William F. Deeck

J. JEFFERSON FARJEON – Death in Fancy Dress. Bobbs-Merrill, US, hardcover, 1939. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1934, as The Fancy Dress Ball.

   New Year’s Eve brings with it the Chelsea Arts Ball at the Albert Hall, where “ten p.m. till five a.m. sober folk discard their sobriety, flinging themselves into queer costumes and queerer mental activities in an attempt to forget the humdrum of existence.”

   The reader follows here several characters who attend the Ball: Henry Brown, nondescript impecunious, timid; the Shannon family, at the head of which is a mutinous mogul; Sally, made up as Nell Gwynn and with the correct mental attitude; Sam, Sally’s stupid and incompetent confederate; and Warwick Hilling, who had given “protean” performances before All the Crowned Heads of the World, now down on his luck and preparing to appear for pay as a Balkan prince.

   Much takes place at the Ball, though Hilling misses most of it, in this thriller — not “murder mystery,” as the publisher would have it. Indeed, there is no detective, either amateur or professional. If you can put yourself in the thirties’ mood and be willing to accept what would be regarded today as odd mental attitudes, you should enjoy the unlikely carryings on.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 3, Fall 1991, “Holiday Murders.”