Bathurst 45 – The Doll’s Done Dancing (1954) by Brian Flynn

“It was the bloke they thought it was,” retorted Naylor, “by name of Sir Adolphus Dance.”
“Doll who?” queried the young constable.
“What I said was Sir Adolphus Dance.” Then a sadistic smile spread over his face. “But whatever perishin’ doll it is – it’s done dancing. That’s a certainty.”

The previous evening, Sir Adolphus Dance, a theatre critic who could make or break a show with a single review, was dining with friends and fellow theatricals, including the leads of the play that he had just seen. The following evening, however, he fails to show at the theatre for the next target of his reviews.

Instead, he is lying dead in a salubrious part of London with his head bashed in. Is his death due to a jealous lover or a slighted husband? Who was the mysterious Salvation Army man who approached him in a pub? And, more importantly, how did Dance manage to review the play that he missed – given that he died over an hour before it started?

Ah, that was what I needed. A trip to Oxford to see old friends kicked off with a couple of hours to kill in the Bodleian, so, as it’s been a pretty rubbish sort of week, I would treat myself to the penultimate Brian Flynn title. Not chronologically, that’s The Nine Cuts. No, as of this morning, I’d only got two Brian Flynn books left to read for the first time – well, now I’ve only got one, as you have almost certainly deduced.

As you may have noticed, if you have read all thirty of the Brian Flynn releases to date, he begins to dabble in books that are closer to thrillers than mysteries, notably with The Grim Maiden, book 30. He never really persists with this, but there are occasional returns to this structure and generally, these are less successful that his mystery novels. I’m always wary when I approach one of the unread titles that it will end up being one of these types of story, but that certainly isn’t the case here. It’s an out and out classic-style mystery – a dinner party containing eleven suspects and one victim couldn’t be more Golden Age if it tried.

Anthony Bathurst is brought in after a couple of weeks investigating to help the police investigation – note that this makes a change from a case being vaguely complicated and him being dragged in at the offset – and it’s interesting to see that at this point in the series, Chief Detective-Inspector MacMorran is portrayed as almost an equal to Bathurst, rather than assuming the stereotypical Japp role. The friendship between the two is clearer here too, as Bathurst spends far less time winding MacMorran up as he does in other books.

Following that, the story skips along nicely without dragging. Plot points, such as the source of the love-letter found in Dance’s back pocket, keep the story from being just a set of interviews, and there’s a nice idea here involving the reason why a letter would be sent with five halfpenny stamps rather than a single two-and-a-halfpenny one. There’s a very simple idea being hidden from the reader with this one, unlike the plot of say, Conspiracy At Angel, which requires a flip-chart to explain properly and yet it is hidden well.

All in all, this is a very strong late entry in the Anthony Bathurst series. You might have a while to wait before you can read it – although it looks like there may well be some other titles to keep you busy later in the year – but it should be worth the wait.

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