A long abandoned, thought to be haunted theatre is reopened to stage a new show. Gray haired Mary Flood is a seamstress who sees to the costumes. Decades ago, she had been an actress herself — a very promising one — but she gave it all up for a man. When the marriage failed and she returned to the business, there were no more parts to be found. The star of this show is Alice Craig, whom Mary looks on almost as a daughter. Alice, meanwhile, is likewise protective of June Ellington, a young dancer. All the ladies seem to love Alfredo Moreno, but not Mary or Alice. June has fallen head over heals for him, and they will do anything to keep her away from that womanizer.
At the dress rehearsal, the second act concludes and Moreno goes to his dressing room. Shortly afterward, he’s found there dead. He was stabbed, but that didn’t kill him. The manner of death is strange — maybe some kind of poison. In the following investigation, Gowdy, the assistant D.A., has the rehearsal re-staged, with himself filling in for Moreno, to see how it happened. Gowdy, too, dies in the same way.
It looks bad for Alice. Mary and her friend Toby, a hunchbacked dwarf who works the lighting, do all they can to cover for her — including concealing and destroying evidence. Will O’Brien uncover the culprit?
Most books I just pick up at random, but this is one I intended to read. The Devil’s Toy was Anita Stewart’s first and last book (for good reason — I’ve read worse murder mysteries, but this is pretty bad). She was a major film star in the 1910s, but after marrying and trusting in her husband’s decisions, her career went into steep decline in the ’20s, and eventually it died.
Edit: Oh, Toby built a death ray. That’s the solution. I figured all along that it was either Mary or Toby because those were the most hackneyed suspects, but I did not guess that the murder weapon was a death ray.