“If it’s crime you’re after, Carey’s is the place for it,” a clown with Carey’s World-Famous Circus and Menagerie assures a visiting police inspector in this bright 1936 reprint from Melville (1910-83), whose career in entertainment would be nearly as varied as Carey’s and much longer-lasting.
Those circus types really know how to throw a party. And the supper party thrown by Dodo the clown, ne Ernest Mayhew, which everyone in Carey’s attends in costume, has quite a kicker: the departing performers find the body of Anton, ne Ludwig Kranz, dead in the tiger cage, presumably mauled by his seven co-stars. DI Minto, in town for the wedding of his sister, Claire, to vacuum canvasser Ronald Briggs, finds himself unwillingly stepping into the big top to investigate what he’s convinced is a homicide. He focuses on four suspects who stepped out of the party at some point: Leon Miller, Anton’s rival and successor; trapeze artist Lorimer Gregson, who thought Loretta, his wife and partner, might be spending too much time around the tiger cage; circus owner Joseph Carey, another of Loretta's rumored lovers; and Dodo himself. The case is simplified when the number of suspects is dramatically reduced but complicated by the fact that the culprit has confessed to the inspector’s brother, Father Robert Minto, who alternates between doling out information about what happened in the confessional and clamming up, leaving DI Minto thoroughly exasperated that “no fewer than eight living beings—seven tigers and a Roman Catholic priest—knew the name of the murderer.”
Melville’s witty descriptions and dialogue, very much in the drawing-room manner of Noel Coward, are such a potent hook that most readers will forgive the undisciplined plotting that requires the police to execute no fewer than eight arrest warrants.