- By Anthony Gilbert
- First published: UK: Collins, 1956; US: Random House, 1957
Smooth and charming Henry Greatorex is a man in a fix. The middle-aged lawyer has fallen in love with a much younger girl, but his mistress refuses to let him go. And so naturally he thinks of murdering her; and sure enough, Stella Foster is found strangled. Fortunately Henry has Arthur Crook on his side – and Crook’s clients are always innocent…
Riddle of a Lady was highly praised on both sides of the Atlantic: the Birmingham Post considered it “Probably her best story ever”, while Drexel Drake and Anthony Boucher admired the “cleverly manoeuvred puzzle that may completely trip the unwary reader” with its “neat double-twist solution”.
Like Murder Has No Tongue, this is a did-he? didn’t-he? We see Henry enter the victim’s house on the fateful night; the perspective changes to the neighbours who see him go in; we rejoin Henry “staring, aghast, at the night’s work”. We’re being bluffed, no doubt – but how? Should we dismiss Henry’s guilt as too obvious, or is that what Gilbert wants us to think?
As always, Gilbert observes her middle class gossips and respectable folk with wry humour. The joy of the book is the drawing-room showdown in which Crook, determined to save his client from the noose, shows how other suspects could be guilty, and then why they couldn’t, with the aplomb of Christianna Brand; you’re left feeling punch-drunk, dizzy, and exhilarated. James Sandoe called it “a dazzling show of bluff, surmise and ingenious deduction from the same set of facts through which Arthur Crook builds half a dozen cases, demolishes as many alibis and finally tricks a murderer into confessing. Dazzling multiplication of a standard situation that has never been given quite so clever a performance.” The truth is cunningly concealed, but it’s also an anti-climax; unpremeditated crimes so often are.
“I could have told the narks there was one who’d never die in her bed of old age,” said Crook, when he met the mysterious woman with the green eyes in the bar of the Nell Gwynne. “Question is, which of them did it? The chap who drove her there, the other chap who drove her back or our old friend, A. N. Other?”
The rumbustious Arthur Crook, unscrupulous lawyer and unraveller of many mysteries, was on the trail again.
Who was Stella Foster?
Who was the red-haired man in the Nell Gwynne?
Who wrote the postcard found by the police on the morning after Stella’s death?
And who (or what) was Henry Greatorex, the charming, indolent, unpredictable dark horse of the firm of Greatorex Brothers, the sober lawyers of London and Beckfield? Philanderer? Ardent lover? Secret benefactor? Considerate employer? Callous murderer? In Henry, Crook encounters as baffling a client as ever came his way, and the surprising denouement involves as many strange and exciting twists as there are in the splendidly rounded character of Henry himself.
Anthony Gilbert has again achieved a masterly compound of excitement, humour and character.
Kirkus (15th June 1956, 80w)
NY Herald Tribune Bk R (James Sandoe, 19th August 1956, 130w): Entertaining in course but its bright particularity is a dazzling show of bluff, surmise and ingenious deduction from the same set of facts through which Arthur Crook builds half a dozen cases, demolishes as many alibis and finally tricks a murderer into confessing. Dazzling multiplication of a standard situation that has never been given quite so clever a performance.
NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 19th August 1956, 160w): The man whose clients are never guilty comes through with a neat double-twist solution; and the whole affair, if less suspenseful and more of a straight puzzle than most Gilbert whodunits, is eminently entertaining.
Chicago Sunday Tribune (Drexel Drake, 26th August 1956, 80w): Cleverly manoeuvred puzzle that may completely trip the unwary reader.
San Francisco Chronicle (L.G. Offord, 16th September 1956, 80w): Usual good Gilbert, spiced with humour and some glorious characters.
Spectator (Christopher Pym, 21st September 1956, 70w)
The Saturday Review (Sergeant Cuff, 22nd September 1956): English provincial solicitor jounced as gal friend takes final count; Arthur Crook, gentleman eye, edges into act. Confusingly huge cast takes command before killing; pace obliterated as crowd pours in; family concerns also obtrude. Far off his best.
Birmingham Post: Excellent. Probably her best story ever.