- By Anthony Gilbert
- First published: UK: Collins, 1956; US: Random House, 1956
1948: Young Ruth Garside is tried for the attempted murder of her father; she is acquitted, ‘Not Proven’. 1953: Ruth Appleyard’s husband is killed in a car crash in Italy, the afternoon she learnt he was having an affair. After her husband’s death, Ruth becomes companion to domineering old Lady Dingle, who leaves her a fortune in her will. And when Lady Dingle also dies in suspicious circumstances, Ruth is accused of murder once more. This time, however, she has Arthur Crook on her side.
This is one of Gilbert’s most satisfyingly traditional detective stories: a family murder mystery in the Agatha Christie style, with a houseful of needy, greedy relations gathered for Christmas, an adventuress with a shady past, and a missing will. Characterisation and dialogue excellent, particularly the disagreeable Dorothy. Crook does a fast, efficient job of sorting through alibis and conflicting testimony to find the culprit; he is as vivid and earthy as Henry Merrivale, y’see, and talks thunderin’ like him. No great ingenuity – the crime is unpremeditated – but the revelation is dramatic; desperate love and obsession lead to murder. Read it and enjoy it.
References to Martin Chuzzlewit: a daily called Mrs Gamp; a worldly old nurse; a family squabbling over money while the elderly head lies ill upstairs; Mrs ‘Arris: “There ain’t no such person”.
It seems sometimes as though certain people are born under a dark star. Misfortune and tragedy dog them at every step – ships in which they travel come to grief, trains are derailed, hotels go up in flames. Even those near and dear to them are not spared – bereavement, scandal and even death follow them wherever they go. Some people attribute this to certain stars and planets, and declare that so long as a given condition exists it is useless to struggle; the dice are loaded, fate throws with a two-headed penny.
Among these victims of circumstance Ruth Garside seemed to have her place. As a girl she was accused of a dreadful crime; as a wife she was suspected of responsibility for her husband’s death; as a widow she was held guilty of an employer’s murder.
I can’t prove her innocence, cried Thomas Fogg.
I can’t prove my own innocence, said Ruth.
She’s my client, so she can’t be guilty, and by heck, I’ll prove it if it means the skies falling, declared Arthur Crook.
Well – did he?
And was he justified?
Anthony Gilbert leaves the reader to judge the outcome of this exciting and original new crime story.
NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 13th May 1956, 70w): A first-rate novel of nasty interplay in a not-quite-rich-enough landed family, nicely observed and sharply characterised.
NY Herald Tribune Bk R (10th June 1956, 130w): Very satisfactory indeed on every score.
Sat R (Sergeant Cuff, 16th June 1956, 30w): Well-knit but overpopulated yarn; too much background; slow starter, faster finisher.
San Francisco Chronicle (17th June 1956, 50w): Good, sound Gilbert.
Yorkshire Evening Post: Anthony Gilbert is a high ranker in detection. One does not want this book to end. A very well-written, excellent novel.
Catholic Herald: Yet another ingeniously conceived story. Arthur Crook finds his place in the gallery of immortals of crime fiction.