The theatre – a place of wonder and magic and even a murder mystery. But this is a book review website, so why am I talking about the theatre?
It has been a while since I have been to the theatre, but when I have gone, I have enjoyed going. The first play I ever saw in the theatre was a school trip to London’s West End to see Agatha Christie’s whodunnit The Mousetrap (now in its 70th year as a touring show), and absolutely loved it. Now I have just finished the debut novel by Jamie West, Death on the Pier, which is very reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel, it is a murder mystery set within Brighton’s The Palace Pier Theatre (this was a real theatre but sadly no longer exists).
Death of the Pier, written by Jamie West, is the first in a brand-new series of cosy murder mystery novels, set in the 1930s – the Bertie Carroll series. Bertie Carroll is a very successful murder mystery playwright who turns detective, assisting his long-time friend Chief Detective Inspector Hugh Chapman trying to solve the murder of an actress shot and killed on stage during an opening night performance, in full view of the audience.
Opening night can be murder…
Bertie Carroll has travelled to Brighton to see one of his older plays, Murder by Association, being performed in an old wooden theatre located on the pier, The Palace Pier Theatre. He is also there to meet his old school friend Chief Detective Inspector Hugh Chapman. On opening night, Bertie and Hugh are in the small audience and are enjoying the play. The lead character, the horrid former Hollywood star Celia Hamilton, is supposed to be shot and die at the end of the first act. All looks to go to plan, except it comes to transpire that Celia really has been shot and killed live on stage in front of everybody. With another actress holding the smoking gun, it should be a very easy case to investigate. With all the characters on stage at the same time and only one gun, surely the culprit is there for everybody to see? But is it that simple? Is it that open and shut? Hugh goes into police mode and decides to investigate and persuades Bertie to help him solve the case as Bertie knows the theatre and how it works.
Is there another culprit responsible for the murder? Is it a tragic accident? Bertie and Hugh are on the case to get to the bottom of it.
Overall, Death on the Pier is a very good, easy to read, cosy murder mystery. Set in the 1930s the investigation doesn’t reply on DNA or high-tech forensics, just good old-fashioned police work making it a refreshing read.
With plenty of rivalries, blackmail and secrets being uncovered through the course of the investigation and interviews it soon becomes apparent that ANYBODY could be the murderer, not just the actress who fired the gun. It is clearly written and constructed in a way to make a good gripping story that isn’t too simple to solve.
The story has an interesting plot, and it flows extremely well (the author has worked backstage on countless shows in London’s West End so knows how the theatre works, being able to add an air of authenticity to the story). The characters are excellent, all having a good depth and hidden secrets behind them, and the “lost” Palace Pier Theatre seems to have been researched very well to bring it to life within the pages of the book.
For me, it read like a good old-fashioned detective story. It wasn’t packed with thrills and action and started at a slow pace, building up speed once the scene was set, and allowed you to try and deduce who the killer was by slowly revealing clues along the way. A really interesting and enjoyable read. Because of the way it was written, I actually finished the book quicker than expected as I was enjoying more than I thought.
It does contain some themes relating to LGBTQ+ issues of the 1930s, which are outdated today, but are relevant to the attitudes of the time period the novel is set in and have been written very well and sensitively to the story.
An excellent debut novel, a simple to read good-fashioned detective novel that fans of Agatha Christie will enjoy, and I’m looking forward to a very interesting series to follow.
RRP: £7.99 (Paperback) / £0.99 (Kindle)