Murder by Experts (Anthony Gilbert)

By Anthony Gilbert

First published: UK, Collins, 1936; US, Dial Press, 1937

Gilbert has hit on a “new technique”: convince the reader that this is a mediocre work, SPOILER bring in a very clever false solution on the Ackroyd line and convince the reader, then accuse another person, who is the disappointing solution in disguise, thereby making it much more satisfying! The trouble is that such a technique, while undoubtedly clever, rather spoils the reader’s enjoyment in the stretch between the murder and the solution, when he is convinced that the author has lost her way. The book’s opening is stylish in the MarshAllingham vein, but rather more hysterical. We are led to expect a nice, tight country house puzzle with the murder of a collector of Chinoiserie. This plot is forgotten about in the middle section as the Watson unearths the rather dubious past of the girl whom he loves and who has been arrested for the murder, and is led onto the trail of an old lag who served a sentence for fraud. The reader groans and clutches his head in agony, remembering with horror The Bell of Death, and is convinced that the book has committed the unforgivable sin of turning into a thriller halfway through, nearly always a sign that the author’s skill and imagination have run out, and is the literary equivalent of marketing goods under a false name (or fraud). Fortunately Gilbert manages to rescue the situation, but one does wish that the detective story had been more to the fore.

Blurb (UK)

Fanny Price, a beautiful adventuress, Graham, a dealer in curios, and Curteis, who tells the story, visit the country home of Sampson Rubenstein to see his collection of Chinese antiquities.  Fanny is graham’s mistress, Curteis is in love with her, and Lal, Rubenstein’s wife, is madly jealous of her.  After a scene between Fanny and Lal, Rubenstein motors Fanny to the station to catch the London train, and does not return.  Later his car is found at the foot of the cliffs, buried under a fall of rock.  But a few days later, when the Chinese room is forced open, Rubenstein is found stabbed to death there.  Murder by Experts is a most ingenious story, brilliantly narrated.

Blurb (US)

A detective story by the author of “Death at Four Corners” and “The Dover Train Mystery.”  “Murder by Experts” tells of the murder of a famous British art collector in a locked room in his country house.  He was supposed to have taken a young woman to the train, and his car is found at the bottom of a cliff.  Naturally the police expect to find his body there as well, but they do not, and a week or more later he is found stabbed to death in the room in his own house.

My review

Contemporary reviews

Spectator (Nicholas Blake, 12th June 1936, 240w): Murder by Experts has everything—atmosphere and colour, engaging chapter-headings, originality of plot, good dialogue, varied and convincing characters, a brilliant double twist at the end, and a general air of distinction.  It must be one of the very best novels that the Crime Club has produced.

New Statesman & Nation (Ralph Partridge, 20th June 1936):

Murder by Experts is not by any means all that it should be, in spite of Anthony Gilbert’s consummate dexterity in arranging her battery of evidence to fire in either direction required until the last few pages.  There are long stretches in the middle that are destined to be skipped by the experienced reader as the mere unravelling of an unnecessarily twisted skein of previous history—only Mr. Wills Crofts can do such tedious work well, and he can only do it because he loves it so.  The virtue of the story lies in the neat crime itself—an elderly art connoisseur drives an adventuress to catch a train at a country station and is never seen again alive or dead for several weeks—and the double bluff solution.

Times Literary Supplement (Caldwell Harpur, 4th July 1936):

Fanny was a beautiful adventuress of 30.  Curteis, who tells the story, was a returned Colonial of 48, so much in love with Fanny that she occupies several times more space in the story than any of the three victims or the other suspects.  Fanny was the first suspect; for one victim, Rubenstein, was a collector of Chinese curios, and Fanny was an expert on these.  Hence, an hour before his disappearance, he had taken her out in his car, infuriating his Spanish wife.  The wife was also suspect; so was Parkinson the secretary; so was Graham the dealer, Fanny’s employer.  They found a corpse mangled by the sea, and buried it as Rubenstein’s, but six weeks later they found the real corpse in Rubenstein’s locked museum.  Curteis, eager to free Fanny from gaol, delved into her past and into other pasts, and was nearly proved guilty himself.  Another suspect left a confession 3,500 words long, but it was a forgery; the expert murderer had typed it in half an hour.  Fanny must have been to some extent an accessory after the fact, but Curteis does not much mind that.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 9th May 1937, 120w): The author may be an expert in both art and crime, but he has a great deal to learn about writing.  In the first place, his story drags along at a pace not at all suited to this type of fiction, and in the second place, his writing is so confused, particularly when it comes to the handling of personal pronouns, that it is often nearly impossible to guess what he is driving at.

Morning Post: Here is as good a detective story as any one could wish to read.  It looks like a winner from the start.