Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Innocent Bottle: Review

The Innocent Bottle by Anthony Gilbert is one of my vintage mysteries--first published in the US in 1949 (original British title: Lift Up the Lid [1948]). Anthony Gilbert is a pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson. She was a prolific British mystery writer (over 70 novels written under this pseudonym alone--she had several others) whose most famous creation is Arthur G. Crook. Her novels are know for skillful plotting, entertaining dialogue and interesting action. Arthur G. Crook is known for the fact that his clients are always innocent. Always.

As the synopsis on the back of the book says: The Innocent Bottle is a story about money, marriage and murder. "Everybody" knows that Rose East had only married James for his money and so, when he winds up dead, "everyone" knows that she must have killed him. But while he was alive, he not only had a beautiful young wife, he also had a jealous nurse and an ambitious doctor. When he died, he left behind a fortune and a scandal. Once Rose is accused of murdering her husband, Arthur Crook is sure she is innocent--because all his clients are. After his investigations, he offers up the police a blackmailer, a poison pen, and another corpse. But that isn't enough. If he is to save Rose, he will need to find a dangerous killer.

This book started out very slow. It seemed to take forever to get to the interesting action attributed to her by the Wikipedia blurb paraphrased above. I really think Gilbert could have cut to the chase just a little bit sooner. She may have been trying to build up atmosphere, but I don't think it was very effective. But once Arthur Crook came on the scene, the writing was lively and, for the most part, much more enjoyable. Crook is a likable, rogue of lawyer who cheerfully says that he doesn't mind who he sets up as the murderer--provided he can get his client off. But in the end he doesn't accept just anyone--he hands the police the culprit on a silver platter. Gilbert's best bits are the scenes and dialogue involving Crook. She obviously enjoyed her lawyer-cum-amateur-detective.

One of the major draw-backs of this story is the lack of suspects. If you accept at face value that Crook is correct and his client is innocent, then there are few players left on the field. It doesn't take much to figure out that the murderer must be one of two people and it's a short leap to the final verdict. A few more red herrings would have gone a long way towards making this a more interesting puzzle. Two and a half stars--primarily for the character of Arthur Crook and the scenes where he takes the starring role.


bibliophiliac said...

Well, anyway, the vintage cover is super-cool!

Bev Hankins said...

Yes, I love those vintage, pocket-size editions. I actually own this one!