- By Anthony Gilbert
- First published: UK: Collins, 1937
A fortune-teller predicts death for Flora Horsley, wealthy older wife of a Socialist MP who desperately needs money to stave off a crisis. Flora suspects her husband is having an affair, and fears he will poison her; a crime play suggests murder; she might drown in her bath – or be drowned; she has nightmare of suffocation, and wakes to see her husband standing over her, pillow in hand; and her servant has large, capable peasant hands… When she dies, the doctor gives a certificate of misadventure – but Flora’s shrew of a sister suspects foul play. But did Charles do it?
The build-up to Flora’s death is remarkable, but Gilbert doesn’t sustain the impetus of the opening. Once Gilbert’s lawyer sleuth Arthur Crook starts investigating, the book becomes more of a procedural; there’s a loosening of tension, but the pace picks up with attempted murder at a tube station. Flora’s missing jewels are pulled out of the pocket, and handcuffs fastened around the wrists of an entirely unexpected person – but there’s still enough ambiguity to leave one wondering. After all, Crook boasts that he never lost a client…
Flora Horsley, wife of a member of Parliament, while overwrought with worry is warned by a palmist that she must leave her husband or she will die. Flora, believing that her husband is attempting to murder her, decides to leave him. The haunting fear of death already holds her in a terrifying and remorseless grip. It is in the exploitation of this fear that Anthony Gilbert strikes a new and original theme, to which his undoubted gifts of style and character drawing give great distinction.
Times Literary Supplement (George Palmer, 20th November 1937): The first part of this book contains a good description of a wealthy, middle-aged lady’s reactions to a warning of death given her by a reputable fortune-teller, after she has suffered a long period of indecision and worry about domestic troubles. She returns to her home, her terrors magnified by morbid reflections and distorted by a series of commonplace coincidences. Within twenty-four hours she is murdered and it is fair to add that the palmist plays no further part in the affair. Her husband comes under suspicion and discovers in due course that his life is also threatened by unknown enemies. It is in his account of the growing and desperate fears of his two chief characters that the author displays his full powers; but in addition to that, there is an unexpected ending to an excellent plot.
Milward Kennedy in the Sunday Times: Anthony Gilbert’s skill in story-telling reaches a higher level than before.