- By Anthony Gilbert
- First published: UK: Collins, 1942. Published in the US as Mystery in the Woodshed.
Great-Aunt Ada Doom, matriarch of Cold Comfort Farm, saw “something narsty in the woodshed”; Edward Durward keeps something in his (horrible, it was), and when his wife Agatha sees it, her fate is sealed. But she probably didn’t have long to live, poor woman. Durward is a new Bluebeard, and has been married often, if briefly. He advertises for a wife, and lonely, 47-year-old Agatha answered…
Woodshed is another of Gilbert’s lively inverted detective stories; it is small-scale but consistently entertaining, although the ending is underwhelming (a pitfall of the subgenre when not written by R. Austin Freeman).
What on earth, though, did Mrs. Christie make of this? It concerns the disappearance of a woman called Agatha; suspicion falling on her amoral husband; police dragging ponds; and ROT13 ure gheavat hc va n ubgry jrrxf yngre, haqre n snyfr anzr, naq fhssrevat n areibhf oernxqbja STOP.
(And, yes, this is a very short review; I read it three weeks ago, and there’s not much to say about it.)
When a Middle-aged Gentleman advertises his wish to meet a Gentlewoman of Independent Means with a view to matrimony, various feminine hearts may flutter. Sometimes, too, the roving eye of a detective will momentarily light up with keen anticipation, and the innocent-looking advertisement might even be filed away for future reference. Here, then, is the history of a matrimonial advertisement, an extraordinary and baffling story, written with distinction by Anthony Gilbert, and featuring, of course, that favourite character, Arthur Crook.
The Observer (Maurice Richardson, 22 March 1942): Something Nasty in the Woodshed is an English Bluebeard case. He advertises for a wife, traps a foolish spinster, but something goes wrong with his murder plan, and he is eventually hounded down by Albert Crook. Genuinely sinister and full of surprises.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 11th April 1942): Bluebeard is still the favourite. No other criminal can compare with the habitual bridegroom who showers attentions upon his latest bride while wondering how best to break her neck. Something Nasty in the Woodshed does it well. The man has such glamour that his victims get something for their money, if not their full money’s worth. Poor Agatha (strange Christian name for someone utterly unversed in the ways of crime) finds more happiness in her weeks of unsuspected doom than in her many previous years of security. It is all, in the 1942 fashion for detective stories, so simple that readers who strike the new mode for the first time may fancy there is no mystery about it whatsoever. When they have been safely lulled into a state of small expectations Mr. Gilbert lets off Chinese crackers under their deck-chairs. The ending is marred by a suspicion that the author has had to strain too many nerves in order to make his detective cleverer than the criminal.
Spectator (John Fairfield, 24th April 1942, 20w)
Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 27th May 1942): In Something Nasty in the Woodshed Mr. Anthony Gilbert retells, with power and distinction, the familiar Bluebeard story.
Daily Telegraph: Some surprises that will startle the most experienced reader, and like all Mr. Gilbert’s work as well written as it is well imagined.
Books (Will Cuppy, 31st May 1942, 250w): We read it with the pleasant feeling that the author wouldn’t insist upon downright solemnity in the customer, however dark the deeds. It’s sinister, shuddery, fairly cheerful in spots and slightly plush in others. Best of all, it keeps you goggle-eyed with suspense.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 31st May 1942, 200w): The first few pages of this book make it perfectly plain who is the villain of the piece and what his plans are. All that remains is to see how his plans work out. Not much room for mystery here, one might say, but one would be wrong, for there are several startling surprises in store for the reader.
Boston Globe (Elizabeth Hull, 10th June 1942, 180w)