The Dean Wilson Theatre is believed to be haunted by a long-dead actress, singing her last song, waiting for her final cue, looking for her killer…
Now Dust, the iconic musical, is returning after twenty years. But who will be brave enough to take on the role of ghostly goddess Esme Black, last played by Morgan Miller, who was murdered in her dressing room?
Theatre usher Chloe Dee is caught up in the spectacle. As the new actors arrive, including an unexpected face from her past, everything changes. Are the eerie sounds and sightings backstage real or just her imagination? Is someone playing games?
Is the role of Esme Black cursed? Could witchcraft be at the heart of the tragedy? And are dark deeds from Chloe’s past about to catch up with her?
Not all the drama takes place onstage. Sometimes murder, magic, obsession and the biggest of betrayals are real life. When you’re in the theatre shadows, you see everything.
And Chloe has been watching…
I first heard about I Am Dust at the launch for Louise Beech’s previous book, the magnificent Call Me Star Girl (easily one of my books of the year for 2019). I was intrigued. A ghostly story set in a theatre? I made a note in my List of Books To Keep An Eye Out For.
And lo, here we are some months later, and the book itself lands on my doorstep. Could it possibly live up to expectations? Could it match the heady heights of Star Girl?
Dear reader, it very much does.
It’s a story of love and loss, of murder and mystery, of the glam and glitz of showbusiness in a small theatre, haunted by the spectre of its greatest success, the musical extravaganza that is Dust.
The writing is beautifully evocative, with the Dean Wilson Theatre almost a character in itself. Louise Beech clearly has a deep love of theatre and it just shines through on the page. You can feel yourself walking the backstage corridors, poking your head around the doors of the once glamorous dressing rooms, standing in the wings watching the cast take their bow at the final curtain.
The book is just a lovely, lovely thing. Fiercely funny at times as the ushers put up with yet another terrible play, or try and push pamphlets for Dust, the show that everyone wants to see but sold out in hours.
But the story isn’t all light and showbiz. What began as a game between three friends in 2005 has repercussions in present-day, and the story flits back and forth between the interlocked timelines. Beech’s skill at showing us just a little, just a glimpse behind the curtain at what went on back then before bringing us back to the now of 2019 drives this story on. I read it pretty much in a single sitting, drawn into the world of the theatre and the three friends.
There’s layer upon layer at play here, and just when you think that perhaps you might have it sussed, you realise that it’s all smoke and mirrors, greasepaint and costume jewellery. But the real jewels are there, if you know where to look.
Look, I’ve waffled on for long enough. Do you trust me? Go buy a copy of this book, and spend a couple of hours in the company of players that make up the tale of I Am Dust. You will not regret it.
I Am Dust by Louise Beech is published by Orenda Books in ebook in February 2020, and in paperback in April 2020. Thanks as ever to Karen Sullivan for the review copy.