The murder mystery is the thread that runs through the book but it is very much the sub-plot. This book is all about the characters and the disarray of their lives. Quinn shines a spotlight on these people living in an era – the 1930s- when everything was falling apart and nobody quite knew how to recover themselves.
There are five main characters and all of them are beautifully written individuals. even if you don’t like them you can’t deny they are real, plausible people whom you end up caring a great deal about.
The biggest character of the lot is James Erskine, a theatre critic, who feels his star is waning and his editor is trying to get rid of him. This doesn’t stop him from risking everything by indulging in sordid episodes with younger men in an age when homosexuality was a criminal offence. His witty but unforgiving judgements rub some people up the wrong way, but everyone indulges him as he’s ‘just Jimmy’. He is carried through life by his secretary cum dogsbody, Tom. Tom has had enough of his employer and tries to leave him but just cannot seem to cut the cord.
Nina Land, an up and coming actress working in theatreland in the West End, is having an affair with Stephen Wyley a society portraitist, who is stuck in a marriage he doesn’t want.
Finally there is Madeleine Farewell who gets trapped and ends up working as an escort with no way out. She is the character that connects everyone and brings all the threads together.
The book is set in 1936 with real life events playing out in the background; the rise of fascism, the devastating fire at the Crystal Palace, the abdication crisis. All these events add an extra authenticity to the book , but it is the writing of Anthony Quinn that truly brings the era to life. Writing in the style of the 1930s – and not just in the dialogue, he places you right there in amongst the characters and their lives. It is wonderfully evocative.