The Body on the Beam (Anthony Gilbert)

By Anthony Gilbert

First published: UK, Collins, 1932

Don’t judge Anthony Gilbert by this one.  It suffers from the same problem as Murder by Experts and The Bell of Death: it’s not a detective story.  There is detection, but it’s establishing the victim’s past, finding the suspect, and then proving their guilt.

A policeman doggedly follows leads to establish the “suicide’s” identity and that of the man who ran away with her seven years ago, then abandoned her. Then, when he’s been arrested, Scott Egerton, the series detective, hires a private eye to build a case against the other suspect.

That’s right; “other” suspect.  There are only two candidates – which rather defeats the point of a murder mystery.

In fact, it’s hard to see what the point of the book is.  There’s no ingenuity, and little characterization.  It’s all very much in the line of Freeman Wills Crofts: interviewing witnesses, breaking alibis; there’s even a trip to France.  At least Crofts’ best books are ingenious.

Do people really enjoy this sort of book?

Blurb (UK)

During the spring of last year the police were greatly perplexed by a violent death occurring at No. 39 Menzies Street, a disreputable lodging-house tenanted chiefly by single ladies, one of whom, Florence Penny, was found one morning hanging from a beam in her bedroom.  The first person to take an intelligent interest in a seemingly commonplace tragedy was Inspector Field, and he slowly pieces together the clues in what proves to be a most absorbing mystery.  Mr. Anthony Gilbert has never formulated a more ingenious or enthralling plot, and his characterization is of the vivid type which marked his previous successes.

My review

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (28th January 1932):

Careful, thorough and innocent of any straining after sensational effects, this work deserves commendation as a particularly sound piece of detective fiction.  The crime itself is a common if sordid affair—the murder of a street walker in a disreputable London lodging-house—but the subsequent police investigations and the ultimate solution have a distinctive fidelity that is unusually satisfying to the intelligence.  Considerable pains have been taken by the murderer to make it appear that his victim, Fanny Penny, has committed suicide by hanging from a beam in her bedroom, but Detective Inspector Field of Scotland Yard is not long deceived by the faked evidence.  Recognising a case of murder is, however, very different from identifying and capturing the criminal, and the inspector has a long and weary road to travel before he arrests Charles Hobart, the dead woman’s discarded husband.  He has got the wrong man, but can hardly be blamed for this mistake, since the case against Hobart appears to be complete, not only circumstantially but also as regards motive and opportunity.  Fortunately, Hobart has a loyal, shrewd and energetic friend in Scott Egerton, who finds and traps the real criminal in time to avert tragedy, not because his brains are better than those of the official police but because he approaches the problem from a different angle.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 24th April 1932, 130w):

The story does not move as rapidly as some detective stories, but it has the merit of being logical and very human.