Ballet is a killer – “Death in the Fifth Position” by Gore Vidal (writing as Edgar Box)
In Gore Vidal’s case, in the 1950s he wrote three mystery novels under the pseudonym “Edgar Box,” and lived off the proceeds for around ten years until his career really took off and he became the man we know today. The idea was to make the novels as much like Agatha Christie novels as possible, so they’d be popular and sell well.
“Death in the Fifth Position” is pitch-perfect.
Handsome press agent Peter Sargeant is hired by a Russian ballet company as they’re about to premier a new work by a choreographer who is rumored to be a Communist. (This was the 50s, remember.) On opening night of the show, the prima ballerina is killed during the ballet’s climactic move – falling to her death from where she was to be suspended above the stage.
Everyone is a suspect – and it becomes a classic “whodunit?” Was it the prima ballerina’s husband, who had gotten a chorus girl pregnant? Was it the understudy? Was it the super-gay male star of the company? Was it the company owner? Was it the choreographer? Why was she killed? She was notoriously unpleasant, but was someone after her career? Gasp! No one knows! Peter himself even becomes a suspect after unknowingly handling the murder weapon, as does the young dancer he’s beginning a relationship with (who takes over the leading role after the original ballerina’s death.)
It’s a detective story where the detective isn’t the main character. It’s vaguely Hitchcock without involving sheer terror. It’s the type of quick-read that would be a great companion on a plane or train. For Mystery fans, it’s a throwback to Ms. Christie and her genius.
I’m not going to say who did it – that would be a spoiler. However, I will say that the book ends on a tiny twist that makes you wonder if the right person was arrested after all is said and done.