While dreaming your way through those afternoon Lit classes, did you ever wonder what it would have been like if F. Scott Fitzgerald had done mysteries rather than his oh so intensely, sensitive inquiries into social consciousness? Well, Masquerade is just about as close as you will ever get to this concept. The only question I have is whether or not the parody was intentional.
The setting is Europe in the early 1920s. The lives of the Forsythes are center stage. Apparently obsessed with sex and death, each tolerated the others wild and high profile affairs. Richard Forsythe is found with his current mistress, Sabine Von Steuben (daughter of a German baron), dead in a hotel room in Paris. The police rule the deaths a double suicide.
Richard's mother hires the Pinkerton Agency to prove his death was murder, not suicide. Consistent with the early 20th century mystery genre, the victims are found in the classic closed room… locked from within. The police are studiously ignoring the two-hour difference in the time of death, Sabine being the first to depart this life.
Pinkerton dispatches Phil Beaumont who teams with novice investigator Jane Turner in this sequel to Escapade. Phil and Jane are assisted by Ledoc, who is independently wealthy and a Pinkerton agent when it amuses him. He is also a member of the same social set as the deceased.
This is a very small community comprised of writers and painters who had come to Paris for inspiration. Numbered among them are Hemingway, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein and Picasso. They are joined by the Count De Saintes, and his sister, the Aubiers, LeGrande (the Top Cop in Paris), and of course Richard's wife Rose as suspects. Phil and his team methodically interview each of these suspects (who had been identified by Richard's mother).
Champagne, absinthe, cocaine, intrigue and sex in all forms are the tools which dazzle…and are utilized in assorted ways by many of these poor and yet to be famous characters. Satterwait's political and social commentary is biting, humorous and pretty much coincides with Fitzgerald's analysis of the times.
The methodical plodding investigation is saved from tedium by the amusing insights into the lives of the sophisticates. Phil's conviction that it was not suicide is enhanced by the sudden murders of involved people along the way. The author keeps the external conflict going at a steady rate and the mystery culminates at a masquerade party where the true killer is unmasked.
Satterwait provides an interesting departure from the "standard" mystery novel which most of us have become accustomed to lately. As long as you understand that from the beginning and the emphasis on social commentary rather than character development is of interest, then you will be highly entertained by Masquerade.