Theater people may be superstitious, but even they don't expect to find the director hanging from the rafters on opening night—in the middle of the play.
London book editor Samantha "Sam" Clair is trying to be a supportive friend when she takes her boyfriend, Scotland Yard detective Jake Field, to see a play called The Spanish Tragedy, even though Jake isn't thrilled about an evening's entertainment so full of murder. Her upstairs neighbor Kay is "only playing the lead actress's maid, but, as she said cheerfully, she got to die in a pool of blood onstage." Kay's 6-year-old son, Bim, also has a small part, and Sam certainly doesn't want to miss that. The climax of the play is supposed to be a body hanging from the rafters, so at first the audience doesn't realize the body is real—it's Campbell Davison, the director, and not just a dummy made up to look like him. Jake quickly gets involved in the police investigation, which means, of course, that Sam is pulled between trying to get information out of him and downplaying her own interest so he won't clam up. Soon she and her mother, Helena, an indefatigable solicitor, are searching through archives and waylaying lawyers to find out more about various persons of interest while Sam manages to hold down her job and even convince her firm's recalcitrant sales director to feature one of her authors—that most overlooked of creatures, a middle-aged woman—at their upcoming sales conference. In previous installments, Flanders (A Cast of Vultures, 2017, etc.) used Sam's job as a point of entry to the fashion industry and the art scene, and this peek behind the scenes of the theater world is equally entertaining. There are several people with plausible motives—the costume designer who seems to be using stolen designs, the investor who keeps turning up in unexpected places—but, as usual, the main attraction is Sam's wry, skeptical voice, which manages to inject humor into something as prosaic as trying to interpret a nine-word text from Helena: "Meeting Nigel for breakfast. 7, at St. Paul's café." What's funny about that? Read it and see.
Anyone interested in mysteries and books and humor—and who isn't?—will enjoy Flanders' latest delightful novel.