If you were looking for culprits to blame for the violent death of Anton, the tiger tamer in Joseph Carey's World Famous Circus and Menagerie, there were seven easy and obvious ones: the seven ferocious tigers who shared the spotlight with Anton in their star circus act. Had the tigers finally lost control of their tempers (or, perhaps, had Anton simply lost control of the tigers)? Most of the circus performers and staff, along with most of the public, quite clearly believed in that scenario. Detective-Inspector Minto wasn't so sure; there were too many factors that simply wouldn't fit into such a neat, pat solution. To Minto, it seemed to add up to murder. And there were certainly enough human suspects with potential motives such as blackmail, money and jealousy. You'll find details in Alan Melville's 1936 Golden Age mystery, Death of Anton. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
The British Library continues to discover and bring back before the public's eye any number of fine mysteries from Britain's Golden Age of Detection between the two world wars of the 20th century as part of its British Library Crime Classics Series. In the U.S., that series is being published by Poisoned Pen Press, who provided me with a copy of Death of Anton for this review.
“There’s more crime going on in Carey’s Circus than in the whole underworld of London, and I happen to know the underworld of London pretty well. I lived in it for three years, and a tamer and more respectable lot of people you couldn’t find.”
That assessment comes from Dodo the Clown, another of the star acts in Carey's Circus whom we will meet in Death of Anton. Certainly, a great many peculiar things do seem to be going on - there's that affair that one of the trapeze artists is said to be having with Anton, for example, and some intimations of blackmail, not to mention some rather odd things that seem to be happening under cover of darkness at Joseph Carey's motor home late at night, after the shows are over. There is certainly a great deal of tension among these circus stars, and it all culminates in the discovery of Anton lying dead in the cage, amid his ferocious and roaring cats. Those tigers are blamed by most people – including virtually everyone in the circus – for killing Anton. Detective Inspector Minto says no – and soon finds evidence of murder.
That murder is at the center of Death of Anton, but it’s by no means the only crime. Nor is it the only feature that makes the book worthwhile. Author Alan Melville’s real strength is in taking what is a pretty grim story line and lightening it with enough wit and humor to make parts of the book laugh-out-loud funny. It’s not an easy trick to balance laughter with horror, but I think Melville achieved his goal. It’s also worth saying that there are a couple of sudden twists in the story that I, for one, never saw coming – and I like that sort of thing very much. I think you will too. This new British Library edition comes with a fresh new introduction by mystery historian Martin Edwards.