LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Alistair, far more disturbed apparently than any of his guests, was aware, as he lifted the telephone receiver from its rest, of a stealthy sound on the stairs above him. He paused and called: ‘Who’s there?’
‘Alistair.’ There was a quick soft sound of feet and Alicia rounded the head of the staircase.
‘For Heaven’s sake, what’s going on? Has someone been murdered or what?’
‘Sh! Be careful what you say.’ Alistair’s voice was sharp.
Alicia came to a halt on the third step. What does that mean? Not…? But, Alistair, it was only a joke.’
‘Not to Bishop it isn’t. Nor to the chap who shot him.’
‘Shot? Bishop?’ Her voice was no higher than a whisper. ‘Then it was that. I heard it, but I didn’t believe it. I mean, things like that don’t happen to oneself…’
‘They have to happen to someone,’ countered Alistair grimly, ‘and really considering the turmoil and underground movements that have been going on here it’s surprising we haven’t had a murder before.’
‘Murder! Oh no, Alistair.’ Alicia caught up her pretty quilted dressing-gown and ran down the stairs. ‘Why, no one would be such a fool. It would be too dangerous.’
observations: Anthony Gilbert was quite a popular detective story author in his (her) day, but is almost completely forgotten now, and on the basis of this book I’m not wholly surprised. Gilbert was a pen-name: the books were written by Lucy Malleson, and there are a shed-load of them – many featuring her detective/lawyer Arthur Crook.
He is the best thing about the book: he was invented to be as un-aristocratic as possible, the opposite of Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion. He is vulgar and common, and the nobs in the book dislike him, and hate it that he is brought to stay in the posh house.
This is odd, because they really are excruciatingly snobbish about everything, and they’re not shown as being wrong: it is clear one is meant to think the nice people really are nicer than the low-class people. I couldn’t quite make sense of Gilbert/Malleson’s attitude to Crook in the circumstances.
The main characters gather in the library at midnight to have out their various quarrels, blackmailing, extortion, revelations and threats. The lights go out, and in the dark a shot is heard. When the lamps are lit, a man lies dead on the floor. A really excellent setup. But the book was un-entertaining and tiresome. There was one good surprise – the time of death of one victim – and Crook was fun, but otherwise I found the murderer very easy to spot, and that left me time to consider other problems with the structure. One key character simply disappears from the second half of the book – we know where this person is, and they are very important, but we never really hear the end of their story. Three characters have similar names – Anne, Alistair and Alicia – which is annoying. There is no tidying up of loose ends after the murderer has been revealed.
There was the odd line like this one:
Crook said: ‘One man’s fun is another man’s chokey,’ and no one quite knew how to take that, so the subject got itself changed- which made me laugh, but there weren’t enough such moments.
HOWEVER, I have now read another book by Gilbert which was much better – look out for another entry soon.
For another quilted dressing-gown, see this picture (from Getty Images) here.