Come To Paddington Fair (2015) by Derek Smith

Richard Mervan fell in love with the wrong woman and ended up serving long jail sentence. Throughout his sentence, he never forgave her and swore revenge. When he learns that she is playing the lead at the Janus Theatre, he heads to a atinee* performance with his gun. At the moment that his betrayer is shot during the play, he draws his gun and shoots her dead. An open and shut case.

Except that it was not Mervan’s gun that killed her – his bullet is found lodged in a stuffed bear on the stage. Someone loaded the on-stage gun with real bullets. The same person, possibly, who invited amateur sleuth Algy Lawrence and Chief Inspector Steve Castle to the same atinee* performance with an ominous message – COME TO PADDINGTON FAIR. Paddington Fair was a place of execution – and the victim received the same message…

If you’re not aware of the story of Derek Howe Smith (the Howe name appears as the author of, confusingly, the Derek Smith Omnibus, on the individual release of this one, but not on the individual release of his first novel), he released Whistle Up The Devil in the fifties, and it was only in the nineties when fans of his, notably Hidetoshi Mori, met him and discovered the existence of an unpublished Algy Lawrence book. A small, private, publication occurred and then, more recently, Locked Room International, published it for the masses.

It’s a really good thing they did, as it’s one of the better theatrical mysteries that I’ve read, with some nice misdirection. The introductory section is nothing short of brilliant in setting the scene, with everything leading up to the shooting keeping the reader on the edge of their seats.

It gets a little bogged down in the central section, but not fatally so. What begins to emerge as possibilities as to how the blanks in the stage gun were substituted for real bullets are eliminated, that this becomes an impossible crime of sorts. As the book progresses, and the focus becomes a little tighter, the strengths of the opening section return and it ends on a dazzling high.

It’s been a long time since I read Whistle Up The Devil, but I don’t recall it having as strong characters or emotions as this book. The final chapters of this book really hit you, both with the cleverness (and relative straightforwardness) of the villain’s scheme along with the actions and choices made by some of the characters. Oh, and there are some great “should have thought about that” clues…

All in all, an excellent mystery that really should have found a publisher back in the day.

* OK, this is a massive moan now. I bought the ebook version of the Derek Smith Omnibus and while it’s was a tad cheaper than the print version, I do expect any ebook that I buy to have had some effort put into creating it. Apart from the utter lack of any index – the only way to find the start of this title is to search the text of the book for “Come To Paddington Fair” – it also seems to have not been proof-read. The prime example of this is the word “atinee” which is obviously supposed to be “matinee”. For some reason, whenever the text was scanned, the word matinee came up with an unrecognisable character, and just skipped it – in the print version, I’m informed that it’s a black square or diamond. How this happened, when all the other letter “m”s seem to be OK, I’ve no idea, but the word appears quite a lot – fifteen times in fact – so it would have been spotted. So to all publishers out there, please put some effort into the ebook as well as the printed book. If this had been a lesser novel, this might have made me ask for a refund.

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