or will she stay quiet, and risk the lives of innocent girls?
Nina is just one of many characters in this intricate novel, but provides part of the leading quintet, starring alongside the aforementioned married man, Stephen Wyley, a man stuck in a joyless marriage but scared of hurting his wife. They cross paths with Jimmy Erskine, a slightly grotesque theatre critic who struggles to keep his illegal private life separate from his very public work one, and whose assistant, Tom Tunner, struggles to cover up for his boss’s indiscretions whilst struggling to break away from Erskine’s demands – a struggle that is amplified by the arrival of Madeleine Farewell, a young woman working as an escort.
These are just a few of a large cast of characters, and whilst the focus remains firmly on those above, author Anthony Quinn is capable of imbuing even the least of characters with personality and period detail. The characters themselves would make this novel a fantastic read, but the mystery of the Tie-Pin killer really drives the plot, adding fear and an element of surprise, and driving the story to a climax that proves both thrilling and unsettling.
Quinn, a film critic for The Independent is on his fourth novel now, and this shows – this is a hugely well accomplished tale that features characters so well drawn that they never feel like literary devices, and advances in the plot that always feel pleasantly organic, yet still shock and surprise – both these, and a few of the more explicit details concerning Erskine’s private life, had me genuinely gasping at points! The grasp of period detail is also very well done indeed – Quinn manages to write a London that is rife with social unrest, political disquiet, homophobia, and bigotry. The sense of dread that the Tie-Pin killer causes is amplified by the sense of dread that seems to be afoot in the city as a whole – with the royal abdication, the Crystal Palace fire and the rise of Nazism in Germany and the Blackshirts over here – this is a London that feels haunted by a knowledge of its own future.
A wonderful read, Curtain Call will keep you up well past bedtime, and transport you to a murky, dangerous world of theatre, glamour, romance, and death… Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
This review was originally posted on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Curtain_Call_by_Anthony_Quinn