Death To Slow Music (1956) by Beverley Nichols

The pier is the pride of Seabourne, a resort on the south coast of England, with various attractions for tourists decorating it. The current attraction of interest is the Ghost Train, primarily as it has a real dead body riding in one of the cars. A woman has been shot in the left ear and nobody saw a thing…

Investigations centre around the theatre, where Nigel Fleet, a composer of operettas, is working on his latest show. On the face of it, the victim seems to have little connection to the show, but she told her husband that she was going to meet Fleet’s musical director, which seems to be news to him. It falls to the humble Mr Green to pull together the threads and identify a cunning murderer.

Well, if I had any sense of timing, I’d be reviewing Nichols’s second mystery novel The Moonflower aka The Moonflower Murder, given my previous review, but as I clearly haven’t, I’m reviewing his third case (out of five) for Mr Horatio Green. And I’m also writing this about a week after finishing the book, another display of my wonderful timing, not because I’m swamped dealing with the mess created by Gavin Williamson, or whichever puppet-master currently has his hand up his backside, but because it’s hard to find a lot to say about it. That’s never stopped me before though, so let’s go.

It’s a perfectly fine mystery, although some of the clueing, particular for the motive, seemed to come out of nowhere at the end. Or I missed it when reading – that’s entirely possible of course. But there’s also a weird thing about a character being dared to dive off the pier, a habit that ties into the second murder, a murder with a very clever trick to it, but you have to accept the notion that someone would choose to risk their lives in such a way that seems to run contrary to the character’s other actions.

I did enjoy Mr Green, a delightfully self-effacing reluctant sleuth, especially with his efforts to feed Crooky, a seagull who is being picked on by the rest of the flock. He makes some interesting choices towards the end of the book, and I’d certainly read more of Nichols just for him. But there is a sense that the author is more in love with his setting and characters than his plot, which, despite some clever stuff, especially the aforementioned second murder, is unevenly paced.

So, overall, it’s OK, and a good example of the theatre mystery, with some clever ideas. Just needed a bit of tightening up.

5 comments

  1. I’ve been re-reading this, and didn’t remember much about it except the identity of the murderer, and one or two incidents (that scene in the penny arcade is quite sinister) but I think you’re right about the author being keener on the milieu than the rigours of plotting. He makes some interesting points about his reactions to detailed descriptions when reading mysteries – I think it was in Merry Hall.

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  2. I love Beverley Nichols, I remember reading my great aunt’s copies of his Horatio Green mystery series. I wish I still had them.
    It is about time someone re-issued these (hint, hint Dean Street Press or Lume) the second hand ones I can find go for an arm and a leg.

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  3. I’m so sorry to hear of the difficulties you’re having with Williamson. Many teachers in the US are following the story with great sympathy for both students and teachers (and the nation). I correspond with some writers who host mystery blogs, some of whom teach. The past few years have been a mess. Thanks for all your work here. I’ve learned a lot about the golden era of detection writers and many new authors to investigate. Take care, this will soon be over.

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