Last year I started making a list of novels with theatrical themes. More specifically, where the plot evolves around operatic stage or persons somehow involved with opera or stage music in general. It does not come as a surprise that many authors reach out for inspiration in the colorful stage world that somehow always leads us to believe it is inhabited with people more interesting than the rest of the population. Not surprisingly, there is quite a significant body of literary work that diverges into all the genres and sub-genres.
Being a cozy mystery and XVIII century music aficionado, Deryn Lake’s Death at the Beggar’s Opera ranked high on my to-read list. The title is the second volume in the John Rawlings mystery series and it is first published at 1995. Judging by the bare title I fully expected a thrilling plot and vivid characters. Alas, it was not to be.
The plot is set in London in 1754 evolves around a stage production of John Gay’s wildly popular Beggar’s Opera with music arrangements of J.C. Pepusch and its cast. Following the unfortunate event of the death in the most shocking manner of the leading man, Rawlings finds himself yet once again assisting the Blind Beak in finding the murderer. As the investigation progresses, we find out that basically no one had any tender feelings for the victim. And this is where the story inevitably fails in dead-end. It seems that Lake herself hasn’t had any compassion for the victim so she decided to introduce yet another one assuming that the reader will inevitably feel compelled to show some interest into finding the devious murderer. It really didn’t help that Rawlings is not much of a likable character and he stays rather flat and two-dimensional throughout the whole storytelling. In addition to ambivalence, he does not seem to posses any tangible sleuthing talents. What sets him apart is a pair of fast feet and inexhaustible and numerous affections towards the ladies. The resolution of the mystery came expected and was delivered in an unconvinced way as a result of illogical contradictory actions. I was hoping up to the last page that the author will give us at least some glimpse of the real life in mid-eighteen century London, after all it is a period-set story, but once again I was left unsatisfied.
So you can guess, the mystery left me quite indifferent. However, not all was lost. The character of John Fielding (1721-1780) was an actual historic person and he was the most interesting of all the character appearance. So at least I had the chance to learn that he was the brother of Henry Fielding (1707-1754) who was a prolific writer and novelist. The very same author of Tom Jones a novel that is also on my to-read list ever since I found out about the lovely opera of the same name by Edward German.
It is highly unlikely that I will read another John Rawlings mystery in the near future, but I will happily explore the opus of Henry Fielding that even from far does not look disappointing.