Henry Greatorex was never valued by his half-brothers, so it was little surprise that, in the family law firm, he was packed off to run an out-of-London office. It was to some surprise that the office ran pretty well under his management, but the time has come for him to sort out his love-life. He is determined to marry the lovely Barbara, but that does mean bringing his weekly liaisons with Stella Foster to an end.
Stella is a popular woman though, and Henry is far from her only… paramour. For whatever reason, though, she is reluctant to let him go. And then one evening visit ends with Henry leaving her flat, with Stella lying dead on the couch. Enter Arthur Crook, “unscrupulous lawyer and unraveller of mysteries”.
Anthony Gilbert aka Lucy Malleson (aka Anne Meredith) wrote far more mystery novels than I was aware of – over 50 featuring Arthur Crook and at least ten others – so it’s a bit odd that I’ve not read her work before, apart from the disappointing Portrait Of A Murderer. That was disappointing because, first and foremost, it was an inverted mystery that was lacking in any twists. I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise it was by Malleson (sorry Martin, must have skipped the intro).
This is an odd book, and I’ll be honest again, I didn’t really get on with this one. The first third, leading up to the death, is good, setting the scene, building up the primary players. And then the murder happens, and Gilbert plays a very odd trick…
OK, to explain, this is going to get a lot more spoilery than I normally get, but I’m really not sure how to explain without doing so. So, if you want to skip the next bit feel free.
Unless I missed something, the section where the body is discovered heavily implies that Henry did it. So heavily that I presumed I was reading an inverted mystery. Reading it again, once (considerably later) it is revealed that she was dead when he got there, there is some ambiguity there, but I see it as a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the reader into the fact that they are reading an inverted mystery. Not in a “inverted mystery with a twist at the end”, just a straight inverted mystery. So when we spend the next few chapters looking at Stella’s other paramours, I’ll be honest, I lost focus on the book completely, as I couldn’t see the point of these characters. So while this may be a clever narrative trick, it completely backfired for me. So once it was revealed that it was actually a whodunit, I’d lost track of who was who, and didn’t particularly care.
Next time I read Gilbert, then hopefully my brain will be a little more focussed, but the central twist in this one, coupled with my currently variable attention span, made this an unsatisfying read for me. It’s an odd feeling – sort of along the lines of a joke that I didn’t get until someone explained it to me. On another day, in another frame of mind, I might have enjoyed this a lot more. Alas, this time though, it wasn’t for me.
The only one of hers I’ve read is ‘The Clock in the Hat Box’ which is extremely clever and twisty and I would heartily recommend. However I have read that she is very variable and TCHB is apparently one of her best