Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn, abridged by Lizzie Davies

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Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn, abridged by Lizzie Davies.  Dir. Jill Waters.  Perf. Nancy Carroll.  BBC Radio 4, 12-23 January 2015.  BBCiPlayer to 23 Feb 2015


Published in early 2015, Curtain Call is a murder mystery involving a mysterious killer who preys on young women with a tie-pin.  The story goes through several twists and turns and ends in a dénouement that is satisfyingly unpredictable.

Written by the current movie critic of the London Independent, the novel is set in 1936, a turbulent year in British history that witnessed the destruction of Crystal Palace and the abdication of King Edward VIII.  Set in the stylish ambience of London’s West End, where theater-going is not just a way of life but an opportunity for the so-called “beautiful people” to see and be seen while they watch the play, Quinn exposes the seamy underbelly of a society where women are perceived as little more than commodities – either actors, prostitutes or homemakers submitting themselves to the patriarchal will.  Although it was to be three years before war broke out, London society at that time was affected by the gradual rise of Fascism: often cleverly concealed underneath an urbane exterior, it was enthusiastically embraced by some sections of the upper class.  Some of Quinn’s characters, although well-meaning, become unwittingly involved in the movement, much to their chagrin.

The novel also probes the relationship between image and truth, especially in terms of identity.  London society is very surface-conscious; this often provides the pretext for exploiters – the so-called “bourgeoisie” who exist solely for themselves and their own interests.

Sometimes historians look back on the pre-1939 era as one of stability and calm, the port before the storm wrought by the Second World War.  In Nancy Carroll’s intelligent reading, Curtain Call deliberately refuted that image.