Murder at the Theatre Royale was just as much fun as I’d hoped after reading Murder Most Festive. It’s not related to the first book at all, except in that it’s set at Christmas, and the narrative positively flies by — even more so than Murder Most Festive, I’d say. I’m a little disappointed there’s nothing else by Ada Moncrieff for me to inhale, because I had a lot of fun.
The main character of this one is more appealing than Murder Most Festive, through her determined industry at an actual paying job (rather than living off an estate) and her enthusiasm for her work. Daphne King is an agony aunt for a newspaper, but she wants to branch out and do more, her appetite whetted by a little mystery she solved involving a kidnapped person writing in to her column in code. Given the opportunity to do a little work for the culture section, she jumps at it, and finds herself embroiled in the mystery of the murder of an aging actor.
Veronica, who over time becomes Daphne’s Watson, is pretty cool too — not as sharp as Daphne, but a working woman trying hard to make her way, and a good companion for a little mystery-solving adventure…
I didn’t, in this case, figure out the culprit or the true motive for a while; I had my eye on a different character, because they seemed so unlikely at first (and the unlikely answer is often true). I should’ve thought more about the information I was being given about another character!
I found Murder Most Festive a really enjoyable quick read — maybe not something I’d come back to, but definitely a fun way to while away the last day of the year. In the best Christmas mystery tradition, most of the characters aren’t great people, the victim included, and the flawed nature of family is well on display… but there are a few highlights, like Lady Westbury (far from perfect, but kind, and brave at a particular crucial moment) and Hugh Gaveston. Lydia, too, has an interesting development, finally realising that she’s been shutting her eyes to something she should act upon, and goes ahead.
I don’t agree with people who criticise mysteries for the killer being obvious early on; I chose a character to suspect early on, and I was quite right too — in part just because I’ve read a lot of mysteries, and seen a lot of the tricks in the book, and I keep my eyes open and remember that everything is potentially significant and it’s often the most unexpected character, the one with no apparent motive, who has done the deed.
But a mystery isn’t all about the whodunnit, anyway: it’s also about the howdunnit and the whydunnit, and sometimes the when and even wheredunnit. (Dorothy L. Sayers’ Whose Body?, for example, is all of those things!) And even after all that, sometimes it’s just the howdiscoverit and howtoproveit — and even after that, there’s just the characters and how they behave to each other, how they react to being under suspicion, etc.
All this to say: I don’t think Murder Most Festive is the best mystery novel I’ve ever read, or a favourite that’s likely to stick with me, and it didn’t have me in great suspense… but it was entertaining, and sometimes that’s all we need to ask of a book.