Exit Charlie by Alex Atkinson

published 1955







[the stage manager at a provincial theatre is wandering around backstage before a performance.]

He looked through the fireplace gap, watching the neat crimson slacks of Susie Medway, the ASM girl, move backwards and forwards as she set out props on the prop-table.

‘Susie!’ he called suddenly, jingling coins and keys in his pocket.

‘Yes, Mr Rivers?’ Susie brightly chirped. Her pink alert face appeared in the gap. She was 17,and full of ambition. If Gordon Rivers had casually asked her to dash up to Manchester on the midnight train from Euston to get a rocking-chair to put on the set for tomorrow night, she wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment, for she was determined to regard the Theatre as the most Different, Thrilling occupation possible…

[Later] Presently Susie Medway joined them, and things brightened a little: for she got down on her knees to ferret in a cupboard, and her crimson slacks stretched taut and inviting, so that it was a toss-up who should slap her first. Terry won. She would have preferred it to be Ambrose, for Terry was not quite her style. Oh but it was all part of the Theatre, and she loved it.


observations: Yes, well, at least you would hope not to find that in a modern book – times have changed for the better. This is a murder story, and later on the investigating policeman ‘switched his attention, despite himself, to her jumper, which was temptingly filled.’ One of the actors stuffs an important message down the same jumper. Susie is a cheerful little thing, and all this is seen as completely normal. The policeman at one point is regretful that other (it would seem he means fictional) investigators get nymphomaniacs to deal with, whereas he only gets kleptomaniacs.

The theatrical setting is very well done – you wouldn’t doubt that Alex Atkinson had worked in the theatre for years – and always works well for murder stories: the disparate people, the varied backgrounds, the close working group, the possibilities for past histories. The book dates from the days when the National Anthem was played at the end of a performance, but after the curtain had gone down: a fascinating insider’s detail here is that only one of the cast and crew remains standing at attention for it, the rest all bustle around as soon as they are out of sight of the audience.

There is a lot dull-ish listing of who was where, at what point. The motive and the method (though not necessarily the perpetrator) is fairly obvious to the reader early on, you wait impatiently for the policeman to catch up. But as a period piece it is good fun, with some funny lines. The policeman says he knows that a certain photo was taken in Blackpool.

‘How do you know?’

‘I’m a detective. Not only that, I’ve spent more holidays at Blackpool than I care to remember.’
In a cake shop:
‘I don’t eat eclairs,’ said Furniss gravely. Nothing was ever more obvious.
--reminding us of favourite filmbook Shepperton Babylon, where, by contrast, a German officer ‘eats an ├ęclair in two fascistic gulps’.

More theatrical delights in Maugham’s Theatre (aka Being Julia) and the Dud Avocado. Women in trousers is a long-time interest of Clothes in Books, here on the blog and at the Guardian. 

The picture is, yet again, from Dovima is devine.

Comments

  1. Moira - Yes, perhaps dated. But I am a sucker for a theatre context. I like the trace of wit in the snippets you've shared, too. And those crimson slacks - so intense! I have to say I couldn't stop looking at the wallpaper in the 'photo, too. I don't know at all if I could sleep in a room with wallpaper that vibrant.

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    1. I know, it's just pure historical and sociological interest isn't it? I so enjoy the details of 50s life.

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  2. Another pass Moira......we'll see what's in store tomorrow!

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    1. Crime fiction, but not really the right kind for you, I will admit.

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  3. I thoroughly intend to marry Susie Medway. So I probably ought to read the book.

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  4. OK, I love that last comment (from Colm).

    First reading through the excerpt, my reaction was no, not for me. But .... since it is a mystery and set in the theatre and vintage. I will have to look for it. Or at least put it on a list. Not an author I was aware of. I do always love to find new authors from that time period, although sometimes I am disappointed.

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    1. It might turn up at your book sale? My copy was an old green and white Penguin - I haven't seen it in any other format.

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    2. I will put it on the book sale list first, but I don't have high hopes for it. After that I will check on ABEbooks for a penguin edition, I saw some copies there at a reasonable price...

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