Murder Has No Tongue (Anthony Gilbert)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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.

Contemporary reviews

Daily Herald (P. E. H., 28th October 1937): Another to let you under the skin of one. at any rate, of his characters is Anthony Gilbert. First half of Murder Has No Tongue, is a study from inside of a suspect hounded by gossip and blackmail, finally forced into a libel action with surprising results. That first half is very good indeed.

Daily News (Philip Hewitt-Myring, 5th November 1937): Mr. Gilbert describes fear – and specifically, the fear of being murdered – so vividly in the first part of Murder Has No Tongue that any reader with any phobias of his own had better avoid the book.

The unfortunate Mrs. Horsley does in fact die mysteriously in the night: and her M.P. husband goes thereafter through mental agonies of another kind until —

Until, it must be confessed, the author seems to think he has had enough of the psychology stuff and winds the book up with a brisk little detective story in which Crook, that delightful lawyer, happily reappears.

There is justification in the earlier part of the story for this transition, and Mr. Gilbert’s prose style is as excellent as ever.

But the abrupt change in atmosphere and tempo three-quarters of the way through put the book well below this author’s best.

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.

The Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 23 November 1937): The first seventy or eighty pages of Mr. Anthony Gilbert’s Murder Has No Tongue give a vivid description of the panic of an hysterical woman warned by a palmist that she is in imminent danger of death. It happens, and suspicion falls upon the husband. Gossip spreads, and now it is the husband who fears that attempts are being made to murder him. Perhaps his hysteria is less convincing, less moving, than that of the woman, for surely an able-bodied man should be able to look after himself. A doubtful lawyer, named Crook, ferrets out the truth at last, a truth so well concealed it is fairly safe to say few readers will anticipate the author’s revelation of what really happened. Probably the best of Mr. Gilbert’s recent books. The title seems a trifle odd, for surely that onomatopoeically named lawyer succeeded very well in giving a Tongue to Murder.

Milward Kennedy in the Sunday Times: Anthony Gilbert’s skill in story-telling reaches a higher level than before.

7 thoughts on “Murder Has No Tongue (Anthony Gilbert)

  1. Glad to see more reviews of Gilbert here – I hardly ever see her reviewed elsewhere! I read a short story of hers in a British Library collection and thought it was great. Naturally I want to read more but I heard the books vary a lot in quality. Do you know a good place to start?


    1. Gilbert is very uneven, and many of her books are thrillers / suspense, not mysteries. At her best, though, she can plot and mystify with the best of them. (Sometimes she’s as devious as Christie.)

      The Clock in the Hat Box and The Mouse Who Wouldn’t Play Ball are both clever. I remember liking several of the 1940s whodunits (The Black Stage comes to mind; so does The Scarlet Button?) and She Shall Die. But I’ve only read a quarter of her books!


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