Now for something completely different. Caryl Brahms & SJ Simon’s A Bullet in the Ballet combines a 1930’s British mystery with the wonderful world of ballet, and the result is hilarious. A Bullet in the Ballet was first published in 1937, but its artistic lunacy is timeless. In this giddy mystery, artistic temperament runs amok. A struggling, second-rate Russian ballet company is performing ballet Petroushka in London when one of its stars is murdered. It comes as no particular surprise that the victim wasn’t very nice, had lots of enemies and isn’t much missed. Indeed, the ballet company remains pretty much unfazed by the murder, except to fret about how it will affect scheduling and, more importantly, offer the chance for a lesser dancer to snag a starring role. “The show must go” definitely trumps solving the murder for this company.
Enter Adam Quill, a not particularly successful detective, who wants to redeem himself and get this case right. Poor Quill struggles to get the impresario Vladimir Stroganoff and the rest of Strigranoff’scompany to focus on the murder and answer a few questions. Instead they keep offering him tea and diversions. While Quill never entirely abdicates his professional responsibilities, he is charmed and inevitably swept up in the zany world of Stroganoff and his assorted dancers, both aspiring and aging out. Ultimately solving the mystery plays a distant second fiddle to the wonderfully crazy atmosphere of artistic desperation and opportunism.
I generally avoid books with two authors, but am happy I broke my rule here. Caryl Brahms was a dance critic, and SJ Simon was an expert bridge player and writer, of all things. They lived in the same lodgings and wrote a bunch of books together. They are a fantastic writing duo.
A Bullet in the Ballet evokes the madcap qualities of 1930’s movies such as “Bringing Up Baby.” Let me just say that Cary Grant would have been an outstanding Detective Quill. If you are in the mood for a funny murder mystery or happen to love ballet, this is a wonderful read.
It is worth mentioning that I only heard of this book because I read The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday book reviews, which are a wonderful source of interesting books from the past. I don’t know if A Bullet in the Ballet is still in print, but it was very easy to find a used copy on line.