Hattie Brings the House Down by Patrick Gleeson

It was a true delight to read this debut novel for the blogtour. A cosy crime mystery set in the world of the theatre, the story is led by Hattie Cocker, who has been hired to be Stage Manager (SM) of a company who will perform Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Tavistock, a theatre attached to a pub, so not the West End then.

What was so immediately refreshing about this novel was that the protagonist, Hattie, is a fifty-something woman, with achy hips, a slightly murky past and a long career in stage management behind her. Now she’s stopped touring with productions, although her lighting director husband Nick is still touring, SM jobs are harder to come by. She hopes this job at the Tavistock might bring further bookings, which along with her temporary teaching role at the Arrowsmith Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she has taken over the Stage Management course, hoping for tenure there too if she can prove herself to principal Mark. Hattie is an expert at crisis management and negotiation between backstage crews and cast, a calming influence always ready to buoy up the confidence of a colleague in need, give a hug, join in a joke. She’s great!

However, I’m leaping ahead as we begin with the discovery of a body in the women’s dressing room. It’s Hattie who finds the very much dead Atlanta Greenwell, after popping into the theatre at the weekend to see theatre manager Keith, who was fuming as someone had taken the heirloom bejewelled mask of the theatre’s late founder from its padlocked cupboard in his office. We’ll find out more about the mask later. Keith doesn’t want Hattie to tell the police about the missing mask, he wants her to ask everyone about their whereabouts when it went missing.

We then go back to one week earlier. The first read-through of the play is about to take place in a rehearsal studio. We meet the cast, from a posh young actress known as ‘Bums’ to ageing old-school charmer and luvvie Atlanta. We meet the director Hashi Hassan, who is trying to see the reopening of the Tavistock theatre as doing a favour from someone who’s directed at the National type job – but the reality isn’t quite that. It’s also clear that he’s out of his depth with Shakespeare! We also meet the long-suffering Deputy Stage Manager Kiki and Hattie’s Assistant Stage Manager (which is the bottom rank in backstage jobs) Davina, who had been on her course the previous year. With the entire crew and cast in place, rehearsals start in earnest as do Hattie’s own investigations.

With Hattie in charge, we get a fabulous backstage-skewed view of the development of the life of a small theatre production, everyone in the tech crew trying to accomodate the ever-changing whims of the director, then one week in the effect of Atlanta’s death. There’s many a setback, before the play reaches the stage even – but the show must go on darlings!

This was such a brilliant novel, I loved it, and in Hattie, Patrick Gleeson has created a sleuth that I do so hope will go on to solve future Theatreland crimes.

Source: Review copy thank you. No Exit Press paperback, 317 pages.

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5 thoughts on “Hattie Brings the House Down by Patrick Gleeson

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      And there’s scope for more Hattie – another production, another theatre… I hope he does write more Theatreland Mysteries.

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