Fri
Aug 4 2017 1:00pm

Review: Murder Take Three by Eric Brown

Murder Take Three by Eric Brown is the fourth Langham and Dupré Mystery, where 1950s Private Investigator Donald Langham discovers that truth is stranger than fiction when he investigates a murder on an American movie set.

Murder Take Three, the 4th Langham and Dupré Mystery, is a classic country-house murder mystery. All the elements are there: an idyllic and isolated setting, a group of ill-suited people enjoined by circumstances to work together, a plethora of secrets from the past that burden the living, and lastly, intelligent outsiders—in this case, a private investigator and his fiancée—to sort it all out. 

1956. Having just started work as a professional private investigator, Donald Langham's first client is American movie star Suzie Reynard, currently shooting a murder mystery film at Marling Hall, an Elizabethan manor house in the depths of the Norfolk countryside. The film's director—Suzie's lover—has been receiving threats and Suzie is convinced his life is in danger. 

Langham has another string to his bow: he’s a published author, and his literary agent is also his fiancée, Maria Dupré. For some reason, Suzie’s request that he “come up and take a look around, talk to people,” in order to figure out who is threatening her director boyfriend, Dougy, is one that he prefers to pass along to his partner, Ryland. But unfortunately, Langham is stuck holding the fort this weekend. Perhaps he can bring someone? Suzie is struck by Maria’s picture, mystified that a “good-looking girl” would enjoy a desk job.

“She finds the job rewarding.”

“I didn’t think English girls were so good looking.”

He smiled. “She’s French.”

“That’d explain it. Class.” She pulled on her Pall Mall. “So sure, bring her along. The more the merrier. Perhaps Dougy’ll be able to find her a part. Oh, one thing—don’t tell him why you’re there, OK? He wouldn’t want me hiring someone behind his back.”

“Mum’s the word.”

“Huh?”

“I won’t say a word to him.”

“Fine. Dougy’s a pussycat, but he has this temper, see? Things don’t go the way he wants, he flies into a rage. It’s part of being a director. They think they’re God Almighty.”

Suzie paints a masterful picture of a tyrant in action. When Donald and Maria arrive at Marling Hall and make the acquaintance of the filmmaking crew and the owners of the estate, they discover that everyone has a beef with Director Dougy Dennison. The group includes a former acquaintance of Langham, writer Terrence “Terry” Ambler, most certainly an original.

“Terry,” he called out. “I say, it’s been rather a long time.”

Ambler swung round, clearly surprised at being unexpectedly buttonholed. His food-stained green shirt swelled over a pot belly and his baggy corduroy trousers were held up by a pair of frayed red braces. His sartorial sensibility—or lack of—hadn’t changed in years.

“Langham? Goodness gracious me, it is.” Then his nascent smile was rapidly replaced by his default expression of lugubriousness.

A disheveled and despondent script writer is not the only unhappy member of the motley film crew. Varla, an older French actress, once had a love affair with Dougy, and from the bitter tone of her conversation, it didn’t end well. Sir Humphrey Lyle, an older English actor with a famous career, now rests on his laurels and indulges in ill-advised flirtations and copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. It seems everyone is nursing a grievance against the arrogance of Director Dennison, including the aristocratic owners of Marling Hall, Edward and Cynthia. 

All the swirling tension is not accidental. Dennison admits to Langham that “all the enmities I’ve set brewing will come to a head.” The director states that “personal chemistry’ll give the script some life.” Unsurprisingly, the private detective finds “enmities” to be an odd goal.

“A film is driven by chemistry, Langham. The story smoulders with hatred. We’re talking resentment over money, sex and thwarted love. It’s a rich combination.” He leaned forward and murmured, “So I’ve got together a cast which, between you and me, can’t stand the sight of each other.”

He’s got that right. Unfortunately, the enmity goes further than hateful words and disdainful glares. The morning after a grizzly evening punctuated with difficult conversations and excessive drinking, Langham is summoned from his bed.

“What?” he said, still dazed with sleep.

“She’s dead …” the director said.

“Who’s dead?”

And so it begins. Will the dead woman be the only victim? Langham is struck by the beauty of the Norfolk morning—such a juxtaposition to the circumstances he finds himself in.

The sun was up and the lawn was spangled with scintillating dew. Far off, a cuckoo called, its throaty muffled double note conjuring notions of a countryside at peace—which was wholly at odds with Langham’s thoughts as he followed Dennison along the front of the house and around the corner towards the caravan.

Eric Brown’s Murder Take Three is altogether satisfying. It’s a traditional whodunit that explores how passion, hatred, and the long tendrils of the past can lead to murder.

 

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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry ... I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!

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