Death in the Fifth Position
Gore Vidal writing as Edgar Box
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, Mar 22 2011, $14.95
In New York City, as the House Un-American Activities Committee conducts hearings, the Grand Saint Petersburg Ballet hires public relations specialist Peter Cutler Sargent to create a positive spin to avert trouble since renowned choreographer Jed Wilbur was once a communist. He expects a relatively easy assignment by controlling the media though the director Ivan Washburn explains the pickets and an accusation letter have unnerved him especially as the fifth ballet to arrive in town.
However, a dark cloud surfaces when the star ballerina Ella Sutton dies during a performance by falling from thirty feet above the stage. Sargent investigates though NYPD Inspector Gleason tells “Harvard” to stick to the PR lies. He finds that behind the scenes of the ballet people are loaded with backstabbing machinations as rivalries and affairs are the norm for this troupe even as he hopes his new lover Jane Garden who replaced the unfortunate Ella is not the culprit.
This is a reprint of a Gore Vidal’s first terrific novella written pseudonymously as Edgar Box due to his being blacklisted by the NY Times for the then controversial The City and the Pillar; the author gives kudos to brave publisher Victor Weybright for his support. The super storyline is obviously a theatre whodunit, but six decades later provides an interesting timely look at 1950s censorship as the present gurus want to rewrite Mark Twain. The novella is clever, but it is the cast starting with the PR amateur sleuth who makes for a wonderful night at the Russian Ballet.