Death Knocks Three Times by Anthony Gilbert


published 1949


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES




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Miss Pettigrew, waiting stiffly in her room, thought she would never hear the lift creak to the second floor. What on earth was Clara saying to her nephew? Like all people who don’t trust their neighbours, Miss Pettigrew thought it quite probable the conversation was about herself and took on a most uncomplimentary complexion. At last she heard the sound of footsteps coming along the corridor and then the sound of a door closing. She waited for the familiar sound of the lift door clashing, but instead there came a rap on her door and when she opened it there was John himself, looking, she thought, a bit wild and frayed, not all the successful novelist of fiction. He even looked a little alarmed, but then the sight of her masterful self, clad in a masculine Jaeger dressing-gown with a plaid lining and a gentlemanly brown cord, might have staggered even the experienced Mr Marlowe.


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commentary: John over at Pretty Sinister Books is a blogfriend I met recently IRL at our unimprovable trip the Edgar awards in New York. (Oh I’ve mentioned it before have I?) He is an endless source of great book recommendations, and today we are dealing with his Anthony Gilbert opinions. He named three Anthony Gilbert books: The Clock in the Hatbox (see my blogpost here), this one (see John’s post on it here), and 30 Days to Live (I will read it soon: meanwhile this is John’s verdict). Well I can’t wait to see what the third one is like, because the first two were absolute humdingers – and a LOT better than some other books by Gilbert that I’d read. Mind you she – Gilbert’s real name was Lucy Malleson – did write a huge number of books over a long period of time so perhaps the quality was bound to vary.

It is confoundedly and confoundingly difficult to write any kind of description of this one (though John does a good job, his post really is recommended): it keeps changing its mind as to what kind of book it is. It starts off with series character Arthur Crook taking shelter from a storm in a sinister old dark house, with a sinister old host. Someone dies. The action moves on. There are train journeys, south coast hotels with old ladies hanging around the lounge. Bridge games, afternoon tea, anonymous letters. A lot of unhappy and badly-dressed people:

On the cliffs near the end of the town he saw a woman standing, a tall woman dressed in a rather shapeless coat. Her skirt was long and her hat had a flat brim, but all the same she didn’t contrive to have the New Look.

The book gives a tremendous atmosphere of Britain just after the end of WW2 – rationing, austerity, but a feeling of calm that the War is over.

They hadn’t had such a good time since VE Day, when Mr Hammond had stood everybody a drink in the bar, and served wine with dinner, all free of charge. 
--that’s the hotel resident old ladies, thrilled to bits about a suspicious death:
Twittering with a pleasure they hardly tried to conceal. They got together in corner, old heads nodding. She’d been poisoned, she’d committed suicide. It was a bad conscience, it was history repeating itself; don’t forget her sister, there’s something in heredity after all… 
It is a very dark book, with not much in the way of likeable characters, and it is very funny in a quiet, witty way.
It was becoming quite monotonous. Each time he came back from visiting an aged relative, John Sherren was, as it were, greeted by a summons to attend that relative’s inquest.
I would defy any reader to predict the turns the book will take in setting and mood. It has all the trappings of a traditional murder story, but is actually a very very unusual one. Full marks to Anthony Gilbert, and to John Norris for the reco.

One picture shows what the dressing gown might look like on a man. The other one is a picture by William Merritt Chase, from the Athenaeum website, and is possibly a rather flattering view of Miss Pettigrew.

There are several more Anthony Gilbert books on the blog: click on the tab below.

Martin Edwards also looked at this book recently, over at DoYouWriteUnderYourOwnName – he wasn’t  quite as taken with it as John and I were.



















Comments

  1. It sounds like one of those books where you need to be willing to go along for the ride a bit, Moira. And they can be very entertaining. I like the writing style, too - looks like a bit of wit woven in to the story.

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    1. Yes, you have to give up all your expectations with this book Margot - but I found that very rewarding.

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  2. The one Arthur Crook book that I have read so far was not that good, in my opinion, but I do plan to try others and this would be a good one. The original (I guess?) hardback cover of this one is wonderful, with skulls, so maybe someday I will find a copy. I do have a couple of other books featuring Arthur Crook on the TBR piles.

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    1. Oh good luck with finding the skulls cover! There aren't many authors I find quite so variable as Gilbert..

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  3. I keep getting the Gilbert's mixed up in my head - it's Michael that's in the pile. I can't say you've sold me on Anthony.

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    1. Oh right, yes, I see. You will probably like Michael better...

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  4. Thanks for the ultra mentions, Moira. This still stands as my favorite with...HATBOX nearly in a tie, but taking second place because I saw through her rise towards the end. The last two Anthony Gilbert books I read were just OK. I’ve not been able to write about them at all because t neither wowed me. For the record they were: DON’T OPEN THE DOOR and DEATH AGAINST THE CLOCK. Of those two the former is the better loaded with Gothic atmosphere and HIBK Style trappings, but I did figure out the culprit. I hardly remember a thing about the other.

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    1. Ugh! “...saw through her ruse...” is what I meant to type up there

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    2. Thanks John. Haven't read either of those two. You are doing a good job of filtering all her works for me. The next one I read will be 30 Days to Live.

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  5. Have just round to reading this, Moira, and really enjoyed it. Thanks for the recommendation. I loved Miss Pettigrew - a wonderfully over the top character - and in one or two places it made me laugh out loud.

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    1. Great - so glad you enjoyed. It is a very unusual book...

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