Death in Leamington — Mysteries, Enigmas and Variations

Death in Leamington

Elgar wrote of his Variations: “The Enigma I will not explain — its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed.” One theme – endlessly talked about – and fourteen variations on it. Each variation was the result of a parlour game between Elgar and his wife, Alice.

He’d played the theme to her, which he described as ‘nothing much, but something might be made of it’. He then proceeded to improvise how it might sound played either in the style of – or in tribute to – their closest friends. Between then and publication in 1899, the ‘enigma’ legend was added. Scholars have long since decoded the half-disguises to the various ‘friends within’ each movement, but the name and indeed the very nature of the central enigma itself endures.

Death in Leamington is also a mystery and an enigma, a ‘detective novel’ set in the genteel English midlands’ town. The murder of an elderly foreign visitor sets off an intricate chain of events (and further gruesome deaths!). Foolishly or maybe puzzlingly I chose to base the fifteen main characters on the original sources of Elgar’s own variations.

The easy ones are hopefully obvious: Eddie (‘E.D.U. — Elgar himself), Alice (C.A.E — Elgar’s wife); Hugh (H.D.S.-P — one of Elgar’s best friends) and Inspector Hunter (the best known of all — Nimrod). Others are a little more contrived: Richard Baxter — Eddie and Alice’s neighbour (R.B.T. — a rather colourful Oxford professor who the eagle-eyed among you may also have spotted as the young hippie Dickie Baxter in my latest novel Letters to Strabo); WPC Penny Dore (Dorabella) and Dan the Bulldog (the dog that falls into the water half way through variation G.R.S). The rest I will leave you to guess i.e. Pearl the Singer’s connection to variation ‘Troyte’. Only one variation is still in dispute that of the true identify of ‘Romanza’, fittingly so also in my story.

I’ll finish with the rest of that Elgar quote: “…further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played…the chief character is never on the stage.”

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