- By Anthony Gilbert
- First published: UK: Collins, 1959; US: Random House, 1959, as Prelude to Murder
Old Mr. Cobb’s grasping daughters Gertrude and Angela begrudge their father every penny he spends on himself, frittering away their inheritance on food and comfort. Why can’t the old man hurry up and die? While the situation recalls King Lear, the danger comes not from this modern Goneril and Regan, but from the too-perfect servants.
Housekeeper Bessie Meadows reminds her frightened husband of Mrs. Dyer (baby farmer and serial killer) and Mme. Defarge (embodiment of the Terror in A Tale of Two Cities). She polishes off three old people before justice and Arthur Crook catch up with her.
Agatha Christie’s Mrs. Rogers was under her husband’s thumb when they murdered their elderly employer. She received a light sentence: an overdose of sleeping draught, and as only the second victim died before things became really nasty in And Then There Were None. Mrs. Meadows would have been much lower down the list.
Crime novels are seldom as satisfying as detective stories, but this is a briskly told story, with deft dialogue, sympathy for the elderly, and a caustic attitude to marriage. The clue that convicts Bessie is nicely laid.
“Let’s hope it will be Third Crime Lucky – for the ends of Justice,” remarked Arthur Crook, when he found himself involved in the mysterious death of old Mr. Cobb of King’s Banbury.
Mr. Cobb was the third elderly invalid to die conveniently, if somewhat unexpectedly, in a household that also contained Fred and Bessie Meadows. And yet – who could suspect this amiable couple, so active, responsible, willing and honest? No trouble too much, no hours too long – and yet, wherever they went, Death went, too. But their third crime involved them with Arthur Crook, and that was when the luck turned – against them.
A large and faithful public knows that the iruption of this red-headed and ebullient man of law into a case means that bustling action and devious cunning of every sort will be employed to ensure the safety of the innocent and the trapping of the guilty. In Third Crime Lucky Anthony Gilbert has introduced a chillingly sinister theme into a homely situation and Crook is forced to wage a war of nerves to unravel a baffling and fascinating case which will keep the reader enthralled to the last page.
Manchester Guardian (Sarah Russell, 6th February 1959, 90w): An orthodox story very well done… Experienced readers may notice a major clue early on, and may well feel that this particular clue should now be retired from detective fiction.
Spectator (Christopher Pym, 13th February 1959, 60w): The smart-aleck lawyer Arthur Crook, as flamboyant as ever, but much more lifelike, sorts it all out, and there is a neat (rather too neat) court-of-law revelation to tie it all up. Especially good on cosy middle-class atmosphere.
Times Literary Supplement (20th February 1959): Slightly subdued by his fifty-seven years and the possession of a vintage Rolls in place of The Scourge, Arthur Crook exposes the nasty little racket of a married couple whose elderly employers make a habit of dying on them. Third Crime Lucky is more of a thriller than a detective story but, like so many of Mr. Gilbert’s books, it is based on a horribly plausible situation only made tolerable by the ebullience of the little solicitor.
Punch: Convincing and satisfying.
Liverpool Daily Post: There’s excitement galore in this pure battle of wits. Anthony Gilbert has the gift of sustaining his the action while developing his characters to a nicety.
Kirkus (1st April 1959, 80w): There’s a reminiscent flavour of Arsenic and Old Lace in this finely wrought yarn… Crook’s personality dominates the scene—an English village background—in a slick tale.
NY Herald Tribune Bk R (James Sandoe, 7th June 1959, 100w): About all of this there is a liveliness and charm that demonstrates once again that when done with dash, murder in the rose-garden has a vitality most unlikely to be downed.
NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 28th June 1959, 50w): The one fault one might find with Prelude to Murder is that Arthur Crook’s cheerfully vulgar presence is unnecessary; the plot takes care of itself without his intervention… Both in conception and in the telling, it’s as convincing as good fact-crime.
San Francisco Chronicle (L.G. Offord, 12th July 1959, 60w)
Sat R (Sergeant Cuff, 29th August 1959, 20w)