The Visitor (Anthony Gilbert)

  • By Anthony Gilbert
  • First published: UK: Collins, 1967; US: Random House, 1967

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Visitor, one of Anthony Gilbert’s last books, is more a suspense novel than a detective story. It is told, cosily and circumstantially, by one of the chief suspects, Margaret Ross, a mother who wants to protect her son from blackmail. Alfred Samson wants £500 for the cheque her son forged and the love letters to his wife. And on the night Margaret visits him, Samson is murdered…

“There was a case I had in the war not unlike this one,” recalls Arthur Crook, Gilbert’s Cockney lawyer sleuth. He is, of course, referring to the 1943 novel, The Scarlet Button.

I, too, had a strong feeling of déjà lu. Chapter IV here is a rewrite of the earlier novel’s opening chapter: the suspect’s visit to the blackmailer; the discovery of the corpse; the telephone call – all are in the earlier book.

But Gilbert was 78 when The Visitor, her 59th book, was published; she can be forgiven for a little self-plagiarism. Particularly when she is so lively.

The solution, though, is foreseeable ahead of time.


1967 Collins

“It was odd, seeing how undistinguished he looked, that I knew from the first minute he spelt danger.”

That was Margaret Ross’s instant reaction to the mysterious visitor who called at her flat early one morning, to threaten ruin to her 19-year-old son.

So begins Anthony Gilbert’s new novel, intriguing, complex and loaded with suspense. A demand for blackmail leads on to murder, when Margaret finds herself in the position of giving the police information that she believes will clear the accused man only at her son’s expense. Surrounded by dangers, unaware from which direction her enemy will strike next, she herself becomes a victim and is only saved at the eleventh hour by the intervention of Arthur Crook, the unconventional lawyer whose boast is that he never loses a client.

Here Anthony Gilbert, one of England’s most distinguished crime novelists, writes at top form, exact characterisation adding conviction to a powerful and exciting story.


Ireland’s Saturday Night (F. G., 29th July 1967): Told with a nice zest is this story of a woman’s caller who brings news that her 19-year-old son is in really serious trouble. Murder soon rears its ugly head, but in the process there is the irrepressible Miss Muir to be encountered. If you haven’t met her type and don’t enjoy this admirable picture of her, I’ll eat my hat.

The Daily Telegraph (Violet Grant, 3rd August 1967): In Anthony Gilbert’s The Visitor an undergraduate writes compromising letters to a married woman, his mother is blackmailed, and when the blackmailer is found murdered the police look suspiciously in her direction. So Mr. Crook has to come to the rescue, though this time it is Mum, an enterprising freelance journalist, who does most of the work. Amusing and zestful, with an unexpected and exciting climax.

The Birmingham Post (F. E. Pardoe, 12th August 1967): The Visitor, by Anthony Gilbert, is just as attractive. It may be heretical to suggest it, but this is probably due to the comparatively minor part played in the story by Arthur Crook, that unorthodox lawyer. The major part is played by a lively, tough-minded widow who is being blackmailed on account of her undergraduate son’s misdemeanours. The blackmailer is murdered and she rushes foolishly in to solve the mystery.

Edmund Crispin, Sunday Times: Great verve and wit, notable characterisation, and a proper plot properly knitted. Mr. Gilbert gets better and better.

Library J (M.K. Grant, 1st September 1967, 50w)

NY Times Bk R (Anthony Boucher, 26th November 1967, 70w): I keep saying that Anthony Gilbert gives us too little of her great solicitor-detective Arthur Crook; but maybe she is being clever.  Always leave them asking for more…  Crook is on stage [here] for only one-sixth of the length; but the remaining five-sixths are fine in themselves: a forceful and convincing picture of a woman’s battle against a blackmailer, whose inevitable murder provides not only a puzzle but a moral dilemma.

New Yorker (9th December 1967, 130w)

Best Sell (15th March 1968, 70w): There is a good deal of tension, some hysteria, and considerable plausible action.  Good reading, even for the jaded mystery fan.

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