It’s a good old-fashioned murder mystery, with a literal twist: back-bending acrobats! In The Fallen Architect, Charles Belfoure (House of Thieves and The Paris Architect, Sourcebooks Landmark) throws readers into a murder mystery enveloped in the electrifying world of variety theater in turn-of-the-century Edwardian England.

Although the son of a humble stonemason, Douglas Layton became a rising star in the Royal Institute of British Architects, using his skills at designing facades to reinvent himself. His yearning for the upper-crust lifestyle led him to conduct an elaborate masquerade—mimicking the English aristocracy, lying about being a gentry landowner, and marrying into power and wealth.

Even with his life of leisure, Layton continues his passion to design beautiful buildings, much to the chagrin of his aristocratic father-in-law. Contracted to draw up plans for a magnificent music hall, his design for the Britannia Empire Theatre is a masterpiece. That is, until its balcony crumbles during a performance, killing 14 people. When the public demands justice, Layton is found guilty of faulty design and sentenced to five hard years in formidable Mulcaster Prison.

When released, Layton changes his name to hide the fact that he is “The Butcher of the West End,” dubbed the greatest murderer in British history. Forced to leave architecture behind, he finds employment as a painter of scenic cloths for the variety theater at the Grand Imperial. The irony of once again reinventing himself to hide his past and his daily presence at a theater are both constant reminders of his failure.

As Frank Owen, Layton embraces the variety theater scene. He enjoys his friendships with the variety of artistes performing there: Cyril & Neville, the female impersonators; Mangogo and the pygmies; the tiny strong woman Amy Silborne; and Voltaire, a French illusionist, among so many others.

Layton is also drawn to Cissie Mapes, the booking agent for the MacMillan Entertainment Empire, whose independence and moxie is so different from his demure ex-wife, the privileged Lady Edwina who divorced him after six months of his imprisonment. He also admires Cissie’s kindness; she understands that the entertainment they provide adds some much-needed magic to the dull and hard lives of the common people who attend the shows.

Layton passes each day at the theater desperately trying to remain anonymous. But his past comes back to haunt him: The King of England recognizes him at a gathering, a released convict from Mulcaster tries to blackmail him, and he meets a former architectural colleague by happenstance.

Layton’s life again takes a surprising turn when he unearths gruesome discoveries at two different theaters. Stunned, he keeps his finds secret until he can piece together what they mean, suspecting they are somehow connected to the building of the Britannia.

With Cissie’s help, Layton must try to solve the mystery of the Britannia collapse. With multiple suspects and more murders taking place, they investigate who could be behind such a cruel and gruesome plan. They know they are close to the truth when Layton himself becomes a target for murder.

Can Layton and Cissie bring justice to the Britannia victims and those caught in the crosshairs of the current investigation, clearing Layton’s name in the process?

This is a fun and satisfying mystery that takes readers into early twentieth-century British variety theater; it’s like solving a puzzle while eating popcorn at the circus. But not only an enjoyable ride on the who-done-it rollercoaster, this tale is a poignant commentary on the harsh British social chaste system which sentenced citizens to the lives in which they were born.

The investigator in me thought I had identified the killer, but I was wrong. And as we all know, the best kind of murder mystery is one not easily solved.

The Fallen Architect will be available to purchase October 9th, 2018. 

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Charles Belfoure is a New York Times bestselling author and architect who lives in Westminster, Maryland. A graduate of the Pratt Institute and Columbia University, he practices historic preservation as both an architect and consultant. The Paris Architect is his first novel. His second novel, House of Thieves, will be published in September 2015. Belfoure has also written architectural histories, including Monuments to Money: The Architecture of American Banks (2011), and Edmund Lind: Anglo-American Architect of Baltimore and the South (2009).  He is the co-author of Niernsee & Neilson, Architects of Baltimore (2006) and The Baltimore Rowhouse (2001). The recipient of a grant from the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation and the Graham Foundation, Belfoure has won multiple awards for his books from the Maryland Historical Trust.