Theatre producer Charlie Maitland is dead, poisoned with tartar emetic, or antimony. The poison is invisible when dissolved in water but did Charlie commit suicide or was he murdered? He suffered in hospital for several days after the poisoning & refused to accuse anyone or admit he took the poison himself & the police investigation has stalled. Charlie’s marriage to actress Georgia Foxley is volatile & their frequent arguments about her drinking & extravagant habits have dominated their marriage. Georgia’s personal assistant, Jane Edouard, may have had a motive for killing Charlie as he resented her closeness to Georgia. Charlie’s new production, a musical version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, is in financial trouble before it even gets off the ground & his strict stepfather is determined that Charlie will stand on his own feet. The Maitlands’ maid, Zofia, also knows something & is driven to attempt suicide from guilt & remorse. The initial investigation got nowhere & now, DI Jack Ravenshaw has been seconded from Bristol because of his special knowledge of the London theatre scene.
Jack is one of the Ravenshaw theatrical dynasty, as famous as the Redgraves or the Oliviers. He hasn’t acted since a horrific bout of stage fright during a performance of Hamlet just after his father’s murder. He’s estranged from his mother, Vivien Ashton, who is still involved with the family theatre, The Curtain, although it’s now owned by another company. Vivien was horrified when Jack joined the police & they’ve barely communicated since. Now, however, Jack is forced to use all his theatrical connections to get to the bottom of Charlie Maitland’s mysterious death. Jack’s investigation is also being obstructed by elements inside the police force. The senior officer on the original investigation, DCI Wade, is openly hostile & seems to be willing Jack to fail. DS Emily Hart is assigned to help Jack with the investigation but she has secrets of her own. Where do her loyalties really lie? Jack’s investigations open up several new leads but not everyone is happy with his progress & there will be more deaths before he can discover the truth.
I enjoyed this book very much. The West End setting was very effective, which probably isn’t surprising as M G Scarsbrook is a screenwriter as well as a novelist. Jack is a sympathetic character. His life is shambolic & he seems to have no personal life at all. He joined the police force after leaving the stage as a way of gaining the skills to solve his father’s murder which has haunted him. He seems to be procrastinating in every area of his life & being forced to return to London & the West End tests him in many ways. Emily Hart is also an intriguing character, not entirely sympathetic as her loyalties are confused but definitely a woman with ambition & good at her job. The supporting characters are well-drawn, especially Zofia & Darlington Bell, a family friend of the Ravenshaws & an influential critic. The only aspect of the novel that seemed unnecessarily far-fetched were the absinthe-induced hallucinations that Jack experiences. However, that’s a minor quibble about a novel with an intriguing, multi-layered plot & a pair of detectives who will hopefully appear in another novel.
M G Scarsbrook kindly sent me a copy of Dream of the Dead for review.