Monday, March 9, 2015

Death Comes to the Ballets Russes by David Dickinson

First Sentence:  New Year is the season of hope or despair.
London is excited to welcome the Ballets Russes from Russia.  It doesn’t except the murder scene of the lead’s understudy, in one of the ballets, to have been real.  Which man was the intended victim?  Lord Powerscourt is called in to find out.  But members of the ballet are not the only Russians in London. Two you men from very wealthy Russian families stole their mother’s valuable jewels in a fit of pique. They sent them to London with a member of the ballet company to be sold. Also, followers of the revolutionist Lenin are there to change millions of rubles, stolen from a bank in Russia, into pounds.  Can Powerscourt, with the help of his wife Lucy and friend Johnny Fitzgerald, put all the pieces together?
There is much to like in this book, starting with the very chapter headings.  Good chapter headings are always a treat, and Dickinson wisely chose to use ballet terms and their definitions for this book.  What he also illuminates is the world of wealth, connections and protocol Lord Powerscourt inhabits, and the hierarchy of investigating the dead: if one was English, they rate an inspector; if European, a sergeant; Africans only rate a detective constable. 
Dickinson smoothly integrates real historical figures with fictional characters, as well as incorporating historical information into the plot.  One often hears about the Bolsheviks, and their involvement with Lenin and Stalin, but it is nice to learn about them, in a simplified context, and for what they stood.  The story also really makes clear the animosity and distrust between nations. 
All of the characters, are fully-dimensional, particularly Powerscourt.  We know not only about the investigation, but his family life and how that plays into the investigation through the connections both he and his wife have.  At the same time, it is pleasant that he is not a snob, yet quite egalitarian in this treatment of the young sergeant and others of a lower social class.  What is also delightful is the elements of observation and humor…”The answer came in a whisper.  Powerscourt had often remarked how people thought they could minimize the effect of some terrible news by announcing it in the lowest of voices.”
For all the good, however, this is not the best book in the series.  Dickinson is very good at taking a seemingly small stream and adding tributaries until it becomes a wild, rushing, tumbling river, finally opening it up into a wide, flat body of water.  In this case, there were are few too many tributaries and it became a difficult river to navigate.

Death Comes to the Ballets Russes” contains some very effective drama, broken by subtle humor, but the narrative resolution is a bit of an anticlimax.  Still, it is a respectable addition to the series.

DEATH COMES TO THE BALLETS RUSSES (Hist Mys-Lord Francis Powerscourt – England – 1912) – Good
Dickinson, David - 14th in series
Constable – January 2015 

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