With McCarthyism reaching fever pitch in 1950s America, Peter Sargeant - a dashing PR man - is hired by the Grand St Petersburg ballet to fend off rumours that their star choreographer is a communist. But New York's ballet world is shocked when, on the opening night, the lead ballerina plummets to her death from a wire, maintaining her classical pose in the 'fifth position' as she hits the floor.
Gore Vidal's earlier novel The City and the Pillar was published in 1948 when the author was 23 years old. Its central story of a homosexual relationship caused such a scandal that the New York Times book critic refused to review any book by Gore Vidal. Others followed his lead and the author found himself at a loss as to how to continue to earn a living through his pen until a publisher suggested that he turn his hand to writing under a different name. Death In the Fifth Position was published in 1952 - the first of a trio of entertainments featuring Peter Cutler Sargeant II as a publicist turned private eye.
It would appear that Mr Washburn has decided to let Jane Garden take the fall. He is willing to see her arrested and have her reputation ruined even when she is found innocent, in order for the ballet company to continue its tour. Peter continues to piece together his theory of what happened, but time is running out. He needs to spend some time with Louis to find out what he knows. It's an evening that involves alcohol and a bathhouse.
The music used in the series is (as mentioned in the story) Bartok's Concerto For Orchestra.
Written by Edgar Box (Gore Vidal)
Read by Jamie Parker
Abridged by Isobel Creed
Produced by Jill Waters
A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.