The Phantom of the Dagonet
That’s somewhat surprising, because Puzzle for Players is a very well-done theatre mystery. I just love these: death is hiding in the shadows in the wings, waiting to strike again, while the actors are on stage rehearsing… This particular theatre is the Dagonet, which comes complete with an age-old jinx (shows that play there constantly fail) and a ghost named Lillian, who has a nasty habit of turning up in mirrors. The theatrical atmosphere is nicely done— Quentin captures the general bedlam of backstage before the performance. The petty, pointless rivalries, the progression of the show as the performance is being moulded… It’s really nicely done.
This book brings back Peter Duluth and Iris Pattison, and by the end of the novel they become Peter and Iris Duluth. Peter is an ex-alcoholic who’s been on one murder case before, in A Puzzle for Fools (which was set in the sanatorium of Dr. Lenz). Quentin brings Lenz back for an encore performance as The Great Detective, and I didn’t like him as much. He directly causes someone’s death, but it’s all in the name of Science. And in the final pages, through divine intervention, Lenz suddenly realizes whodunit and why… although I still don’t see how he could’ve possibly seen the truth. And then there’s some strands of plot that are nothing but pointless smoke in your face— and a few of these strands are never explained.
The characters are a delightfully quirky bunch, whether it’s Peter Duluth, the reformed alcoholic (or quitter, as I like to think of it) or Mirabelle the leading lady, who has an unreasonable hatred for her co-star. The Dagonet Theatre is big and imposing and it effectively creates some marvellous atmosphere, just like the sanatorium in A Puzzle for Fools.
Overall, in fact, the book was excellent: my grumbling mainly comes from my dissatisfaction with the ending. But let’s be honest—I’m not such a puzzle-plot stickler that I won’t enjoy a good story with a weak conclusion. Do I recommend this book? Yes, I do. It’s a very fun read and very well-written, and it does its theatrical atmosphere nicely.